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Bill de Blasio touts Fleet Week

Mayor Bill de Blasio speaks at the New

Mayor Bill de Blasio speaks at the New York City Bike Expo on Friday, May 16, 2014. Credit: Bryan Smith

Mayor Bill de Blasio gave a nod to his late father's World War II service during a Fleet Week reception Thursday, disclosing that his father was turned away from the Navy because he was too tall and enlisted instead with the Army.

"My father loved the sea, he loved ships . . . And he tried, after Pearl Harbor, to go into the Navy. He had the same challenge I have. He was about 6-foot-5," de Blasio told an audience of sailors at Gracie Mansion. "The Navy appreciated his enthusiasm and told him it would not be a good fit with the size of their ships."

De Blasio made his remarks as he helped kick off Fleet Week, marking its return to the city after a one-year hiatus. About 1,500 sailors, Marines and Coast Guard members are participating and docked ships are open to the public.

De Blasio recalled New York's rich naval history, noting that the Brooklyn Navy Yard, founded in 1801, was among the nation's first naval shipyards, employing 70,000 at the height of World War II.

De Blasio's father, Warren Wilhelm Sr., went into officer training with the Army and fought in battles at the Aleutian Islands, Leyte Gulf and Kwajalein. He "was wounded grievously in Okinawa," the mayor said.

Wilhelm lost part of his left leg and earned a Purple Heart, but struggled with alcoholism, became estranged from de Blasio and committed suicide when de Blasio was 18.

De Blasio Thursday said the father of his wife, Chirlane McCray, was in the Army during World War II, fighting in France and Italy. Both their fathers were brought safely home by the Navy, he said.

McCray's mother worked on the assembly line at the armory in Springfield, Mass., while de Blasio's mother worked in the Office of War Information.

"This is for all of us who have had members of our family serve -- in that time or in any time since," de Blasio said. "The fact is that Fleet Week brings out all of that appreciation to us."

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