Dozens of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans joined the ranks of Brooklyn’s Memorial Day Parade on May 28, making the 145-year-old cavalcade — America’s oldest procession honoring fallen soldiers — one of the grandest in recent memory, both audiences and organizers said.
The United Military Veterans of Kings County said that they were hurting for reinforcements from recent conflicts as the survivors of World War II, Korea, and Vietnam faded away. But this year some 40 to 50 soldiers from the Middle Eastern battlefields answered the group’s bugle call — compared to just two or three in past years, said parade committee Vice Chairman Ray Aalbue.
“We wanted to recognize our Iraq and Afghanistan vets and we’re glad we got them to march with us,” Aalbue said, crediting the increase in participation to his organization’s aggressive advertising.
Aalbue said he hoped to recruit even more young warriors next year through online outreach.
“We’re going to go viral,” the Vietnam-era soldier laughed.
The desert vets marched under a sweltering sun with Girl and Boy Scout troops, sailors, and Marines in town for Fleet Week, with civic groups bringing up the rear. Those who stood on the sidelines were unanimous in praising this year’s procession.
“It looks bigger this year, but I’m enjoying it so much it’s hard to analyze it,” said Howard Nygaard, a 92-year-old World War II Navy veteran. “I hope it’ll go on forever.”
Nygaard, who piloted a landing craft at Normandy, was emotional talking about those lost.
“I couldn’t bring myself to go to the cemetery earlier, but they should not be forgotten,” he said.
Other viewers agreed about the event’s importance.
“It’s a great parade and it’s an honor to be here,” said Kenneth Carlsen, a Korean War vet.
Carlsen’s former platoonmate Bob Thomson echoed his friend’s feelings.
“If my legs were better, I’d be marching with them,” he said, adding that he and Carlsen are the last living members of their company.
Younger soldiers who marched stressed the inclusiveness of the parade.
“It’s honoring every veteran and every person who’s served, and it brings the whole community together,” said Amanda Martinez, a National Guard private who will be deployed to Afghanistan in August.