Westbury, Carle Place hold Memorial Day commemorations
Carle Place has an active American Legion Post. Westbury opened its Military Historical Collection in its old VFW building last November to honor its military heritage. Both have parades on Memorial Day, a day when those who have fallen in battle and called Westbury or Carle Place home are given a proper remembrance.
Westbury held a parade again this year—after the pandemic erased plans in 2020—but Carle Place opted not to hold it.
In a change, the organizing committee decided to start the parade from the Westbury Fire Department main headquarters on Maple Avenue and make the turn to go north on Post Avenue, finishing at the Westbury Community Center complex for a ceremony fronting the war memorials. Traditionally, it stepped off from St. Brigid RC Church.
Many community groups took part, and a pipe and drum contingent from the NYPD participated. Also providing musical accompaniment was the Westbury High School Band, one of whose members also played “Taps.”
“It’s a wonderful sight to see everybody out here this morning, and it’s good to be seen,” said Mayor Peter Cavallaro, who emceed along with Westbury Fire Department ex-chief John Bartunick. “Memorial Day is probably the most important civic event that we do every year, so it’s great to see everybody come out.”
The mayor asked veterans in attendance to raise their hands, and they received applause. He also thanked the Westbury and Carle Place Fire Departments for participating.
“It’s a solemn day. It’s not really a day that we celebrate,” Cavallaro continued. “Today we recognize the 1.3 million men and women who served in our armed forces and did not return. That’s what we do today. We have barbecues. We go to the beach. There are concerts. So we try to enjoy ourselves on this day, but I ask everybody to spend a few minutes reflecting on what this day really means. And what sacrifices were made to allow us to be here on a day like today.”
The mayor was joined by village trustees Steven Corte, Beaumont Jefferson, William Wise and Vinny Abbatiello to make presentations.
“For the first time in many years we have two Grand Marshals who we’re going to recognize,” Cavallaro said.
The first was Joe Iannucci, World War II vet and longtime VFW member, who was instrumental in donating the VFW Post building to the village it could be preserved.
The other was Marion Pascarella, also very active in VFW for many years and whose husband, Joe—onetime head of the county’s Veterans Service Agency—was part of the leadership that saved the VFW building for future generations, according to the mayor.
“At Gettysburg, Abraham Lincoln said that we cannot really repay the debt of gratitude we have for those who died in the service of the nation,” Cavallaro said. “But he said that we as citizens have the obligation to live our lives to help our community, to benefit the community, and just to try to live up to the ideals that the people died for. And there is really no better example of that in our modern society than those who serve as firefighters in our community.”
The village recognized two individuals who have been members of the Westbury FD for 50 years. Walter Stewart and Kenneth Gass Sr.
Cavallaro recognized both fire departments for their actions during the deadly train collision in 2019 that killed three men, as well as a rescue by the WFD during a car accident on Old Country Road.
Carolyn and Richard Shorthouse, a member of the Westbury FD, were present as the village and department honored her brothers Patrick and Mike, former Westbury residents, with a flag raising.
Paddy, a decorated Marine and captain in the FDNY, died during the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001. His brother Mike, then working as an ER doctor in Las Vegas and formerly a Westbury and FDNY firefighter, traveled cross country by pickup truck to aid in the recovery efforts. Paddy’s remains were found on Dec. 14, 2001. His ashes were spread at the base of a tree that Mike had planted in his honor in Central Park. Mike contracted cancer from working on the pile and died on Oct. 30, 2020.
Bartunick’s readout of Patrick’s citation read in part:
His final assignment was Ladder 3 in the East Village of Manhattan. His interests included Golden Globes boxing. He was a black belt in and volunteered to teach blind people karate. He was an avid runner who participated in six marathons and also practiced yoga. Paddy never married and was once declared the most eligible bachelor in Manhattan. In his 24 years on the FDNY, he was one of the most decorated members of the service. Paddy donated money he received from awards to the burn center at Cornell University Hospital.
Father Eddie Alleyne of the Church of the Advent gave the benediction while Julie Lyon, president of Westbury Arts, sang “America the Beautiful.”
