In between the parades and cookouts and the baseball games that have come to mark how we spend Memorial Day in this country, Americans will hopefully also take time to remember those who made the ultimate sacrifice.
While Americans have given their lives in multiple wars dating back to the American Revolution itself, Memorial Day was only made a national holiday through an act of Congress in 1971. Eleven years later, New York began what has become the quintessential Memorial Day celebration — Fleet Week.
New York City is always exciting, but during Fleet Week, it's really energetic. The city really embraces the armed services, and it's paying tribute to them all week long. Thousands of U.S. Navy sailors, Marines and Coast Guardsman have come into New York City for the 35th annual celebration (not counting the virtual events during the pandemic). A parade of ships around the Statue of Liberty and up the Hudson River kicks off Fleet Week. The highlight is the USS Wasp, which is an amphibious assault ship. It was joined by four Naval Academy ships and several fast response cutters. Once ashore, the celebration really got underway. Sailors flooded into Times Square, performing for and dancing with the tourists.
"A lot of people [are] just thanking me for my service, which is always good," U.S. Navy Petty Officer First Class Anthony Rodriguez said.
They also played flag football at the Jets training facility and met the Mets mascot. It's not all fun and games, though. They rang the closing bell at the New York Stock Exchange, and many were promoted and reenlisted on sacred ground at the 9/11 memorial at the World Trade Center.
Fleet Week is also an important recruiting tool for the armed services. Sailors, Marines and Guardsmen mingle with tourists and residents throughout the Big Apple.
The city just embraces the Navy," said U.S. Navy NTAG Empire State Commander Alicia Salerno. "And as a recruiter, it's good to see. People can see what the Navy is all about. So you can go on the ships and you can see what life's about and talk to sailors."
Whether or not anyone joins, Fleet Week is more than a vacation.
"Find a way to serve either your country or your community in some capacity after high school or after college so you give back," U.S. Marine Corps Major Jason Duehring said. "I think service isn't somebody else's problem to solve. Service is everybody's responsibility."
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