Call it a Memorial Day walk down memory lane.
Ridgites lined Third Avenue on May 28 for the borough’s 151st annual Memorial Day Parade — which is also one of the nation’s oldest — to honor those who sacrificed their lives while serving the country. Throngs of locals took in the floats and familiar faces along the 1.5-mile route, from 78th Street to John Paul Jones Park, imbuing the somber day with spirits of energy and gratitude, according to the chairman of the parade committee.
“The crowd along the parade route and in the park for the memorial service were the highlights,” said Ray Aalbue. “Brooklyn really stepped up to the plate to come out and pay their respects to those who paid the ultimate price for our freedom.”
Superintendent of the United States Military Academy at West Point, Lieutenant General Robert L. Caslen, Jr., served as the parade’s grand marshal, leading it along with the deputy marshals: Army Vietnam veteran Barry Berger, and retired Marine George Broadhead and Army veteran Thomas Trombone — both of whom served in the Korean War.
Marching bands from the nearby McKinley Intermediate School and far-away Gardner, Kansas, kept the crowd entertained, and students from the neighborhood’s St. Anselm Catholic Academy, Fort Hamilton’s Junior Reserve Officer’s Training Corps program, and Bensonhurst’s Bishop Kearney High School marched behind the bands.
Seven floats — honoring veterans from the Korean and Vietnam wars, Catholic veterans, and other veterans organizations — led the procession to the park, where a bagpiper played “Amazing Grace” and attendees watched a 21-gun salute, and finally taps played by Fort Hamilton High School students. The effect was quite moving, according to Aalbue.
“It was really emotional,” he said.
Some parade-goers found ways to remember soldiers’ great sacrifices while having some fun. One loyal attendee from the distant land of New Jersey paid his respects to his late brother — who died in a naval battle in World War II — in the same way he has for the past five years: by driving his American flag-adorned 1976 Cadillac Eldorado up the avenue for all to enjoy.
“I love coming up to New York, and the people react incredibly to the car,” said Fran Di Bacco.
Di Bacco said he never forgot what it was like to learn his brother died in 1942 — and that his annual participation in the parade is a way to honor his memory.
“I was with my mom when she got the telegram [that he died] — nobody came to the house or anything. The opened the letter that indicated her 20-year-old son was killed at the Battle of Midway, and she collapsed,” he said. “It’s something you never forget — through the years my family has an affection for the people in the Navy, so I got this idea, ‘how could I memorialize him?’ ”
Aalbue said the parade committee is also thinking about new ways to memorialize veterans, and soon they’ll start planning next year’s procession.
“We’re going to meet next week and start planning the 152nd parade,” he said.