Carmine Cella served in the United States Air Force from 1943 to 1946, and was stationed in Saipan and the Tinian during World War II, which are part of U.S.’s Northern Mariana Islands, in the western Pacific Ocean.
Cella, now 91, said he couldn’t help but notice a huge commotion while deployed in Tinian. “I knew something was going on over there,” he said. “I didn’t know what it was.”
He later learned he was on the same island as the atomic bombs, which would soon be launched on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
Cella lives in the East Meadow Senior Center, on Front Street, where more than a dozen veterans now call home. He is a member of the East Meadow Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 2736, one of the local veteran organizations that marched in Monday’s Memorial Day parade. “We have a chance to really think about the poor guys who didn’t come back and realize what they did for us,” he said.
And while Memorial Day is meant to be a festive holiday — full of community parades, family barbecues and heroic wartime tales — it’s also a day of remembrance. And for veterans, it’s a reminder of the hardships they endured while in service.
Just days before Monday’s parade, the Herald paid a visit to the senior center, to talk with veterans about the importance of Memorial Day.
“I think it’s all about the veterans,” said Tom Nicoletti, 92. “Trying to remember all of the old-timers we have.”
Nicoletti served in the Navy from 1942 to 1944. “I enjoy the parade and the people that acknowledge us,” said the World War II veteran and East Meadow resident of 30 years. “That’s the main thing.”
“I like that they keep doing it,” added Alfonso Caggiano, 88, an East Meadow resident of 55 years, who served in the 36th Infantry from 1943 to 1946. “That they just don’t let it pass by.”
Caggiano was part of Operation Dragoon, the Allied invasion of Southern France in August 1944. He also spent time in Italy and Germany, and was a recipient of the Bronze Star Medal. “But nobody knows about it,” he said of the second world war. “Hopefully it doesn’t fade out like World War I.”
Most of the veterans, who, at the time, were absorbed in a competitive card game, said they don’t spend too much time talking about the war — except amongst each other.