Members of the “greatest generation” will be honored at the Throggs Neck Veterans Day parade on Sunday, November 14.
The parade’s grand marshals are four City Islanders who served with distinction in World War II, including two who were prisoners of war.
The men will be waving to crowds along the route of the parade, which runs from East Tremont Avenue between Harding and Lawton avenues to Bicentennial Veterans Memorial Park. The parade will begin at 10 a.m.
Thomas Costello, Russell Schaller, Robert Booth, and Robert Branizza who served in the armed forces during the war, and are all members of the Leonard Hawkins American Legion Post #156, are this year’s grand marshals.
Costello, a retired lawyer, was captured during the battle of Anzio, Italy in 1944 as Allied forces battled for control of the city’s port. He was taken to northeastern Germany, where he was liberated by the Russians at the end of the war. Costello said that thinking about his family back in Country Club helped keep him alive.
“I learned how valuable life was,” Costello said. “One of the things I thought about most was my mother and how she would have been destroyed if I had been killed in action. So, I had two reasons to live. One was my own survival. But I didn’t want to be killed because my mother would go haywire.”
Costello, whose father ran a pub during the war on Middletown Road called the Emerald Isle and whose brother was also a P.O.W., went onto to a distinguished career after the war interrupted his studies at Georgetown University. After graduating from Fordham Law School, he was a litigator for the insurance industry for decades.
Branizza said that the parade was not the first time his service in the war and his time as a P.O.W. has been honored. He was taken prisoner after bailing out of a plane and parachuting into the Berlin Zoo. As a navigator aboard a B24 he said he flew during the Normandy invasion.
“This is the first time I have been honored in such a great, big, and masterful affair” Branizza said. “They honored me during the Memorial Day Parade on City Island, and also several years ago at P.S. 175.”
Russell Schaller, a member of the 33rd Army Air Corps Photo Recognizance unit, said he was assigned to that unit because of his studies of photography at the Pratt Institute prior to the war. He said he is proud to be honored alongside Branizza and Costello.
“I was surprised, and I am honored to be alongside my friends Tom Costello and Bob Briannza, who were prisoners of war,” Schaller said.
Schaller went back to France for the 60th anniversary of D-Day. Some of the members of his unit had been shot down during the invasion.
For Robert Booth, who served in the Pacific aboard the destroyer the U.S.S. Frank Knox, he said he felt lucky because he was aboard a ship that saved many pilots from the water, but saw less combat than other units.
“I was surprised and honored when they called me to be a grand marshal of the parade,” Booth said. “The thing I am most proud of is a citation I got from the local school, P.S. 175, about 15 years ago.”
Booth is a past commander of the Hawkins Post. He said he joined it 64 years ago and was made a lifetime member in 1974.