Boro vets mark D-Day

By Sarina Trangle

Seven decades after troops stormed Normandy, Vietnam Veterans recalled how the heroics of those who fought in World War II inspired generations of Americans — from Whitestone and beyond.

Close to 35 people gathered at Whitestone Veterans Memorial Field last Friday to join Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 4787 and Vietnam Veterans of America Chapter 32 in commemorating the 70th anniversary of D-Day.

Paul Narson, president of VVA Chapter 32, opened the ceremony by saluting Wold War II veterans.

“As we got older, our families and our schools taught us about you, your battle and your courage,” he said. “You taught our generation the meaning of duty, honor and country on June 6, 1944.”

Rabbi Steven Axelman reflected on his visit to Normandy this spring before giving an invocation. He described the American cemetery where 9,837 men and women who died during the Allied thrust on the European mainland against Nazi Germany are buried.

“Every step I took away from the beaches, I was aware that one of America’s sons, brothers and fathers may have given his life in that very spot,” Axelman said.

Fred Hensel, commander of VFW Post 4787 in Whitestone, read remarks Gen. Dwight Eisenhower gave to the troops before they embarked on the so-called Operation Overlord.

Several politicians then spoke, including state Sen. Tony Avella (D-Bayside), and former city Comptroller John Liu, who is mounting a primary challenge to Avella.

Councilman Paul Vallone (D-Bayside) called a handful of World War II veterans up beside him to thank them for their service. He singled out Frank Milano, who came dressed in a pristine-looking uniform.

“He was describing climbing down the rope ladder, getting into the transport ship, waiting that 10 to 15 minutes until the landing doors came down and stepping off on the beach,” Vallone said. ”Our generation, we can’t even fathom what that meant.”

The ceremony concluded with two trumpet players standing astride a large memorial and accompanying a recording of taps as the flag was raised.

Milano, a U.S. Army radio operator who stormed Normandy, said he came “to honor the men who are no longer here.”

Similarly, Bill Costello, an infantryman, said he wanted to pay respects to those left behind, including his former sergeant, Frank Vasco, who died at Normandy.

Reach reporter Sarina Trangle at 718-260-4546 or by e-mail at strangle@cnglocal.com.