Brooklynites raise funds for the 155th annual Memorial Day Parade

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A variety of live bands performed at the Brooklyn Memorial Day Parade’s annual fundraiser.
Photo by Arthur de Gaeta

Brooklynites once again raised money over the weekend for the country’s largest annual Memorial Day Parade — a Bay Ridge staple for the last three decades with a history that dates back more than a century.

“We really appreciate all the people from Bay Ridge and from Brooklyn that are coming and supporting us,” Raymond Aalbue, chairman of the Brooklyn Memorial Day Parade, told Brooklyn Paper, “because it really is a worthwhile cause to remember all those men and women who died in service of our country.”

The United Military Veterans of Kings County have hosted the pre-parade fundraiser for 10 years, prior to which they received support from the city to put on the annual event. The group has since formed a 501(c)(3) as the Memorial Day Parade Committee, which allows them to offer a tax write-off to donors for the funds they give. 

Parade supporters like former state Sen. Marty Golden (second from right) attended the fundraiser.Photo by Arthur de Gaeta

“The committee at that time decided to form a 501(c)(3) so we can go out and fundraise, and offer people a tax reduction for the money that they donate,” Aalbue said, “and that’s what we did and we blossomed from there.”

The amount raised at the May 1 benefit won’t be made public but is largely credited to the committee’s yearly raffle, for which tickets were available to be purchased at a number of Bay Ridge restaurants for $10 each, as well as donations from community members. A $20 door fee for each guest was also donated to support the parade, now in its 155th year.

The raffle’s theme was “16 nights in Bay Ridge”— coined because 16 Bay Ridge eateries donated $100 gift cards, with the first-place winner receiving 10 gift cards, second-place taking home four certificates and the third-place winner winning two gift cards. 

Raymond Aalbue, chairman of the Memorial Day Parade Committee, and Councilmember Justin Brannan.Photo by Arthur de Gaeta

This year’s pre-parade fundraiser was held at Salty Dog on Bay Ridge’s Third Avenue, which has been the venue for nine years, and whose owners, Aalbue said, have been huge supporters of the event.

“The place was jam-packed,” he said of this weekend’s showing. “The waitresses were able to glide through the crowd like butter, delivering beer and food and everything to people. The Salty Dog did a great job.” 

Seven live bands performed throughout the day starting at 1 pm, including Carol Douglas, who is known for her hit song “Doctor’s Orders” — one of the first to open up the age of disco, a genre that was popular in Bay Ridge, where “Saturday Night Fever” was filmed. 

“All the people in the bands were just so supportive and so thankful to us for what veterans have done for this country,” Aalbue said. “It was so uplifting.” 

One parade committee member even brought his 1946 Willies Jeep which served as quite the attraction. “He had it sitting on the sidewalk,” Aalbue said. “People were taking pictures next to it, on it, under it” 

A suite of politicians from Bay Ridge’s past, present and possibly future were in attendance, including former state Sen. Marty Golden, sitting City Councilmember Justin Brannan, Golden’s successor, state Sen. Andrew Gounardes, and his son Evan. 

Councilmember Justin Brannan (left) with state Sen. Andrew Gounardes, holding his son, Evan.Photo by Arthur de Gaeta

“Bay Ridge is lucky to host the longest running Memorial Day Parade in the country,” Brannan wrote on social media. “Stopped by the fundraiser yesterday to support the United Military Veterans of Kings County who organize the parade each year. They do an amazing job. Over the past 3 years, I’ve allocated over $25,000 to help keep this parade going strong.”

The Memorial Day Parade has had its home in Bay Ridge for over 30 years, with its first inception in 1867 on Eastern Parkway, where it was held for a number of years before a brief tenure in Park Slope and Windsor Terrace on Prospect Park West.

Brooklyn’s Memorial Day Parade was founded just after the end of the Civil War, when veterans from the battles between the Union and the Confederacy joined forces with alumni of previous wars to remember those who died.

When the 155th annual parade kicks off at 11 am on Monday, May 30, it will mark the return to a full-scale celebration, as the committee pivoted to smaller motorcades during the last two years due to the pandemic.

Veterans wave from the motorcade for 2020’s scaled-back Memorial Day Parade in Bay Ridge.File photo

Ahead of last year’s motorcade, Aalbue, who has helped organize the parade for close to three decades, told Brooklyn Paper he feels it his responsibility to honor his brothers and sisters who were in combat — as himself a veteran from the Vietnam War-era but wasn’t sent into combat, and was instead stationed in Okinawa, Japan and Korea. 

“I was in the military during the Vietnam War, and they didn’t send me to Vietnam,” he said. “So one of the things I think I do this for is to remember all of those men and women who died, over 58,000 men and women who died in Vietnam, because I could have been in Vietnam, who knows.”

Sunday’s fundraiser wasn’t Salty Dog’s on parade booster in recent weeks: The Third Avenue watering hole hosted the Norwegian Day Parade Committee’s annual fundraiser on April 23. There, the group brought in big bucks for the 17th of May Parade, Bay Ridge’s annual celebration of the signage of the Norwegian constitution on May 17, 1814.

That parade will return in just two weekends, on May 15th — the Sunday before the namesake date of the parade. 

Parade committee leaders and supporters with Bay Ridge’s chief accordion player, Ellen Lindstrom, at the 2022 17th of May Parade fundraiser.Photo by Arthur de Gaeta

Bay Ridge has held a 17th of May Parade yearly since 1952, sans a two-year hiatus due to the coronavirus pandemic. Each year, on the Sunday closest to May 17, the former Scandinavian stronghold transforms into a sea of red, white and blue — the colors of the Norwegian flag.

Ahead of this year’s 17th of May Parade fundraiser, president and chair of the Norwegian-American 17th of May Committee Arlene Rutuelo spoke with excitement for both the parade and its preceding event at Salty Dog.

“We are supported by the Norwegian community. We raise money doing the annual parade journal and at the fundraiser at Salty Dog,” she said. “The fundraiser is a fun time to gather the Norwegian and American community together to support the parade.”