For the second year in a row, the traditional Forest Hills Memorial Day parade was canceled due to COVID-19 regulations. Instead, the Forest Hills American Legion Continental Post #1424 held a Memorial Day Weekend ceremony on May 30 at the Remsen Family Cemetery on Trotting Course Lane in Forest Hills to honor the military women and men who made the ultimate sacrifice while serving their country.
Post Commander Michael Arcati, a former Navy officer, opened the ceremony in front of about 100 veterans, community members and elected officials who had gathered despite the cold, rainy weather that matched the somber tone of the occasion. Arcati said that Memorial Day is a day to remember and reflect on those “who gave their lives for God and country.”
“By all of you attending today, you’re partaking in a vital ceremony to recognize the great Americans who made the ultimate sacrifice to maintain our freedom and democracy,” Arcati said before expressing that the ceremony was also a celebration of Forest Hills’ diversity and a salute to the first responders who led the community “through the dark days of the COVID crisis when we cannot leave our homes, and death surrounded us.”
Following the presentation of the colors by the Francis Lewis High School Army Junior ROTC Color Guard, the Pledge of Allegiance and the National Anthem performed by Abby Payne, Rev. Frank Schwarz, the pastor of Our Lady of Mercy, led the guests in prayer.
Vice Commander Pat Conley introduced this year’s commemoration honorees, who were acknowledged for their contribution to the Forest Hills Community.
NYPD Capt. Joseph Cappelmann, commanding officer of the 112th Precinct, received the Law and Order award.
Cappelmann said he was humbled to accept the award on behalf of the 112th Precinct. He said that Forest Hills and Rego Park are among the safest neighborhoods in New York City because of the close relationship between the 112th Precinct and the community.
“We always say policing is a shared responsibility. It truly is. We really need the community and the police to work together in order to be successful,” Cappelmann said.
But Cappelman also stressed that everyone “must really not forget why we are here today.”
“We’re here to honor all the servicemen and servicewomen who gave their lives to defend our nation and our freedom. They are the true heroes. Without them, we would not be able to enjoy our freedoms that we take for granted,” Cappelmann said.
Bob Simpson, the Adjutant of American Legion Continental Post #1424 and a recipient of three Purple Hearts, received the Veteran Honoree commemoration award. Simpson said it was a great honor to receive the award while he was a veteran “who is still breathing and standing.”
“Someone once said that death is not final until you are forgotten,” Simpson said. “While I breathe, all of you will live on. And your sacrifices for our freedom will be remembered. I salute all those brothers and sisters who fought for us, didn’t come back. Semper Fi!”
This year, Post #1424 also recognized the sacrifices frontline workers made during the COVID-19 pandemic and rewarded Dr. Teresa Amato with the First Responder award.
Amato thanked the American Legion on behalf of Northwell Health for the recognition and shared that, in partnership with LIJ Forest Hills Hospital, the health care facilities saved more than 1,000 COVID-19 patients. She also said the pandemic made it evident that saving lives is a team effort.
“We may celebrate those victories, but it’s also proper to remember those who perished during the pandemic. And on this Memorial Day, remember and mourn those in our armed services who gave the ultimate sacrifice and also celebrate their memories,” Amato said.
Heidi Chain, the president of the 112th Precinct Community Council, was honored with the Civilian Community Service award.
Chain, who serves as a liaison between the New York Police Department and residents to address safety issues and other problems, said it was essential to gather despite COVID-19 and pay tribute to the service members who gave their lives for their country.
“Although the method that we provide a tribute has changed due to COVID, the fact that we pay tribute is the most important,” Chain said.
Congresswoman Grace Meng, state Senator Joseph Addabbo, Queens Borough President Donovan Richards, and Councilman Robert Holden expressed that it was of utmost importance to provide veterans with the care and funds they need and address homelessness, mental health, and taking care of Vietnam veterans suffering from Agent Orange-related illnesses.
“We continue to fight, and that is just one simple way that we can gather and say ‘thank you so much’ to those who paid the ultimate sacrifice for the best country in the world,” Meng said.
Addabbo, a member of the Veterans, Homeland Security, and Military Affairs Committee, said it is his responsibility to address veterans’ issues.
“That is our obligation as elected officials. We are owed to do that. They deserve that service. To all the veterans here, to all those who made the ultimate sacrifice, thank you so much,” Addabbo said.
Richards saluted the men and women who selflessly protected the United States in the face of danger “to ensure that we as Americans can enjoy the freedoms we have.”
Holden told the story of a young sailor by the name of Edward Hoyt. Years back, a young Holden found the photo of the dashing young man in a Navy uniform in his mother’s scrapbook. She told him that Edward Hoyt voluntarily joined the Navy when he was 17 years old and died in 1942 when a German U-boat torpedoed his boat, the USS Jacob Jones, off Cape May in New Jersey on Feb. 28, 1942. She recalled that Edward Hoyt’s mother cried herself to sleep every night over the death of her only child.
Holden said it was important to share stories like Hoyt’s with the younger generations to help them understand the sacrifices the servicewomen and servicemen have made on their behalf.
“This is why we have to pass down these stories to all generations to understand the sacrifice that they pay and what we owe them,” Holden said.
The ceremony included the presentation of three memorial wreaths. The Continental Post #1424 wreath was presented by Simpson and Cappelmann. Sandy Luongo presented the Auxiliary Post 1424 wreath. Chain and Amato presented a wreath on behalf of Gold Star families.
Arcati thanked the the volunteer Forest Hill Ambulance Corps for their service, particularly during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Thank you for your sacrifice to the community during the pandemic. We salute you,” Arcati said.
Brian Frisbee somberly read the names of the 11 members of the Forest Hills American Legion Continental Post #1424 who died during the past year, some due to COVID-19.
A bell toll rang after each of the following names to honor their memory:
- George Adams, U.S. Army
- John Burns, U.S. Navy
- Joseph Carl, U.S. Air Force
- Frederick Eckert, U.S. Army
- Arthur Friedman, U.S. Air Force
- Anthony Falconiere, U.S. Marine Corps
- George Gniocchhio, U.S. Marine Corps
- Joseph Hennessy, U.S. Army
- John Severa, U.S. Marine Corps
- Michael Stepanek, U.S. Army
- Tracy McManus, Auxiliary Member, Post #1424
The ceremony concluded with trumpeter Jordan Sandke playing Taps and Abby Payne singing “God Bless America.”