Hundreds of people from throughout South Queens, and beyond, endured the hot and sunny weather on Monday to pay their respects to the military men and women who have given their lives for their country, as well as those who are still serving, at the annual Memorial Day parade in Howard Beach.
Like many of those at the event, Sara Diaz, of Ozone Park, has been attending the Howard Beach Memorial Day parade since she was a little girl. She now brings her 9-year-old son and her daughters who are 6 and 8. Her husband has served five tours of duty, two in Iraq and three in Afghanistan.
“I’m very honored to have him as my husband,” Diaz said.
The marchers started at the Korean, Vietnam and World War II memorial at Coleman Square. The square is named after Howard Beach resident and World War I sailor Bernard Coleman, who was killed in service.
Walking through the residential streets, the marchers, composed of families, boy scouts, cub scouts, and elected officials — including state Sen. Joe Addabbo Jr. (D-Howard Beach), Councilman Eric Ulrich (R-Ozone Park), Community Board 10 Chairwoman Betty Braton and Congressman Bob Turner (R-Queens, Brooklyn) — first stopped briefly at the Walter Wetzel Triangle, located at 159th Avenue and Cohancy Street in Howard Beach. The triangle is named in honor of a Howard Beach resident killed in action in Pleiku, Vietnam on May 29, 1966, when he was a 21-year-old serving in the U.S. Army.
Participants then proceeded to Assembly of God Church, where Patrick Connolly Sr., a member of the U.S. Air Force who flew 33 missions over Germany in World War II, read the names of area servicemen who have been killed in action or listed as missing in action.
He paid tribute to a friend, Jack Fitzgibbons, who was killed in combat in Manila while fighting Japanese forces.
“Jack always treated me like his younger brother,” he said.
The marchers continued to St. Barnabas Church, where the pastor, Rev. William Baum, pointed out how the number of people who come out increases every year.
“The parade is growing bigger and bigger each year, and that is what I’m most proud of,” he said. “Every year more and more people come to this event, so it’s a great tribute to the folks who organize it. I’m grateful for all of their good work.”
When the parade goers returned to Coleman Square, residents placed poppies on the monument in honor of their family, and fellow Americans, who died in the line of duty.
This year’s grand marshal, Patrick Connolly Jr., who served in the Marine Corps from 1969 to 1971, said he was “honored” and “privileged” to be picked as this year’s parade leader for the first time.
“You know you’re being honored when members of your community and your post selected me among all the deserving people,” he said.
He addressed the crowd in a tearful speech.
“Today we have paid tribute to these 41 young men from this small community, who gave up all their tomorrows so we could have today,” Connolly Jr. said “These people are more than names etched on a wall.”