By Paula Katinas
BAY RIDGE — Brooklyn has the oldest continuously run Memorial Day Parade in the country, but veterans of the nation’s most recent wars haven’t been taking part in the march in large numbers up to now, according to organizers, who said they’re doubling their efforts to reach out to Iraq and Afghanistan veterans to get them to join in.
The 145th Annual Brooklyn Memorial Day Parade, to be held on Monday, May 28, will have more veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan than ever before if the parade committee gets its way, said committee member Ray Aalbue.
“We’re reaching out to veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan to see if we can get them to participate. Every year, we honor the wounded warriors from these two wars. This year, we decided that we should honor all those who served for the job they’ve done,” he said.
In fact, the parade’s theme this year is “Honoring Those Who Serve.”
“You’ll notice that it says ‘those who serve,’ not ‘those who served.’ We put a lot of thought into the theme,” Aalbue said.
Veterans of the post-Sept. 11 wars in Afghanistan and Iraq are invited to serve as deputy grand marshals in the parade.
Veterans of all wars are invited to march in the parade, Aalbue said.
“It’s a Memorial Day parade, so it’s primarily to pay tribute to those who lost their lives fighting for this country. But we also like to salute those who served and came home,” he said.
Mike Long, a Bay Ridge resident and an ex-Marine, has been named the grand marshal. Long is the chairman of the New York State Conservative Party and is a member of the Board of Directors of the Bay Ridge Fifth Avenue Business Improvement District.
The parade will begin on Third Avenue and 87th Street at 11 a.m. The parade route ends in John Paul Jones Park on Fourth Avenue and 101st Street.
Aalbue said a veteran does not have to be a member of a veterans’ organization to participate in the march. He urges veterans to report to Parade Chief of Staff Anthony Giovinco at Councilman Vincent Gentile’s office, 8703 Third Ave., at 10 a.m. on parade day. The parade marshals will instruct the veterans where to line up.
There will be vehicles for those veterans who are not able to march.
United Military Veterans of Kings County and Borough President Marty Markowitz are co-sponsoring the parade.
“We are honored that Mike Long will serve as the grand marshal,” said Prisco DeAngelis, president of United Military Veterans of Kings County. “He is a Marine veteran and has always supported the issues involving Brooklyn veterans.”
Long is the vice chairman of the Friends of Fort Hamilton, a group whose main goal is to ensure that Fort Hamilton, the only active military post in New York City, remains open. Long was the chairman of the Vietnam Wall Experience in Bay Ridge in 1996. The committee brought a replica of the Vietnam Memorial to John Paul Jones Park, where thousands came to see it.
Long is a past recipient of the American Legion Kings County Recreational Facility Award.
“When I was asked to be grand marshal, I did not accept for myself, but accepted for all those men and women who have served our nation to preserve our freedom and liberties in these United States,” Long said. “Being grand marshal at the Memorial Day Parade will not only be a deep honor, but a humbling experience.”
The veterans’ organizations expected to take part in the parade are: United War Veterans of Kings County; the American Legion and Veterans of Foreign Wars; Vietnam Veterans of America; Catholic War Veterans; Jewish War Veterans; Disabled American Veterans; Gulf War and Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans; 715 Veterans Association; the Military Order of the Purple Heart; and the Brooklyn “Key Chapter” American Ex-Prisoners of War.
Last year, a shortage of funds threatened the parade’s existence. An influx of cash at the 11th hour saved the parade. Two weeks ago, a fundraiser chaired by singer Frankie Marra and held at the Salty Dog Restaurant raised $22,000 for the parade, Aalbue said.