Joseph Mondello, the Bronx County American Legion Riders director and a member of Theodore Korony Post 253, rode a motorcycle in temperatures hovering in the low 30s down Fifth Avenue in New York City.
And it was his choice – a choice that was never in doubt.
Mondello was one of a handful of Legion Riders who helped lead off the 99th annual New York City Veterans Day Parade Nov. 11 in Manhattan. The group was part of a large Legion family contingent that braves what felt like icy temps for most of the four-hour parade – the largest Veterans Day parade in the nation.
“Our motto is ‘We ride for those who can’t ride no longer,’” Mondello said. “It’s a great honor. Many of us, when we were at a young age, took that oath and committed ourselves to our country. To be thankful for that time we gave up, for those who served in combat and for those who didn’t come home, I think it’s a great privilege.”
Tens of thousands of spectators watched the 99th annual New York City parade consisting of 300 units and an estimated 40,000 participants. Astronaut Buzz Aldrin, a Korean War veteran, served as the grand marshal, while the parade marked the centennial of U.S. entry into World War I. The U.S. Air Force was this year’s featured service.
Serving as an honorary grand marshal was American Legion National Commander Denise H. Rohan, who spent part of her time with Legion family members who marched in the parade and part of her time on the parade’s reviewing stand.
Rohan was making her first-ever visit to New York City. “To be here for this parade was amazing,” she said. “There were so many units and so many currently serving military personnel, also. It was amazing. And there was actually a crowd to watch the parade. The citizens actually showed up.”
Rohan praised the Legion family members who braved the cold to take part in the parade. “They were standing out there for four hours or longer,” she said. “They were talking to each other. You saw the camaraderie.”
The camaraderie he experienced is what has inspired Legionnaire Deryck Aird to march in the parade for 11 years and was led him to ignore the chill this year. A member of 9-11 Memorial Post 2001 in Manhattan, Aird came to the United States from Grenada in 1965 when he was 19 years old and served in the Army in Vietnam three years later.
“I came here and was the only one in my family to serve,” he said. “I lost some good buddies (in Vietnam) that I’ll never forget. The passion that I got from the guys that I lost – I couldn’t stay home, man.
“The union among the soldiers in Vietnam was an incredible atmosphere of brotherhood. I’ve never experienced anything like that.”
The Department of New York American Legion family contingent was led by Department Commander Rena Nessler, who also was at the parade for the first time. Seeing the thousands of spectators lining the streets as she and other veterans marched from 26th to 53rd Street made an impact on Nessler, the department’s first female commander.
“It was so heart-warming to see that,” she said. “Sometimes when you go to a parade there aren’t that many people there. If there are, they don’t always stand and wave the flag. It was so heart-warming to see the street lined with people waving their flags and thanking and cheering as you went down the way.
“Leading the delegation of the New York American Legion and the Legion family down Fifth Avenue was such an amazing experience. As we walked down the street we saw all the people … out there supporting the veterans and yelling ‘thank you’ to the veterans and the military. It was an overwhelming event.”
Legionnaire Darryl Taylor, a Marine Corps veteran and member of Post 1822 in New York, made coming to the parade a tradition a few years ago. The cold didn’t scare him off this year.
“I was stationed in Korea,” Taylor said. “You’re dealing with 20 below, 10 below for months at a time. This was nothing. I wish it was like this in Korea.”