By Bill Parry
The Vietnam Veterans of America Queens Chapter 32 will march in Monday’s Little Neck-Douglaston Memorial Day Parade with their former leader, Michael O’Kane — still slowed by knee surgery — riding along in a camouflage Camaro. This year the organization will pay a special tribute to former service members from Queens who died alone and sometimes homeless.
“We are sponsoring the Francis Lewis High School Junior ROTC, who will be carrying 125 folded casket flags belonging to indigent veterans that our chapter has had the honor of escorting to their final resting place,” O’Kane said.
For nearly a decade Chapter 32 has partnered with the Hess Miller Funeral Home in Middle Village to provide dignified burials for veterans who can’t afford one. Each flag-draped casket is transported to Calverton National Cemetery in Suffolk County, where the veteran receives full military honors and since there are no family members to receive the flag, the Chapter 32 members take it back to their Whitestone headquarters where the flags are put on display.
“In an effort to reconnect a family member with their relative, a listing of the veterans’ names, date of birth and date of death will be distributed along the parade route,” O’Kane said. “Contact information will also be provided if a relative is found and the casket flag will be returned to them. This is a very proud moment for the chapter.”
He recently stepped down after serving two years as president of the chapter, but he remains on the board of directors. Last week, the Glendale resident was inducted into the New York State Senate Veterans’ Hall of Fame after he was selected by state Sen. Joseph Addabbo (D-Howard Beach).
O’Kane served in the U.S. Navy during the Vietnam War, where he earned the Vietnam Service Medal, National Defense Medal, Vietnam Campaign Medal and the U.S. Navy Combat Action Ribbon, Presidential Unit Citation, and Meritorious Unit Citation for engaging the enemy several times in fire fights along the various rivers and canals in the Republic of Vietnam.
He left the Navy in 1970 after receiving the rank of Petty Officer Third Class, and began a distinguished career with New York Telephone, retiring in 1998 when he became a professional photographer and member of Community Board 5.
“Mike O’Kane has served this country, his community, and his fellow veterans for many years,” Addabbo said. “From seeing combat in the Vietnam War, to fighting for his local community, to making sure veterans who passed on without any known living relatives have proper military burials, Mike has exemplified what it means to serve. He is certainly deserving of being inducted into the Senate Veterans’ Hall of Fame.”
Reach reporter Bill Parry by e-mail at bparr