There used to be a parade in the Bronx. I used to march there,” said Pat Devine, a Vietnam veteran, recalling a time when the veterans of former wars were honored on the Grand Concourse. “Our veterans should never be forgotten and that’s why it was important to bring the parade here to Throggs Neck.”
Devine, like many other veterans of the Bronx were disheartened that after so many years in the early and mid-20th Century of having the parade located on the main thoroughfare of the borough, interest and changing times caused the organizers to discontinue what had once been a popular tradition.
The decision to discontinue the parade did not sit well in Throggs Neck, a community known for its strong support of veterans, with many former and current soldiers calling the area home.
In 1982, with the neighborhood already excited about the creation of a park to honor its veterans, the late-Mike Menna decided that the Bronx should do the same with the return of the parade and approached Devine to help make his dream a reality.
“I remember him coming to me and saying, ‘we have to have a parade in this community to honor the veterans,’” Devine said. “But I had too much on my plate with the creation of Bicentennial Veteran’s Memorial Park. I told him I would help after the park was closer to completion.”
The following year, with the first phase of the park constructed, Menna returned to Devine with a more urgent plea. “‘Pat, we can’t wait any longer.’” Devine recalled.
Menna and Devine were amongst a group of like-minded individuals who would meet at the Cross Town Diner, on Bruckner Boulevard, and hammer out a plan for the parade over dinner. A group of veterans’ organizations throughout the community were then banded together to form the United Veterans Parade Committee of Greater New York, of which Menna served as chair up until his death eight years ago, and Devine its co-chair.
It was decided that, starting in 1984, the parade would honor America’s veterans the Sunday before Veteran’s Day with marchers beginning at Lafayette and E. Tremont avenues (now named Mike Menna’s Corner) before proceeding to Bicentennial Veterans Memorial Park located on the Throggs Neck Expressway Extension where a ceremony would he held, followed by hot dogs and refreshments at Bronxonia Yacht Club. That tradition has held firm for a quarter century, but in its inaugural year, its organizers were unsure of its success.
“We were concerned that no one would show up,” admitted Devine, “but we decided that if it was only our small group, then our small group would be the parade. It turned out to be a great, proud day for this community.”
With help from Senator John Calandra, stories from the Bronx Times Reporter, and promotion from each of the veterans’ organizations in the community, the parade ended up a large success with hundreds coming out to honor veterans past and present.
The first year did not honor a grand marshal. Each year, a different veterans’ organization would host the parade and would be responsible for selecting a grand marshal. “One year, there was no grand marshal,” said Devine, a former grand marshal in his own right. “They decided to honor prisoners of war. Another year, there were four grand marshals, one each from WWII, the Korean War, the Vietnam War and the first Persian Gulf War. It reflects the feeling of the time within the community.”
Silver Beach American Legion Post 1371, with the largest group of veterans, has had the most members honored with the grand marshal designation. John “Sarge” Byrne, a member of the organization is this year’s grand marshal, as the parade honors the last of the remaining WWII veterans still living. In addition, the parade also honors soldiers who made the ultimate sacrifice for their country’s freedom.
Since 1984, the parade grew with residents coming out to honor the veterans and also to witness the spectacle of marching bands and local community groups taking part in the annual event. But as the parade grew, so did its costs. The parade committee chose not to create a journal for the parade (this year, a special 25th Anniversary Journal commemorating the milestone will be released prior
©2009 Community News Group