After 91 years, nearly all of them spent in North Brooklyn, it is Pasquale Sparano’s time.
The nonagenarian World War II veteran will serve as Grand Marshall of the Greenpoint Memorial Day Parade on May 30, which steps off a mere two blocks from the house he grew up in.
Born in 1918, Sparano grew up on Withers Street and attended Eastern District HS — now the Grand Street Campus — before being sent off to air transport command in West Palm Beach, FL, in the early 1940s.
He saw little active combat. After basic training, Sparano was sent oversees to Tunisia, where he served in the guard squad that monitored Italian prisoners. By then, Sicily had been taken and Fascist Italy had surrendered.
One of Sparano’s jobs was to take the Italian prisoners outside to cut down large cactus plants on the road into the base and put them in the stockade if they misbehaved.
“I couldn’t speak Italian, but I got along with them,” said Sparano. “I went into the mess hall and ate with them. I had more fun with them than the Americans.”
When he returned home from over there, he worked several jobs: as a brass polisher in a Newark lamp factory, a waiter in a catering business, and eventually a Department of Sanitation worker, where he earned about $60 a week after taxes.
When he got the city job, Sparano says, he “kissed the ground,” and for the next 20 years, he picked up Williamsburg’s trash from Lorimer Street to Broadway.
“People asked, ‘How can you pick up garbage?’ I didn’t look at the garbage. All I saw was a nice paycheck at the end of the week,” said Sparano.
Retired for almost 30 years, Sparano will don his uniform — the Sanitation Department one, not the soldier suit and march in the borough’s shortest, but best, Memorial Day parade. He hopes to see more children on the sidewalks cheering him on, but he is skeptical.
“In the old days, everyone was out in the street,” said Sparano. “Kids would be playing all day. Today, the only exercise children get is with their fingers on their computer.”