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Queens officials commemorate veterans at the Elmhurst Park Vietnam Memorial

Sean McCabe receives an award from Queens District Attorney Melinda Katz during veterans memorial ceremony in Elmhurst Park on Nov. 10. (Julia Moro/QNS)

Local elected officials, including Queens Borough President Donovan Richards and District Attorney Melinda Katz, gathered in Elmhurst Park to host a veterans memorial ceremony on Wednesday, Nov. 10. 

“Every night that I put my kids to sleep safely in their beds, I thank all of you that are here today,” Katz said. “We take a moment to acknowledge those men and women around the world that makes sure we continue to be able to be safe and sound in our homes. You will never be forgotten.”

About 40 Vietnam veterans joined the officials at the Queens Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Elmhurst. Katz said that she remembered the disrespect many veterans dealt with upon returning home after the war, as Vietnam soldiers were looked down upon by the anti-war movement, unlike World War II veterans.

“That was a personal issue to me when I became elected many years ago,” Katz said. “I remember the men and women coming home from Vietnam. I remember what you all went through after fighting for our country. It was imperative for me to do something to show you honor, respect and say, ‘Welcome home.'”

The Vietnam memorial was fully funded by Katz, who was borough president at the time and allocated over $2 million for the project.

Katz also referenced the vandalism that defaced the memorial in June. The graffiti painted swastikas over the monument and referred to veterans as “baby killers.”

Queens District Attorney Melinda Katz at a veterans memorial ceremony in Elmhurst Park on Nov. 10. (Photo courtesy of QueensDAKatz/Twitter)

“Many of us stood up here and made sure folks realized this is a sacred site, and we will not stand for it being vandalized,” Katz said. “It must be treated with respect.”

Richards co-sponsored the event to thank veterans for their service and promised to always remember veterans’ sacrifices.

“I have the freedom to run for office because of each and every one of you,” Richards said. “When we talk about democracy and our country, I know there’s a lot of political polarization out there, but bottom line, this is the greatest country on the face of the Earth.”

Queens Borough President Donovan Richards at a veterans memorial ceremony in Elmhurst Park on Nov. 10. (Photo courtesy of QueensDAKatz/Twitter)

Richards also mentioned Queens is home to the largest population of veterans in the entire city and will work tirelessly to make sure they are getting the care they need.

“We need to continue to work hard to ensure the benefits you deserve you are sorely getting,” Richards said. “We should never have veterans sleeping on our streets who paid the biggest price and in many ways the ultimate sacrifice for our country.”

State Senator Joseph Addabbo also spoke to the services veterans need.

“I’m of the belief Veterans Day is every day, not just one day of the year,” Addabbo said. “It’s not enough just to say ‘thank you.’ As elected officials, we have an obligation to address every single issue that confronts a veteran of today. Whether it be housing, mental health, the suicide rate that must be addressed — we have an obligation. That’s how you say ‘thank you’ to a veteran.”

Katz and Richards also handed out awards. Addabbo mentioned one honoree in particular, Sean McCabe, a veteran who recently started working in his office. Addabbo said McCabe honorably joined the army after watching the Iraq conflict and said, “Why not me?”

“To all those that say ‘why not me?'” Addabbo said. “To all those who were drafted, to all those who served: God bless you all and thank you so much.”

Queens District Attorney Melinda Katz, state Senator Joseph Addabbo and Queens Borough President Donovan Richards with local veterans at a veterans memorial ceremony in Elmhurst Park on Nov. 10. (Photo courtesy of QueensDAKatz/Twitter)

McCabe was deployed to Baghdad, Iraq, serving in the U.S. Army between 2004 and 2007. As a civilian, he dedicates his time to the upkeep of the veteran’s memorial in Howard Beach and preventing veteran’s suicide. 

“I’m just a kid from Ozone Park. I was 18 working at a video store when 9/11 happened,” McCabe said. “To all my guys around the country and around the world right now, I’m still thinking about you every day. To my wife and my mother, you two have stood by me through and through. To my kids, you two are everything to me. The two of you help keep the demons at bay, and I love you with all my heart.”

Another honoree, Suzanne Bettis, enlisted in the Marine Corps Reserves when she was 17 and, in 2005, voluntarily deployed to Al Asad, Iraq. After two deployments searching for and retrieving troops who died on duty, she was honorably discharged in 2010 to pursue her dream of practicing law. Since 2014, she has been an assistant district attorney in Katz’s office. 

Bettis thanked the Vietnam veterans in the crowd who paved the way and helped her as she returned from her deployments. 

“When I came back from my deployments, I was in a dark place that I didn’t know I had fallen into,” Bettis said. “It was a Vietnam veteran that saw whatever he saw in me at the VA hospital and pulled me aside and helped me through a really tumultuous time. So, I personally thank all of you in this audience that are Vietnam vets who didn’t forget the new young vets coming back, and I appreciate that.”

A Vietnam veteran, Douglas Williams, enlisted in the U.S. Navy in 1974, he served aboard the U.S.S. Yosemite. He also served two years in a naval base in Virginia before retiring from service. Now, he acts as president of the Vietnam Veterans American Chapter 32, in Maspeth.

“I believe in our country and I believe in what vets do and what they stand for,” Williams said.

The ceremony closed with the audience calling out names of fallen veterans and a signal for taps.

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