Marching in the Name of Our Veterans

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Active Duty Marines & Navy Sailors. Photo by Michael Perlman.

By Michael Perlman |

A most meaningful commemoration in Forest Hills history has been the Forest Hills Memorial Day Parade since the 1920s, where organizations and residents spanning every generation and interest come together as one. On May 28, it was once again proven that patriotism, humanitarian values, and community spirit remain strong to honor veterans, including those who made the ultimate sacrifice and may have perished.

At 11 AM, a ceremony with speeches by elected officials began in front of American Legion Continental Post 1424, which led to an hour-long parade from Ascan Avenue, west along Metropolitan Avenue to the landmarked Remsen Memorial Park, where a wreath laying ceremony was held.

This tradition was coordinated by American Legion Continental Post # 1424 and organizing partner, Forest Hills Kiwanis Club, and was sponsored by numerous local businesses and residents.

Applauding Grand Marshal Anthony Sarro, WWII Veteran. Photo by Anne Marie Kelly.

In front of the American Legion and under a highly stylized “Thank You Veterans” banner, BP Donovan Richards, as well as Assemblyman Andrew Hevesi, took the podium. “The best part for me today is watching the kids learn what it is to be a patriot in the greatest country in the history of the world,” said Hevesi. 

“I am of the belief that we honor our best those who served, consisting of the past service and those who have passed, by helping the veterans who are still with us,” said State Senator Joseph Addabbo, Jr. “As elected officials, it is not our duty, but our obligation to do what we can legislatively and administratively to help our veterans. As a proud member of the Veterans Committee of the Senate, I believe that every day is Veterans Day.” In New York State, funding for veterans has been increased. “When you address the issues that they face – homelessness, mental health, physical health, we get to reduce the suicide rate,” he continued.   

Boy Scouts & Cub Scouts. Photo by Carla Rupp.

Mike Arcati serves as Commander of the American Legion Post, whereas Pat Conley serves as Vice Commander. The chapter supports veterans’ programs, specifically focused on suicide prevention and PTSD, as well as many youth programs. Conley explained, “We are remembering all of our Armed forces members who made the ultimate sacrifice, and I can say that all the hard work that went into our parade by an amazing committee was well worth it. My favorite memory was seeing all the young kids who came out to watch.”

There were five Grand Marshals this year, including Mary Kehoe, a nurse at P.S. 101, who also coordinated many very successful Legion fundraisers. Robert Schnell was a civilian grand marshal. Conley said, “He is very active in the community, supports many civics and is a Legion volunteer. His passion is military war K9 dogs and he supports many programs that involve the importance of the history and current roles war dogs play in the military.” Lt. Kevin Kehoe dedicated approximately 40 combined years in New York area law enforcement and is assigned to the Queens DA office. As for Veteran Grand Marshal Joseph Conley, he said, “He is the post treasurer and compliance officer, but more importantly helped save our post from closing.” Honorary Grand Marshal Dr. Anthony Sarro is 94 and served during the Korean conflict as a team leader of the Explosive Ordnance Disposal team. “He was a navy seal before they were official navy seals in 1960,” said Conley.

District 29 City Council Candidate Ethan Felder, a 30-year resident said, “I am remembering all men and women who made the ultimate sacrifice from our nation’s founding until today.

Wreath laying ceremony at Remsen Memorial Park. Photo by Michael Perlman.

Felder embraces the parade’s critical role in preserving America’s collective memory. “Freedom is a result of the sacrifice made by many men and women who gave their life for our nation. They did so to defend the liberties that we cherish today.” The parade also strengthens a sense of commitment to prevent conflict and sustain global peace, according to Felder. “Many of our soldiers are serving abroad far from families now. The human cost of such wars is many, including recently in Afghanistan and Iraq,” he said.  

Felder was deeply inspired by the stories shared by America’s bravest. “I was significantly moved by the story of Anthony Sarro, an honored Korean War veteran, a diver, who removed enemy mines. I was also taken with the special honor given to veterans who served in Vietnam, many of whom endured disrespect upon returning from combat.”

He left with a renewed commitment to honor veterans, including advocacy for strengthening the assistance provided to them by returning from conflict and their families. “I am also honoring my grandfather, Joseph Felder, who served as a WWII merchant marine,” he continued.

Marching bands, a highlight. Photo by Carla Rupp.

Numerous memories surfaced. Carla Marie Rupp, who visited from Tribeca, explained, “When I heard about the Forest Hills Memorial Day Parade, I once again felt privileged to attend. My father Carl served in the Merchant Marines, and he also performed a peace activity, volunteering in a hospital. My uncle Kenneth served in the military.” She continued, “Metropolitan Avenue feels like a small town, where residents were very friendly and dressed in patriotic spirit to honor our loved ones among everyone who served our country.”  