Bartunick ended the ceremony with a reading of “In Flanders Field,” by Canadian Lt. Col. John McCrae. As a result of the WWI poem, the “remembrance poppy,” named after the flowers he described blowing among the crosses on the graves, became popular. They are distributed to this day by veterans to raise funds for veterans’ causes.
A number of Westbury firefighters, including Chief Ken Gass Jr., made the short trip to the veterans memorial in Carle Place, where American Legion Post 1718 held its annual ceremony. Presided as always by Commander Al Piscitelli, it began with the reading of dozens of names of the Legion members who have passed on. Member Max Waage occasionally rang the bell, which dates back to the post’s founding in 1948.
The keynote was given by Michael Giambone, Vietnam War veteran and recipient of the Purple Heart. Some excerpts:
Enjoy your day. Enjoy the extra time spent with family and friends. Enjoy your backyard barbecue. Or however you decide to spend it. But I ask you this. Please don’t forget why you get it. This is why we, the many, gather here to honor the veterans. The few who are so willing to give of themselves to defend their brothers and sisters and their country.
But there is a difference about today. Memorial Day isn’t just about honoring veterans. It’s honoring those who lost their lives. Memorial Day is a day for Americans to come as one body and say, ‘Thank you. We remember you. We are grateful to you.’
We honor their loved ones. Every year the families of the fallen are joined together and bound by loss in a way that most of us can’t imagine. But military families are something special. Bereaved families often become isolated after a tragic loss. Friends don’t know what to say about grief. We don’t have word for a parent who has lost a child. So these mothers and fathers of our military fallen call themselves Gold Star Parents, based on the tradition of the service flag which hung in homes during the world wars. Each blue star on the banner stood for a loved one overseas. Gold honored those never coming home.
Take the time, not just on MD but every day, take a moment to say to the fallen, ‘Thank you.’ For those who never left the battle fields, we must hold them up in our home towns and honor their memories.
So spend some time your loved ones, step back from your stresses and reflect on your freedoms that so many of our sons and daughters died to protect. I’m asking you to remember why you have the luxury and the freedom we enjoy today.
Town of North Hempstead Clerk Wayne Wink spoke on behalf of Supervisor Judi Bosworth and the entire Town Board, and thanked all those in attendance and “everyone who helped make this a reality today. It is good to see all of you and quite frankly, it is good to be seen after what we’ve gone through the last year or so.”
He added, “We come here today in memory of those who made the ultimate sacrifice. Those who Lincoln described as having given the last full measure of devotion to our nation. We are here to make sure that those men and women did not die in vain, because their blood consecrated the very ground we live on, as a community, as a state, as a nation. We need to remember not only those that we lost, but we also need to remember the way of life that they fought so hard to protect and to defend. It is the least we can do in their memories.”
Councilwoman Viviana Russell observed, “Today is a solemn day, and many people celebrate this day as having a day off from work. Time that they spend with family and friends. Barbecues, watching the air show. But today is a day more for reflection. On why we are able to have the day off. Why we are able to enjoy the freedoms that we have today.”
She related a conversation with her son, who asked, “How do you celebrate when there is so much pain? How do you talk about resilience when it comes with so much hurt?”
The councilwoman continued, “And my response to him was, ‘We look for the hope that we have because of the men and women who served to allow us to be here today. To be able to enjoy the things that we’re able to enjoy here in the United States. We look for the hope of those who continue to serve in every capacity, whether they are veterans, whether they’re continuing to serve our county, our Boy Girls and Girl Scouts, those in elected office. Our firefighters, our police officers. Those who put themselves forward to serve for others. That’s our hope.’ That’s why we were able to be here today. And although it’s a solemn occasion, we have to find reasons to have hope for our future.”
Carle Place Fire Department Chief Alex Kruk said, “I wanted to say thank you to everyone who is not here today, who has put down their lives so we can enjoy everything we have.”
Ladies Auxiliary President Barbara Heslin and the Scouts placed wreaths, while Reverend Justin Vetrano gave the benediction. Legion members Ken Blum and Don Armstrong provided the gun salute, and “Taps” was played by Carle Place HS band teacher Kevin Cavanagh and student Anthony Terrone.
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