25 years of remembering
by Holly Tsang
May 27, 2009 | 4736 views | 0 0 comments | 105 105 recommendations | email to a friend | print

May 24 09 - 12:45 PM

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Monday marked the 25th anniversary of the Maspeth Memorial Day Parade, in which hundreds of people marched down Grand Avenue to commemorate those soldiers who died in service.

As marching bands played patriotic tunes and people waved from floats, a bittersweet feeling hung over the crowd as marchers and parade-goers reflected on the sacrifices of those who could not join them.

Pat Toro, president of the Vietnam Veterans Chapter #32, reminded everyone that Memorial Day is not a day of celebration, but one of remembrance.

"It is unfortunate that in today's society and throughout this country, Memorial Day is remembered more for its barbecues, its beach openings, and its department store sales than for what it was intended for," said Toro. "It is important for us to remember the sacrifice of our veterans and to pass this remembrance onto the generations that follow us. We must never forget."

A former Marine, he admitted to feeling "survivor's guilt" for making it home safe when so many others perished.

"It has been 39 years since I returned home from the Vietnam War, and five seconds since I thought of my fallen brothers and sisters," said Toro.

Erna Guadagnino, who has lived in the heart of Maspeth for 33 years and has attended the parade for all of its 25 years, wished that more would be done in honor of all veterans, deceased and living.

"It's not even more or less a tribute enough. They could be respecting them on other days rather than just only one day out of the year. They deserve more than just one day," said Guadignino.

Despite the somber reason behind the holiday, it was difficult for spectators to keep from smiling when adorable children wearing period-style dresses marched by.

Fred Albright, a Maspeth resident for over 50 years and a veteran who served in Korea, reveled in the sights and sounds of an earlier place, particularly the musical bands and the old-fashioned cars. He felt the parade was a wonderful way to commemorate the lives lost.

"It's about appreciation and respect of all the soldiers that died during the war, and it's very nice of everybody coming here to respect the soldiers," said Albright.

There is a neat little story behind the revival of the Maspeth Memorial Day Parade. In 1984, a group of Girl Scouts wrote the Queens Ledger asking why Maspeth no longer had a parade. On the 25th anniversary of the parade, the Girl Scout troop from St. Stanislaus was recognized at Memorial Square.

"It actually makes me feel really happy and excited that the Girls Scouts actually did this and actually helped Maspeth in a way. So I'm very happy to be a Girl Scout, and proud to be one," said Margaret Leisenheimer, 11.

Soldiers, sailors, and Marines were invited to march in the parade and to mingle with veterans at a luncheon event.

It was also Fleet Week in New York City. First-class Petty Officer Thomas Gunter, a cryptological technician on the U.S.S. Iwo Jima, expressed appreciation for and marveled at the work veterans had to do manually.

"I think it was harder for them back then. We've got all this wonderful technology and computer guidance systems and stuff that they didn't have years ago, so it makes our lives a lot easier," said Gunter.

Staff Sgt. David Baldock, who is stationed at Camp Lejeune, a Marine corps base camp in North Carolina, felt his eyes well up throughout the day as he found himself immersed in the memories of the unselfish people who died serving their country.

Surrounded by hundreds of Maspeth's own veterans, he felt like he was gazing into his future.

"They have a great story for us to learn, and every individual should just stand there and listen to those stories, and you'll find a lot of wisdom in those words," said Baldock, who admitted he already catches himself telling stories from when he was in Afghanistan or when he was deployed to Italy or Greece.

Peter Wolyniec of the Maspeth Lions Club and former president of the UVFO of Maspeth pointed out that many of the veterans sitting on the floats are unable to walk, but are the ones that want more than anything to march in the parade.

"These people know what it means. They know what it means to be here to honor their fallen," said Wolyniec.

After 25 years, the Maspeth Memorial Day Parade is going stronger than ever. Maspethians enjoy it every year, and this parade was no exception.

"I think the spirit and idealism, it's still here," said Ken Rudzewick, president of Maspeth Federal Savings Bank and an original member of the parade planning committee. "Hasn't changed a bit."
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