Leich named this year’s grand marshal of Throggs Neck Veterans Day Parade

Retired Second Class U.S. Coast Guard Petty Officer David Leich will be the grand marshal for this year's Veterans Day Parade in Throggs Neck.
Retired 2nd Class U.S. Coast Guard Petty Officer David Leich will be the grand marshal for this year’s Veterans Day Parade in Throggs Neck.
Photo courtesy Ron Watson

David Leich joined the Coast Guard in 1978 off the heels of the Vietnam War when he was 23 years old. The second class U.S. Coast Guard petty officer, now retired, spent 25 years in both active and reserve service in the military. And this year, he’ll be honored for his service to the country as the grand marshal of the 38th annual Throggs Neck Veterans Day Parade.

“It actually hasn’t hit me, but it will hit me,” Leich told the Bronx Times. “I think one year I would have been grand marshal, but I really didn’t expect it this year.”

Leich, a first generation Bronxite, had military ties in his family. His father joined the U.S. Army shortly after immigrating from Germany and served in the Korean War. After high school Leich studied at Maritime College in the Bronx for a year, which he said didn’t work out long term. He joined the Coast Guard shortly thereafter.

During his time in the Guard, Leich served in a multitude of ways — from cutting ice caps to make way for watercraft in the Hudson River to search and rescue and firefighting efforts. Leich even became a certified coxswain — the person in charge of navigating and steering a boat.

Leich, now in his 60s, said the versatility of the Coast Guard is what drew him to the branch.

“The Navy, the Marines, the Air Force … they are more specialized in one area,” he said. “Whereas we’re more specialized across the board.” 

He met his wife in Throggs Neck in 1978, in between enlisting and being sworn into the Coast Guard.

“A friend of mine asked me if I wanted to go on a picnic with him, because I originally wanted to move out to the West Coast,” Leich said. “He picks me up, we go to this house, I get out of the car, this young lady is getting ready to walk in. She stops, turns around, I take one look at her, she takes one look at me, and it was love at first sight.” 

Leich never did make it out to the West Coast. Instead, he stayed stationed in Queens and on Governors Island, and raised a family in the Bronx with his wife. The pair just celebrated their 42nd wedding anniversary in October.

Ron Watson, a retired U.S. Marine Corps Lieutenant Colonel, is the chair of the local Veterans Day parade committee. He told the Bronx Times that there is a lot to consider in choosing a grand marshal.   

“When we review applications or nominations for the grand marshal, we look at the full person,” Watson said. “But we also look at volunteerism in the community, and the work they do with various organizations.”

Leich has spent a lot of his career working to better his community both on and off duty, Watson said. He has been an active volunteer with the Throggs Neck Volunteer Ambulance Corps, Boy Scouts and the Bronx Spotlight Theater, to name just a few. 

“It was clear that not only did he serve his country, but that he serves and continues to serve New York City, and in particular the Throggs Neck area,” Watson said. 

Leich also said one of the awareness campaigns he’s most passionate about is the suicide epidemic that plagues U.S. veterans at a disproportionate rate. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, out of the 130 daily U.S. suicides in 2019, 17 of them were veterans. And from 2001 to 2019, the suicide rate for veterans increased almost 36%, compared to a 30% increase among the general population.

“That’s the one thing that I’m actually really proud to do,” Leich said. 

Watson, the chair of the parade committee, has participated in studies and discussions centered on Post Traumatic Stress Disorder in veterans. He said while he doesn’t suffer from PTSD himself, he is also passionate about the cause. 

“It’s hard to make an impact on things that you can’t control, but there are definitely things that you can influence and bring attention to,” Watson said. 

The Veterans Day Parade is a highly celebrated event in the area, the retired Marine Corps colonel said. 

“I believe that serving in the military is an honorable profession … (and) people, especially in this neighborhood, think very highly of veterans,” Watson said. “Nowadays most people do not serve in the military, but they all have relatives — aunts, uncles, grandparents, fathers — that all served, and they appreciate that.”

Grand Marshal Leich said many people have congratulated him on his role in this year’s parade. 

“Once we put on our uniform there’s a big change in us — posture, thought, action — the pride that you’ve given and the pride that you receive is a two-way street,” he said. “It is an honor and a pleasure, and it’s something I will cherish for the rest of my life.”

Jerome Vessichio, a 97-year-old U.S. Marine Corps first class private, will be the living World War II honored veteran. He enlisted in the military at 16 years old with his parents’ permission after the Pearl Harbor attacks, and was awarded a Purple Heart for shrapnel wounds to the head from a mortar round. Vessichio also participated in action at Roi-Namur and Kwajalein Atoll in the Marshall Islands, and in Saipan and Tinian in the Mariana Islands.  

The parade will also recognize honorary grand marshals: U.S. Army Sgt. Patrick Quinn, U.S. Army Cpl. Robert Dreyer, U.S. Army Cpl. Paul Serrano, U.S. Navy Petty Officer 3rd Class John Walker, U.S. Army Cpl. Robert O’Hanlon, U.S. Navy Petty Officer 3rd Class Kenneth Ackert, U.S. Marine Corps Pvt. James McSwigan, U.S. Army Pvt. Old Guard Dennis W. Sullivan, U.S. Air Force Sgt. Joseph Gunn and U.S. Navy Seaman Jimmy Walsh.

The living Korean War veteran honorees are: U.S. Army Pvt. Alan Malurer, U.S. Army Pvt. 1st Class Louis B. Montes, U.S. Air Force Airman 1st Class James Devine, U.S. Army Cpl. Bernard Reilly, U.S. Army Cpl. William Carter and U.S. Marine Corps Sgt. Frank Carroll.   

As a part of this year’s celebration, the parade committee is looking for supporters who would like to donate $50 toward the cost of an American flag to honor a loved one — either military or non military. Mail checks, along with donor and honoree information, to the United Veterans Parade Committee of Greater New York, Inc at PO Box 835 Bronx, NY, 10465. For other inquiries about the fundraiser email [email protected].

The parade begins at noon on Nov. 13. It will start at Lafayette and Tremont avenues, then proceed left on Randall Avenue and continue to the Bicentennial Veterans Memorial Park. There will be a ceremony in the park immediately following the parade.

Correction: A previous version of this story incorrectly titled Robert O’Hanlon as a U.S. Army sergeant. He is a U.S. Army corporal. 

Reach Camille Botello at [email protected]. For more coverage, follow us on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram @bronxtimes 

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