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Parades honor borough’s fallen

For College Point resident Mary Anne Keiling, the Memorial Day ceremonies in her hometown have special resonance.

At the end of the annual parade Sunday afternoon was a plot of grass with 130 crosses bearing the names of all the College Point residents who have died since the Civil War while fighting in the nation’s armed conflicts.

Written on one of those stark white crosses arranged in straight lines in Herman A. Macneil Park is the name of Keiling’s father, William Burke, and another is dedicated to Walter Burke, a cousin of Keiling’s. Both men were killed fighting for the U.S. Army during World War II.

Keiling said Memorial Day is an important opportunity to remember her late relatives and all the other fallen soldiers and veterans who have fought for their country. She had a short, simple message for what she hopes people will take away from remembrance events such as College Point’s.

“I want for people to not forget the veterans who served our country to protect our freedoms,” she said.

It appeared her message lived on within the hearts of the people of College Point and Whitestone as the neighborhoods’ streets came alive for their Memorial Day parades. Whitestone’s annual event was held Monday afternoon.

Complete with squadrons of veterans from all the nation’s major conflicts since World War II, bagpipe platoons and drum corps, the events painted a portrait of Americana.

The College Point parade featured U.S. Army Sgt. Martin Lorenz of College Point, who won two Bronze Stars during the Korean War, and Poppy Queen Stephanie Nicole Toma, 13, of Flushing, who read “In Flander’s Field,” the iconic World War I poem written by Lt. Col. John McCrae, at the parade’s conclusion.

Senior citizens, baby boomers and children gathered to express the togetherness of their support of the American troops currently at war and to offer a day to remember the sacrifices of those who risk all for their country.

Steve Bittle of Whitestone said he viewed the event as a time for reflection as the Whitestone parade marched past him. Because he is not a veteran, Bittle said he always feels a sense of guilty gratitude on Memorial Day and that the least he and his fellow civilians can do is take one day each year to honor the memories and ongoing efforts of the brave men and women who serve our country.

“It puts things in perspective at these parades, really, to see how many people have been in the Army, have fought in the Marines, whichever branch they served in,” he said. “I like to come out to show them we remember and we care.”

But not everyone appreciates veterans and felled warriors as Bittle does, according to Specialist 4th Class John Britt of Flushing, who served in the Army’s 3rd Armory Division in Germany as the Berlin Wall was being erected and is now in the Coast Guard Auxiliary.

Calling Memorial Day “a somber occasion,” Britt told a story of the importance of Memorial Day, which serves as a call to arms to many Americans who see the holiday as little more than a chance to blow a day at the mall or the beach.

“There’s an American cemetery in a small town in France called Belleau. Every year the people of that town go out on American Memorial Day and tend the graves and remember the American Marines who died in the Battle for Belleau Wood on June 6, 1918, World War I, and those French people have been doing that every year since then for 91 years,” he said. “It would be nice if we could do the same here.”

Reach reporter Connor Adams Sheets by e-mail at csheets@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4538.

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