Former resident Carol Gilmore, who resides in Port Orange, Florida and is now 74, marched along Metropolitan Avenue on many occasions as a child. “I remember my uncle Tom Smith, a real patriot who served and always told us before the parade, ‘Never ever let the flag touch the ground’ and ‘When marching, hold it high.’ We would visit Remsen Memorial Park and after the ceremony have Dixie cups. As a kid, I felt so much pride living in 1950s America.” She also remembers uncles William Smith and Fred Luginsland as patriots. 

Banjo Rascals. Photo by Michael Perlman.

Betina Hershey, vocalist/guitarist/songwriter of The Sooches played the opening ceremony with co-band leader Nick Russo on guitar/banjo, Harvey Wirht on drums, and Keith Anthony Fluitt on vocals. This is the second consecutive year that Garden Players, founded in 1916, performed in the parade. Hershey, who serves as its artistic and executive director of Garden Players, paved the way for over 20 students and family members. Red, white and blue attire boosted the spirit.

Hershey, on guitar, led the singing, with Garden Players kids and families singing “This Little Light of Mine,” “If I Had A Hammer,” “This Land Is Your Land,” “Spread Your Wings And Fly” by Hershey, and “The Garden Players Song” by Hershey and Sunny Knable. She also loved singing “America The Beautiful” as a duet with Keith Anthony Fluitt.  

“It was wonderful to bring so many neighbors and groups together, to march in remembrance and celebrate. We were lifting each other up,” she said.

Sharing memories was a major part of her experience. “I am remembering my uncles; one a veteran who is alive and well, but the other who had PTSD, his life ended in suicide,” said Hershey.

Diane Freel, Tony’s wife, & RHHS President Helen Day. Photo by Michael Perlman.

Among the finest humanitarians can be found at Forest Hills Volunteer Ambulance Corps, founded in 1971. It holds a membership of 65, and 18 representatives were at the parade, with 12 vehicles making their way. Paul J. Marcel is a 9/11 Parade Coordinator, Honor Guard and Fellowship chairman, and is celebrating his 15th year as a FHVAC member, without adding his probationary period. He is a man on a mission. “I am honoring all heroes who lost their lives in battle. I am from a military 1st responder family, and I’m memorializing all those lost on 9/11 and the war on terror across the world.” 

As a 16-year attendee, he said, “I have seen the impact the parade has and the spirit of patriotism it brings home. It was very special being able to bring my kids along at an age where they can absorb the day and the American spirit. They participated in the parade, as they are very active with me in the agency with events.” 

This columnist and his parents joined local residents Tony Hu and his wife, and danced along Metropolitan Avenue, even to the sounds of the Macarena. “I was lucky to find a shirt painted with an American flag,” Hu said.

Grand Marshal Anthony Sarro at 94, WWII Veteran. Photo by Carla Rupp.

Hu attended the Little Neck parade with church fellows these past few years, and upon learning that one existed in Forest Hills, he made no hesitation. He explained, “I do not belong to any group, but enjoy dancing to cheer up people, especially after the pandemic. It’s the best activity to keep us healthy.”

As an Asian American and an immigrant, he made a choice to come to America and become a citizen. “I will continue to try my best to help others and engage in public services. I would like to honor heroes sacrificing for the U.S., as I could enjoy my life here because of them,” he said.

Some parade marches were in period attire, such as Richmond Hill Historical Society President Helen Day. “We like to have two of us in Victorian dress to reflect the history of our community, founded during Victorian times,” she said. Around a dozen people marched with a handmade banner by the late Rita Werner, a founding board member. 

She loved spotting classic cars, including Toys For Tots, some from local businesses, and veterans driving an army jeep. Her nephew, Kyle Miller, paraded with his 1955 Oldsmobile.  

Classic cars making their way. Photo by Michael Perlman.

Day explained memories to be cherished. “A large group of sailors came to march from the USS Wasp, an amphibious warship that sailed from Norfolk, Virginia as part of Fleet Week. It was very touching to see 94-year-old Grand Marshal Anthony Sarro in his uniform, and there was a poster-sized photo of him when he served in WWII.” 

Queens Historical Society was represented by Executive Director Jason Antos and board member Rob MacKay, who usually attends the Woodside parade and is now proud to march in Forest Hills. “I enjoyed watching the youth groups, as they are the future, as well as two mounted police officers and their horses, which added a regal feel. So many different facets of the community were on display,” said MacKay. 

The parade drew an image of his cousin, John Pflug, who was just discharged from the Armed Forces. “He saw action in Afghanistan. I am extremely proud of him, but we should be very appreciative of all veterans,” he continued.  

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