Whitestone honors heroes in Memorial Day parade

Whitestone honors heroes in Memorial Day parade
Photo by Steve Mosco
By Steve Mosco

Surviving veterans gathered with residents and elected officials for the annual Memorial Day Parade in Whitestone Monday.

Lining up early at the Whitestone War Memorial, the neighborhood gathered in honor of veterans like John L. Smith, a Whitestone resident for all 94 years of his storied life and the parade’s grand marshal.

“I look around and I feel so thankful that the community came out like this,” said Smith, a World War II veteran who served in the South Pacific, Normandy and Korea. “Like a lot of vets, I don’t go into detail about my service — I knew many great men who didn’t make it back.”

The men and women who never made it home were precisely the ones honored at the pre-parade ceremony, as elected officials joined surviving veterans to salute the fallen men and women of the U.S. military.

Elected officials in attendance included Mayor Michael Bloomberg, Borough President Helen Marshal, state Assembly members Grace Meng (D-Flushing) and Rory Lancman (D-Fresh Meadows) and state Sens. Tony Avella (D-Bayside) and Toby Stavisky (D-Whitestone).

Stavisky, a Whitestone resident, said the community never misses the opportunity to honor veterans living and deceased.

“We honor all veterans from Lexington and Concord through to Iraq and Afghanistan,” she said. “Memorial Day is also a chance for us to renew our efforts to help veterans returning home now. It is up to us to provide them with employment and any help they might need.”

Lancman said Americans owe the freedoms they enjoy today to the men and women of the armed forces.

“The daily peace we experience here, it just would not be possible without their sacrifices and the sacrifices of their loved ones,” he said.

Chester Gusick, a veteran who fought in Europe and once coached musician Paul Simon on the Forest Hills High School baseball team, said he was glad to see so many young people at the parade, although he was not sure if they could truly grasp the gravity of the day.

“They can hear stories and see parades, but it’s hard for them to understand what a lot of us went through,” he said. “We all need to do more to educate them.”

Some young children did their part to honor America through song. Students from PS 193 in Whitestone, led by music teacher Patti Rookwood, honored America with the singing of the national anthem and “God Bless America.”

At the ceremony’s close, the children joined current military personnel in laying wreaths to honor the veterans lost to war and age.

Grand marshal Smith, who became the general manager of the ASPCA upon returning home, tearfully remembered friends he lost in war and recently at home.

“The experience in war is an experience that many cannot comprehend,” he said. “But once you are in the military, you are in it forever and you are never forgotten.”

Reach reporter Steve Mosco by e-mail at smosco@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4546.