Little Neck parade pays special tribute to Vietnam War veterans

By Tom Momberg

The Little Neck-Douglaston Memorial Day Parade is often touted as the largest such procession in the country.

The two-hour parade down Northern Boulevard from Great Neck to Douglaston not only incorporates national participants and a large military presence, but manages to include all the local community, cultural and youth organization that want to march.

The celebration and veteran-recognition ceremony that followed took place in the parking lot of St. Anastasia Roman Catholic Church at the end of the parade route.

But Monday was all about the veterans, and this year, American Legion Post 103 and the Little Neck-Douglaston Memorial Day Parade Association chose to recognize the 50th anniversary of the Vietnam War, in particular.

Because Vietnam was such an unpopular war with the public, many of the members of the armed forces returned home with little in the way of homecoming celebrations, and little thanks.

All Vietnam veterans were invited to a special booth to be awarded a pin from the State Department for their service in the South Asian conflict.

“This is the first time that many of these veterans have been thanked for their service,” said guest speaker and retired Major General Donald Hilbert of the U.S. Department of Defense Commemorative Partners Program. “But this sums up the attitude of many of the Vietnam veterans I have known: That we have no expectations but to serve when duty calls us. We ask for no reward, except the nation’s thanks.”

Hilbert said it is never too late to pay tribute and that a veteran’s service is not exempt from gratitude just because a war is controversial.

“No, decades later, events like these allow us to reach out to more and more Vietnam vets and their families,” he said.

The parade marshals and honorary grand marshals tried to reach as many Vietnam veterans as possible, walking along the sidewalks on the parade route to give them a pin.

Grand Marshal and retired Brigadier General Loree Sutton, of the Mayor’s Office of Veterans’ Affairs, recognized the importance of community celebration on holidays like Memorial Day, making every year a homecoming for veterans of past wars.

“At the Mayor’s Office of Veterans’ Affairs, every day is Veterans Day, but you know only one day a year is Memorial Day,” Sutton said. “It is a sacred, hallowed day. It is the day that our families and we veterans as the greatest soldiers, sailors, airmen, marines and coast guardsmen in the world, come together with communities, in places like Little Neck and Douglaston.”

Members of northeast Queens and Long Island communities came out in great number Monday. If they weren’t on the sides of the parade route rooting on participants and paying tribute to the ex-military men and women around them, they were marching in the parade.

There were simply too many organizations that participated in the parade to name them all, but they marched to the drums of over a dozen prestigious military, city agency and community marching pipe bands and drum corps.

Recognized during the holiday events as Man and Woman of the Year were Carl Mattone of the Mattone Group LLC and restaurateur, author and television host Lidia Bastianich. The Community Service Award was presented to Jerry Vilbig, a U.S. Marine and Korean War veteran.

John Rowan of the Vietnam Veterans of America and Mayor Bill de Blasio served as honorary grand marshals. Other parade marshals were Richard Weinberg, Robert McGarry, Sebastiano D’Agostino, Vince McGowan, Patrick Gualtieri and Joseph Graham.

Complimentary hot dogs and water were provided to all parade participants and guests, thanks to the Mattone Family and the Fairway Market in Douglaston.

Reach reporter Tom Momberg by e-mail at tmomberg@cnglocal.com or by phone at (718) 260–4573.

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