Photos and story by Janelle Clausen
Great Neck residents paid tribute to fallen service members at the 95th annual Memorial Day Parade and service on Monday morning, where veterans called on them to remember the fallen and their sacrifices.
Midshipmen from the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy, veterans groups, Scouts, first responders and elected officials marched up Middle Neck Road, playing tunes, greeting crowds and waving flags. The march stopped at the Village Green for a Memorial Day ceremony to honor veterans.
Louise McCann, the chair of the Great Neck Parade Committee, said Memorial Day is meant to be a solemn occasion to remember the 1.5 million men and women who died in defense of the nation and ask: where would you be without the sacrifices they made?
“We here, living today, have them to thank for giving all of their tomorrows so we could have ours today,” McCann said. “Today is not about celebrating the beginning of the summer or a day off from work or school – today is a solemn day of remembrance, a day that should properly be set aside for contemplation.”
Retired U.S. Air Force Col. David Lange, who grew up in Great Neck and served for more than 30 years, said the words, “Thank you for your service” are welcome words for living veterans, who “all deserve” a salute, a hug or a respectful nod.
But people who deserved the praise most were those who died, Lange said, “brave souls” who “took up the battle standard of our nation and sacrificed for something they believed was larger than any one of us.”
“These brave heroes are so much more than numbers reported on the news or recorded in our history books,” Lange said. “These were real people, just like you and me, each one an individual with homes and dreams, dreams too often unfulfilled.”
The parade was dedicated, for the first time, to two individuals: Capt. Benjamin Harrow of the U.S. Army and Vice Adm. Joseph Stewart, who served as superintendent of the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy for 10 years and died late last month.
McCann said Harrow grew up with a love for sports and realized a passion for lacrosse at West Point, before going on to become a U.S. Army officer and a Green Beret. But on a routine mission he stepped on an improvised explosive device, McCann said, which took off both his legs, two fingers, and a portion of his right forearm.
After extensive surgery, therapy and the installation of prosthetics, McCann said, the captain was able to walk again. And in June 2016, he was once more able to step onto the lacrosse field.
“Talk about the indomitable human spirit,” McCann said.
Harrow was also the recipient of several medals, McCann noted: the Purple Heart, three Bronze Stars, an Army commendation medal, two Army achievement medals, Iraq and Afghanistan campaign medals, meritorious unit citation, the National Defense Medal, overseas and service ribbons, the NATO Global War on Terror Medal and the combat infantryman’s badge.
“He must have some story to tell,” McCann said. “I would like to have the opportunity to meet Capt. Harrow one of these days.”
Stewart served 34 years in the United States Marine Corps, as well as an instructor and coach at the U.S. Naval Academy. After retiring he was appointed superintendent of the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy in Kings Point in 1998, where he worked for 10 years before retiring in 2008.
The best thing people can do is remember the sacrifices of fallen veterans, remember them as people, and help take care of the families and comrades they left behind, Lange said.
Lange also noted the importance of carrying on the flag, which served as signal, rallying point and an inspiration in the fields of battle.
“We can pick up the flag and carry it forward. We can do our part to secure the blessings of liberty for ourselves and our posterity,” Lange said. “We can and we must ensure that we do everything in our power to ensure that the lives of our heroes were not given in vain.”
The ceremony at Village Green ended with the playing of taps, a bugle call played at memorial services, military funerals and the laying of wreaths. Afterward, veterans and fire company detachments marched to All Saints Cemetery for a final salute.