Thousands of Queens residents turned out over the Memorial Day weekend for the nearly one dozen parades and other commemorations held here to honor the memory of those who have lost their lives in service to this nation.
As Abraham Lincoln said nearly 150 years ago on the blood-soaked fields of Gettysburg, it is “altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.”
Countless residents of the borough have been killed in the country’s many wars, from the Revolution through the ongoing conflict in Afghanistan and occupation of Iraq. About 30 men from Queens have made the ultimate sacrifice in the Middle East since late 2001, when the United States invaded Afghanistan in retaliation for the terror attacks of Sept. 11. And of course that figure does not include the first casualties in the War on Terror, those who fell at the World Trade Center and elsewhere.
So Memorial Day is not, as it once was, just a time to remember the distant past — it’s a holiday with immediacy, especially to a largely working-class area like Queens, which sends so many of its sons and daughters off to war. That’s why turnout is big at parades and ceremonies from College Point to Woodhaven, from Maspeth to Laurelton. We’re glad to see the traditions kept alive. Whatever one’s position on the wars the United States is engaged in, there’s no argument about supporting the troops anymore. That went out after the Vietnam era.
Though it’s often taken as a time to honor all who have served, Memorial Day is really about those who never returned from the fields of combat. Veterans Day is for those who did. But aside from these annual commemorations, citizens should honor our veterans every day in substantive ways.
One is to press Congress and the White House to support a bill recently introduced by Reps. Gregory Meeks of Jamaica, a Democrat, and Peter King of Nassau County, a Republican, that would expand access to healthcare for Queens veterans. It would do that by blocking the Veterans Administration’s plan to remake the vets’ healthcare facility in St. Albans.
The VA wants to turn over a large chunk of the parcel to a private developer in exchange for the company’s building new facilities for servicemen and women. But the project would not include a full-service hospital, which is what veterans here say they need most. Without one, they have to travel to VA hospitals in Manhattan, Brooklyn or Suffolk County.
As we put away the flags and medals displayed this weekend until the next holiday, let’s not forget to continue supporting our veterans. That too is altogether fitting and proper.
Fairness on FDNY hires
For the last several years, those wanting to serve the city and their neighbors by joining the Fire Department have been unable to do so because of a hiring freeze. It was put in place due to a lawsuit alleging discrimination in the FDNY.
A federal judge has threatened to impose racial quotas on hiring if the city doesn’t come up with another way to diversify the ranks. We oppose quotas. But a solution may lie in legislation, introduced by Councilman Leroy Comrie of St. Albans, that just passed committee and should go before the full council for a vote.
The bill would give city residents a leg up over their suburban counterparts by adding a few points to their test scores because they live here. It’s expected that it would benefit more minorities organically, without any quota system. That sounds like a compromise worth enacting.