Two area military veterans have been selected to serve as grand marshals of this year’s Queens Veterans Day Parade set for noon on Sunday in Middle Village.
The honorees are Julius Freeman, who served as a medical technician with the Tuskegee Airmen during World War II, and Danny Wisotsky, a 22-year Marine Corps veteran who served in Operation Desert Storm.
Both men agree that the honor isn’t theirs alone, it belongs to all the men they served with as well.
“I’m very humbled to have been chosen,” Wisotsky said. “I don’t feel like I’m representing myself. I feel like I’m representing all of the veterans who have served.”
Freeman agreed. “I think it’s a great thing to be chosen. I’m honored,” he said. “It’s great that I’m still here and other Airmen are still here to keep our legend alive.”
The parade will begin on 80th Street and travel along Metropolitan Avenue. It will conclude with a commemorative ceremony at Christ the King High School.
While Freeman served from 1945 until 1948, he was able to gain much experience from his travels. He was stationed in European nations like France, Belgium, Italy and Germany.
“It was very nice back in the day to go overseas and see other parts of the world,” he said.
When Freeman was discharged, he came back to a nation stained with segregation and prejudice, even against some of its heroes.
Despite his background as a medical technician, he was unable to find a civilian job. Freeman eventually found a job selling cars in Columbus, Ohio, which had its own perks.
“I sold cars to James Brown and Joe Louis,” the Congressional Gold Medal recipient said. “Selling cars didn’t turn out to be a bad thing.”
The Springfield Gardens resident now spends his time speaking at churches and schools regarding the Tuskegee Airmen.
Despite helping free Europe from tyranny, Freeman’s greatest achievement happened just over four years ago, in Washington D.C. with then President-elect Barack Obama and his fellow Tuskegee Airmen.
“The highlight of my life was having breakfast with President Obama the morning of his inauguration,” he said. “He told us that, because of the Airmen, none of what he had done would have been possible.”
Wisotsky entered the military in 1979, rising through the enlisted ranks until he became a staff sergeant and eventually a warrant officer, which he retired as, in 2001.
“I guess I was in the military for a couple of years,” he joked. “I’ve been pretty much all over between Europe, Asia, the Middle East. I got to travel the world and see a whole lot.”
The Glendale resident spent eight months overseas during the first Gulf War, but his life nearly took a much different path a decade earlier in Beirut, Lebanon.
“I lost my best friend in the bombing,” he said of the bombing of the barracks in 1983 that killed 241 American servicemen. “I was supposed to be over there but a different group of soldiers went instead.”
In 1995, Wisotsky suffered major injuries when he fell from a rope on an obstacle course. He crushed three discs in his back, dislocated his knee and tore his rotator cuff.
The injuries didn’t stop him from serving six more years and it won’t stop him from walking the parade route either.
“I want to walk the parade route,” he said. “I don’t want to ride in a car.”
In the military, he served as a helicopter gunner and an 81-millimeter mortar man among other operations and administrative positions.
Now, the 52-year-old Brooklyn native serves as the security supervisor for the Rockefeller family in Manhattan.
The marketing director of the Veterans Day Parade Committee Mike Bilski couldn’t be happier to have such distinguished men serve as grand marshals.
“I’ve known Danny for years. He’s a 22-year Marine who worked his way all the way up and he’s very involved with the community,” Bilski said “That’s why he was a great choice.”
“I’ve also known Julius for eight years too,” he added. “When I told the committee that he was an original Tuskegee Airman and he’s a local guy, they were head over heels for it. He’s a very good guy.”