Four veterans selected to lead Little Neck-Douglaston parade

By Kelsey Durham

The planning committee for the Little Neck-Douglaston Memorial Day Parade has named four men who will be honored at this year’s annual event.

In line with the World War II theme chosen for the 87th-annual parade, the committee selected four veterans who survived battle to serve as grand marshals and lead the parade next month.

The first of the honorees, retired U.S. Army Lt. Col. John Peterkin, served as a steward’s mate in the U.S. Navy before joining the ROTC program while attending City College. He served two years in Korea before also completing two tours of combat in Vietnam. Peterkin has two sons who both served in the Army during the Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts.

Little Neck resident Thomas Dent advocated for peace as a student at Queens College before joining the Navy after Pearl Harbor was attacked by the Japanese in 1941. He went on to become captain of a PT boat armed with torpedoes during WWII and survived Japanese bombs, a kamikaze attack and the burning of a gasoline ship. Upon returning to New York, Dent taught law at Queens College while raising a family in northeast Queens.

Manhattan native Rocco Moretto was one of the first 18-year-old men to be drafted into service during WWII and among the group of U.S. soldiers who landed on Omaha Beach in Normandy June 6, 1944, the date now commonly known as D-Day. He is one of just two soldiers from his 219-man unit who was unharmed during the war and today he frequently travels to schools to share his experiences with students. Moretto now lives in western Queens, and a Veterans of Foreign Wars post in Long Island City bears his name in honor of his service.

The fourth grand marshal is John McHugh Sr., a third-generation war veteran whose grandfather fought in the Civil War and whose father was wounded during World War I. McHugh was an orphan during the Great Depression before he joined the Army during WWII, during which he served as a member of the infantry unit that landed in Normandy in 1944. He survived Omaha Beach after finding himself unarmed as the only member of his machine gun crew to make it to ashore and went on to be awarded a Silver Star and Bronze Star for his service.

The four veterans will lead the group at the front of the May 26 parade, which starts at 2 p.m.

Reach reporter Kelsey Durham at 718-260-4573 or by e-mail at kdurham@cnglocal.com.