A crowd of donors packed a Bay Ridge bar on Sunday for the 11th annual fundraiser dedicated to supporting the neighborhood’s yearly Memorial Day parade.
The benefit raised the United Military Veterans of Kings County, which puts on the Memorial Day Parade, and happens on the last Sunday in April each year, just as the plans ramp-up for the celebratory procession honoring Brooklynites who served in uniform.
“It really helps us out,” said Raymond Aalbue, an executive director of the organization. “The community comes out and they support all of the bands and the bands support us since they perform for free. They love doing it.”
This year, a group of six bands took the stage at Salty Dog Bar & Restaurant to perform during the benefit, as drinks flowed and cheers were had — with each band having their own following that helps bring in more attendees to the fundraiser.
Some Brooklynites pop in to see their favorites play, while others stick around for the whole show. Regardless, Aalbue says the event has become an annual tradition locals look forward to.
“It’s almost become a rite of Spring,” he said. “We really appreciate the bands doing it for free and we appreciate the community coming out to support them.”
Attendees could also participate in a raffle where they could win gift cards to local eateries, donated by the restaurants.
Local Council Member Justin Brannan stopped by the event, and left a hefty donation of $10,000 from his council office to support what he calls an “important tradition.”
“Bay Ridge is truly so lucky to have this world-famous Memorial Day Parade right in our backyard. Years ago, our community came together to save this parade and we are all just so grateful to keep this important tradition going strong,” Brannan said in a statement. “We must always honor those who gave their lives in sacrifice to our country.”
Bay Ridge is lucky to host the longest running Memorial Day Parade in the country! Stopped by the big annual fundraiser today to show my support. Hope to see u along the parade route on Monday, May 29th. Thanks to Ray & Connie for all u do and thanks @gatorbites2002 for the pic! pic.twitter.com/cZNiHtJZle
— Justin Brannan (@JustinBrannan) April 30, 2023
According to Aalbue, the parade has been a Brooklyn staple for 156 years — and helps honor around 55,000 veterans calling Brooklyn home.
Organizers almost had to nix the parade in 2011 due to a lack of funds — but, as news spread, enough kind-hearted locals dug into their pockets to keep the event going.
“No matter how you look at it, we would have had a parade, even without the bands — even if it was just six of us marching down Third Avenue,” Aalbue told Brooklyn Paper. “But what’s a parade without the band?”
In 2012, following the financial scarcity, the United Military Veterans of Kings County board decided to become a nonprofit so they could raise funds for the march year round.
The Kings County Memorial Day Parade is considered to be among the oldest big-city marching parades, as it was first hosted in 1867.
The original route was along Eastern Parkway, until 1985, when it moved to Prospect Park West. It soon moved to Bay Ridge, where it has been hosted for over 30 years.
Aalbue has been helping out with the event for over 20 years and being an Air Force veteran himself, he says it holds a special place in his heart.
“It’s expanding a little bit. A couple of years ago before COVID, we were up to 20 bands and six or seven floats,” Aalbue said. “ So it really was getting big and COVID knocked us down a little bit but now we’re starting to come back.”
The 156th parade will be held on May 29, with the procession beginning at 11 a.m. on Third Avenue and 78th Street.
Revelers will continue through Bay Ridge with a memorial service at John Paul Jones Park that will include Bagpipes, Flag Raising, Wreath Laying by Veteran Service Organizations and a 21-gun salute by the Veteran Corps of Artillery.
For more parade day details, or to contribute to the parade’s fundraising goals, visit the official event website.