The meeting of the Memorial Day Parade committee at Uniondale Fire Department headquarters on Monday proceeded with a quiet, intense fellowship among the organizers.
“I’m asking all the groups to start assembling by 9:30 (a.m.) at Gerald Street and Uniondale Avenue,” the parade chairman, former Uniondale Fire Chief Steve Doherty, said. “We’ll have a committee there, which will be my wife and a couple of members in uniform, to direct you where you are in the parade, and who gets started when.”
Doherty reviewed the basics of carrying banners, keeping the parade moving and guiding the Girl Scouts’ float into the lineup.
“My girls are very good,” Troop 2570 leader Theudia Chambers said. “They know to just wave and the truck keeps moving.”
Colton Wynter, band director for the Uniondale High School show choir, reviewed with Doherty the procedure in case of rain: Doherty would make the decision by 8 a.m., tell Wynter, and call the heads of participating groups. An hour later, a siren blast from all the firehouses would signal cancellation of the parade and a change of venue for the holiday ceremony to Uniondale High at 11 a.m., wreaths and all.
“So the library doesn’t need to decorate — just clean up in front of the building,” said Deborah Kinirons, outreach coordinator for the Uniondale Public Library.
“That’s all we want the businesses to do,” Doherty said. “I’ve never seen the library look bad.”
As the group finalized details, the participants strengthened a 50-year-old local tradition — and honored a practice dating back to 1865, when the Civil War ended. Families of the dead on both sides of the Mason-Dixon line began setting aside special days for decorating their graves.
In 1868, Union General John A. Logan proclaimed May 30 to be “Decoration Day,” a national day for laying flowers on soldiers’ graves and holding commemorative ceremonies. In 1971, Congress chose the last Monday in May as the federal observance of Memorial Day ceremonies.
Though American Legion posts generally take on the organization of the day’s activities, the Uniondale Fire Department has shouldered that responsibility since 1973. Doherty has served as vice chair for 10 years, and as parade chairman for the past seven years.
“I usually start organizing right after New Year’s Day,” Doherty said, “by requesting use of Uniondale Park from the Town of Hempstead. In the beginning of March, I file a parade permit with the town. The Nassau County Police Department does traffic patrol. Then I send letters to the school district and all the organizations who want to participate.”
Two or three other volunteers as well as Jessica Ellerbe, Uniondale’s first female fire chief, help with the organizing.
“The parade has gone well the last couple of years,” Doherty said.
“The school district supplies three bands from the high school and the two middle schools. Some of the elementary schools bring kids, too. The Uniondale High Junior Reserve Officers Training Corps, Little League, Girl Scouts of America all march. The board members of the Uniondale Public Library join in.”
A number of civic organizations always come. In recent years, Doherty said, more and more ethnic organizations have also signed up. This year there will be a new group, Solidarité Haitiano-Americaine de Long Island, led by Marie Sonia Saint Rose-Bienvil.
“We welcome everybody that wants to come,” Doherty said.
This year’s grand marshal and keynote speaker is Lt. Col. Jeremy Lingenfelser, a military science professor and the head of ROTC at Hofstra University.
The parade stretches out for quite a distance as it makes its way down Uniondale Avenue to Uniondale Park. By the time the front of the procession reaches the stone memorial honoring the dead from all America’s wars, the fire trucks bringing up the rear will still be only halfway along.
But by 11 a.m., all will gather around the memorial to recite the Pledge of Allegiance under the flag. A 45-minute ceremony will follow.
This year, there will be an extra treat after the ceremony concludes: a Little League scrimmage in Uniondale Park. All are invited to watch.