‘It was overwhelming’: Maspeth youth and veterans honor fallen with early Memorial Day vigil

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Photo: Mark Hallum/QNS

Tom Vanetten did not look to any veterans groups for 38 years after returning from Vietnam, but has found a home with the Vietnam Veterans of America Chapter 32 where he takes pride in carrying the American flag in the annual vigil for fallen soldiers in Maspeth Memorial Park.

Vanetten led the Honor Guard throughout the ceremony that has been taking place in the triangle at 69th Street and Grand Avenue for over 50 years now, where female civic leaders carry candles and students from nearby schools lead the attendees in song.

“It was overwhelming. The best part about it is it was interwoven with all the young people of Maspeth. They’re the people that are going to carry on our great traditions and they were here to see us to it now and sort of get the impetus that sooner or later in their lives, they’ll be in that same position,” said Ken Rudzewick, former president and CEO of Maspeth Federal Savings, which helped organize the vigil.

The vigil is older than the Maspeth Memorial Day Parade itself, started 35 years ago, and was initially led by the Women’s Auxiliary while the men managed the parade, according to Rudzewick.

Singers from St. Stanislaus Kostka sang “Imagine” by John Lennon during the vigil. (Photo: Mark Hallum/QNS)
Photo: Mark Hallum/QNS
Photo: Mark Hallum/QNS

For Vanetten, one of the more significant tasks the VVA Queens chapter undertakes is seeing that indigent veterans are interred under proper care.

With many veterans becoming homeless after their years of service, many who die often end up in Potters Field on Heart Island where unclaimed bodies are buried by the city government.

In 2015, the VVA had successfully interred their 100th indigent veteran in Edsell Smith, a Marine who had served from 1972 to 1976.

When a veterans such as Smith die without any survivors, the VVA steps in as next of kin.