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By Bill Parry

Sunnyside takes its Flag Day Parade seriously.

More than 1,000 people took part in the 45th annual march down Greenpoint Avenue Saturday, and while there are several Flag Day observations around the borough, Sunnyside is believed to be the only neighborhood with a parade.

“We’re the only ones in the whole city, can you believe that?” civic leader Don McCallion asked.

The march, organized by the Kiwanis Club, has become a signature event in Sunnyside, drawing dozens of community groups and hundreds of local school students. The Sunnyside Drum Corps, the Armagh Pipe Band and the Aviation High School Color Guard and Drum Line performed.

“It’s a wonderful turnout by the community every year,” Community Board 2 Chairman Joe Conley said. “We believe in celebrating our nation’s flag and its meaning.”

The march was followed by speeches from elected leaders and a moment of silence for fallen veterans at Sabba Park.

McCallion said he was disappointed earlier in the week when he asked a youngster if he was coming to the Flag Day Parade.

“He asked, ‘What flag?’” McCallion recalled. “What a shame. We teach this symbol of democracy to the youth so they don’t have to ask, ‘What flag?’”

Flag Day is a national observance that has been held every year since 1916. The idea was originally proposed in 1885 as a way to inspire students.

A significant portion of the parade was made up of area schoolchildren from PS 199 and IS 125.

Principal Anthony Inzerillo led his contingent of hundreds of students from 199 with cheers from a bullhorn.

“Who are we?”

“PS 199.”

“Who do we love?”

“America,” the students shouted in reply.

“We teach patriotism as part of the curriculum at PS 199,” Inzerillo said. “We have children from over 35 countries and we teach them to love the flag, to honor and respect the flag and the thing is the students want to learn. There is a reason so many people come to the United States: they want to be American.”

Participation in the parade is just one more part of the lesson.

“We even teach the students how to sing patriotic songs,” Inzerillo said. “And if that upsets some people, we’ll sing them even louder.”

PS 199 won the trophy for Largest Marching Group for the fourth year in a row, but this year it was a tie for the first time. PS 199 and IS 125 had an equal number of students participate.

“We never had a tie before,” Sunnyside Drum Corp Director Tony Lana said. “We had to scramble to find another trophy for them.”

Reach reporter Bill Parry by e-mail at bparry@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4538.

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