Many participants at Monday’s 100th Veterans Day Parade wore military fatigues or spiffy uniforms, but Queens resident Helen Ramierez Espinal was clad in a lacy white wedding gown and wore a purple heart gemstone around her neck.
Her fellow volunteer officers from the NYPD’s 24th Precinct Auxiliary Unit touched up her makeup for her big Veterans Day moment — her wedding.
Ramierez, of College Point, was ready to meet up with her “officer and gentleman,” Marine Sergeant Joseph Cedeno, who was riding on a Chase Bank float in the 100-year-old parade down Fifth Avenue — part of the Military Order of the Purple Heart, of which he is a recipient.
When the float arrived, her brother, Marine Private Fadrianny Ramierez took her by her arm, her father Geraldo Ramierez kissed her lightly on the cheek and then escorted them aboard. Many of her family members were also aboard the float — most of them, like herself, immigrants from the Dominican Republic.
On the float, a minister waited for them to stand atop the viewing stand together where the couple then took their vows to the delight of parade onlookers. Visitors shouted their congratulations to the couple as they exchanged rings and were pronounced man and wife, kissing with thousands of witnesses by the time they reached 34th Street.
Cedeno, an immigrant from Columbia, served three tours in Iraq from 2005-2007 and was wounded in Anbar Province during severe sectarian violence after the invasion to oust Saddam Hussein and to find weapons of mass destruction.
Sgt. Cedeno received numerous medals for his bravery, but his biggest reward was Ramierez Espinal’s hand in marriage, who he had met in College Point when he was working in the neighborhood.
“I was just in her neighborhood and it ended up happening,” said the joyous Sgt. Cedeno as he and his bride waved to the adoring crowds.
As to why the couple picked this day, Sgt. Cedeno said it was for everyone.
“Why this day — it is not just for myself, but I wanted it for every single service member out there: the Marines, Air Force, Army, Coast Guard, the Navy,” he said. “It’s not just my day, but its for all them, too.”
Ramierez Espinal agreed, saying the military has a special place in their hearts.
“We picked today because it’s important not just for him, but for me and we just wanted to share it,” she said. “We are both very private and we were going to get married Thursday, but one of our mentors recommended we do it at the parade. Even though it was a little nerve-wracking, it was for all veterans.”
Ramierez Espinal said they want people to know that being a veteran is not just about “PTSD, suicide and all the stigmas.”
“We wanted to show what defines veterans — those happy moments that they should have more of,” she said. “Sharing it with thousands of New Yorkers who came to pay respects we thought was a great idea, not just about Joseph I but all of them.”
Both immigrants, Ramierez Espinal called the U.S. “an amazing country.” She said he feels it important to serve the public as an auxiliary officer and she wants to correct the “stigma” from news reports that officers sometimes have.
“We want to show that we are just human beings,” she sighed.