“A veteran is someone who made a check payable to the United States of America in the amount of and up to including their lives,” said just before noon Monday on the ledge of the overlooking and the 30-plus people gathered below him. “Memorial Day is a day of somber remembrance of the men and women who had that checked cashed. The courage of our veterans, our heroes, should not only be etched in their tombstones and memorials but also in our hearts.”
Following a long Memorial Day parade through the streets of Mineola that started out at before heading north to Jericho Turnpike and over to Marcellus Road before turning south to Memorial Park under the 80-plus degree blaze of the early summer sun, the handful of veterans and residents crowded under what little shade the trees of the park provided as various local representatives spoke from the dais.
“Today we remember those who gave their lives for the freedom of this beautiful country,” Douglas Mendoza of the Salvation Army said in his invocation. “Today we remember to thank God and everyone who gave their life for freedom. We are a nation that still believes in justice and (being) united for all.”
Choosing to read the lyrics to Trace Atkins’s song “Arlington,” American Legion Commander Sal Cataldo remarked that “that’s what this day is all about – all the people in the past who passed away, gave up their lives, their limbs and everything else and even the ones that ain’t here today and still serving.”
In his address, VFW Commander Manny Grilo recalled a visit to Bar Beach for a ceremony this past weekend where a woman said that he was a hero. “The heroes are left on the battlefield; they’re the ones that never came home and that’s why we’re here today. That’s why we veterans work very hard because we left a lot of our friends back on the battlefield; they never came home to their families. We always think about the poor hero who never came back but we never really thing of the families and what they have to go through when they find out someone passed away.”
Grilo noted that while the 6,400 killed in the last 10 years is less than the 58,000 who were killed 10 years in Vietnam, of which he is a veteran, “it’s still one too many and we have to remember those men and women who are serving today as well as those who served years ago. We’re not talking about thousands of people, we’re talking about millions of men and women who served in our country, gave their lives so we can be here today and enjoy.”
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New York State was also on hand, saying that “the reason that this holiday is as important as it is and why we should recognize it each and every year because in understanding and in commemorating and in celebrating the service of our servicemen and women we don’t only pay them homage but we also pay homage to those things for which they served; the principles that make our country great. Those things that are the underpinnings of our country are those things for which they fought, for which they died, for which they were wounded and for which so many gave so much.”
New York Assemblywoman Michelle Schimmel remarked on the personal choice those in attendance made to be at the ceremony rather than at the beach or the mall for sales. “All of us made the decision to be here and how important these rituals are. This is a day where we stop and give thanks to our men and women in armed forces,” she said. “We need to take the time, we need rituals like these to remind us that the gifts that we have and the glorious day we have is for supreme sacrifice of many.”
Nassau County referenced the story of Maj. John O’Grady from New Hyde Park whose plane went down in 1967 in Vietnam and whose daughter vowed to find his resting place and bring him home.
“It reminds us today of the sacrifices they made, it reminds us that we should make our own lives monuments to them and each and every time that we get involved in a community celebration where we realize how wonderful it is to live here, we should remember their sacrifice,” he said.
“God bless the souls of all those who gave for our country, who gave for us and our future. God bless the families that endured the hardships of not having them around. God bless all of our people who are in harm’s way today,” North Hempstead Councilman Angelo Ferrara said. “God bless all of you for coming here today and sharing this special day with us and remembering who the true heroes are – they’re not the movie stars, they’re not the sports athletic people, they’re the people who gave us the freedoms we enjoy today.”
Jerry Olden, Yuri Karaz and Donald Olsen formed the rifle guard, firing three volleys into the air in honor of the dead while to the surprise of the crowd, a squadron of four F-22 Raptors flew over the park at 1 p.m., though Grilo professed that he had nothing to do with that coincidence.
“We live in difficult times, people have lost jobs, difficulty paying bills and caring for their families but we still find time to answer the call,” Rev. Les Siegal said. “I personally thank all of you for the dedication and sacrifice to our service people.”
Recalling lessons learned in grade school about the country’s founding documents, Mineola Village Trustee Lawrence Werther remarked that “those documents defined us as a country but the memories of those documents are not enough. We sit here in freedom, we sit here and we can talk about our country because the men and women who have died for us have baptized this country with their blood and made us the country that we are today.”