This weekend is not just the unofficial kick off of the summer season, it's also a time to remember the nation's veterans, and hundreds remembered by marching in Sunday's Greenpoint Memorial Day Parade. NY1's Michael Herzenberg filed the following report.
Hundreds of people march on this Memorial Day weekend to remember those who served in the military and died.
"This is the United States of America," said Jerry Cardinal, a World War II veteran. "We should honor the people who died to keep us free. I have a few, quite a few buddies who passed away."
Jerry Cardinal, 93, keeps pace in the parade. He's only one of three or four surviving veterans of World War II who are members of the St. Stanislaus Memorial American Legion Post, which organizes this tradition in Greenpoint. The last of the World War I veterans, who founded the legion in 1919, died a few years ago.
"Keep in mind that it's not a day just for barbecues," said Donnie Marshall, a Vietnam War veteran.
Marshall served in the infantry in Vietnam, but he's now fighting a personal battle from that service. He said doctors diagnosed him with cancer from the chemical deforesting Agent Orange, which the U.S. military used more than four decades ago.
"It was kind of tough," he said. "Brought back the war all over again. It just gives you those feelings."
The feelings, though, get shared with others at the American Legion.
Fred Schwally also struggles from his service. He seeks help weekly, battling post-traumatic stress disorder after surviving a near fatal encounter clearing a village in Vietnam.
"I pulled the trigger, and it went 'click.' That was the worst feeling in the world, when you have a weapon that doesn't work," he said. "So long ago, it's like you blank everything out.
As the memories fade, so does the crowd, from a high of 1,000 members at the post to fewer than 400 now.
With the passing of World War II and Korean Conflict veterans comes a dwindling membership at this American Legion post and others. The incoming commander said he's going to target veterans of the Vietnam War and the first Gulf War to bring membership back up.
"It's probably the best family you can have besides your military family," said Emma Lardner, a veteran of the war in Afghanistan.
The legion is hoping that testimony like Lardner's helps make next year's membership and parade bigger.