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Celebrating Diversity
Originally published: May 29, 2011 7:44 PM
Updated: May 29, 2011 8:05 PM
By MICHAEL AMON  (NEWSDAY)

Celebrating DiversityIt was a familiar tradition, with different faces.

Amid the solemnity and pomp of the 127th Annual HempsteadMemorial Day Parade, there was a celebration of the village's diversity: a car carrying Tuskegee Airmen, black cowboys on trotting horses, schoolchildren dancing to percussive music, and civic groups representing Panamanians, Salvadorans and African-Americans.

"We're still honoring those who gave their lives," said Village Mayor Wayne Hall said. "But it's more lively than it used to be. The flavor has changed."

To be sure, the parade -- the oldest on Long Island, organizers said -- had all the traditional trappings of an event meant to remember fallen members of the military.

The Wantagh American Legion Pipe Band played "God Bless America." Fire trucks streamed by with their lights flashing. Veterans marched in uniform and handed out American flags.

The milelong parade drew hundreds to the sidewalks on a warm sunny afternoon with a light breeze carrying the scent of barbecues.

"This is one day that brings everybody in the community together," said Gerrie Valentine, 74, who set up her lawn chair at Greenwich and Henry streets, not far from her home. "It shows appreciation for the men and women in the services, but also the fire department, the police department -- all the people who do something for the community."

The parade halted for a moment as Hall, Nassau Comptroller George Maragos and other officials laid a wreath and observed a moment of silence at Kennedy Memorial Park.

Then the sounds of Trinidadian steel drums returned, playing "America the Beautiful."