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Two Black Glen Cove natives honored on Memorial Day

Officials stress importance of national unity

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Reflecting, remembering and uniting were the themes of Glen Cove’s Memorial Day ceremony on Monday. Community members gathered at Veterans Memorial Monument Park to pay their respects to the fallen and to honor two Glen Cove residents who served the country. The ceremony was attended by a number of elected officials, many of whom stressed the importance of sticking together through a difficult time in our country.

“Memorial Day is a day to remember, a day to show appreciation, a day to be grateful and a day to reflect,” Mayor Tim Tenke said. “Today we remember all those from this community and from around the country who died fighting for us, and today we say thank you to them.”

Tenke noted that, in keeping with the city’s tradition, veterans and Memorial Day Parade Committee members had visited all four of the city’s war monuments the day before. “In doing so, one cannot help but notice all of the names that are engraved on those monuments and realize that freedom is not free,” he said. “It is paid for by the ultimate sacrifices our men and women have made for this country. They did not do it to be heroes, but to preserve our democracy.”

Mike Mienko, civilian co-chairman of the parade committee, compared front-line workers battling the coronavirus pandemic to those who fought in traditional wars. “We need to thank the men and women who are on the front lines who continue to protect us,” Mienko said. “The front may not be the trenches in France … the battlefields are here on the home front, where we have to do our part to continue to work together, and together we shall overcome. We are a nation born of freedoms, and it is the men and women on the front line who protect our freedom.”

During the ceremony, the parade committee honored Sgt. Ralph W. Young, who was killed on April 11, 1945. Young grew up in Glen Cove and earned a full scholarship to Lincoln University Law School, the first historically Black degree-granting university in the United States. After three years of college, he entered the U.S. Army as an infantryman, and was later transferred to the Army Air Corps. He was deployed to India, where his mission was to transport supplies over the Himalayas. His aircraft crashed while flying in dangerous weather conditions, and there were no survivors. He left behind his parents and sister in Glen Cove, and he is remembered in town for having a street named for him — Ralph Young Avenue. Young Simmons American Legion Post 1765 is co-named for him.

“We must honor men like Ralph,” Tenke said. “If words cannot repay the debt we owe these men and women, surely, with our actions, we must strive to keep the faith with them and the vision that led them to battle until final sacrifice.”

Young’s relatives Craig and Leon Osborne accepted citations from the City of Glen Cove, U.S. Rep. Tom Suozzi, State Assemblyman Charles Lavine and County Legislator Delia DeRiggi-Whitton. “I’m so happy that we’re honoring him today, to remind us that Glen Cove has an amazing history of African-Americans that have given their lives for this country,” Suozzi said before presenting the Osborne family with an American flag that had flown over the U.S. Capitol in Young’s honor.

“We think about Memorial Day honoring those soldiers who gave their lives throughout American history, from the Revolutionary War on,” Suozzi said. “It’s really for democracy and freedom, which in real life today is politics and government. And think of what a dirty word those things have become. If we’re going to truly honor those that gave their lives for this country, we all need to lift up this process in our country and participate — stop with the extremism and divisiveness and work together.”

Lavine expressed similar sentiments. “We are all in this together and must remain all in this together,” he said, “and unless and until we honor, observe and live with the truth of American history, which has not always been terribly pleasant, we are and remain an aspirational nation, because we believe in equality, we believe in brotherhood and friendship, and all Americans are neighbors. It is good that we all stand together.”

“In order to truly honor those who sacrificed their lives to protect this country,” DeRiggi-Whitton said, “we all have to remember we are one nation, under God, and we have to stick together.”

The parade committee also recognized “Son of Glen Cove” honoree Dr. Chester “Chet” Middlebrook Pierce, who died in September 2016. Pierce was a 1944 graduate of Glen Cove High School, class president and valedictorian. He studied at Harvard Medical School and played on the football team, and was the first Black college athlete to play south of the Mason-Dixon line when Harvard visited the University of Virginia. He was a commander in the Navy, surgeon general of the Air Force and a psychiatrist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology for 25 years.

Pierce’s classmate and friend Marc Martone spoke on behalf of the Pierce family, calling Chet a “truly great American.” “It is great honor for me to represent the family and accept the citation on behalf of the family,” Martone said. “He was great as a psychiatrist, greater as a human being. Because of his brilliant career, he has brought great honor to our country, our state and especially to the great city of Glen Cove.”