America Supports You: Fleet Week Starts With Reflection, Thanks in NYC
By Samantha L. Quigley
American Forces Press Service
NEW YORK, May 28, 2005 Sailors and Marines on May 27 participated in a variety of events tied to Fleet Week 2005 here. The week sees New York open its doors to servicemembers.
Marine Staff Sgt. Johnny Riera hands an American flag to Joao Paulo, of Portugal, during Fleet Week 2005. Paulo and his family were in New York on vacation. Photo by Samantha L. Quigley
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
The morning included a World Trade Center memorial run and wreath laying. Runners included sailors, Marines and members of the Coast Guard.
An hour later, Rev. Bill Minson led a group of sailors, Marines and family members of those lost in the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks in a prayer event. "We can ask for God's protection each and every day," he said.
The emotional event, marked with singing and thanks from the family members to the servicemembers present, ended in a prayer circle on site where the buildings once stood.
In the afternoon, Marines and sailors took to the streets of New York -- Broadway to be exact. At every corner along the storied street from Battery Park to Harlem, troops handed out small American flags and stickers highlighting the Defense Department's America Supports You program.
Many Marines were surprised by the reaction they received from the American people.
"They come up and thank you before we can even give them a flag," Marine Staff Sgt. Johnny Riera said. "We just want to thank them for their support."
The flags were a huge hit with the throngs walking the streets and could be seen sticking up from pockets, purses and even ponytails. Likewise, the stickers were being proudly worn.
"My dad was a Marine. It's a big thing in my family," Bridgett Gordon said. She added that she believes America should support our troops every day.
"We need to support our troops," she said. "I think it's a shame that it takes holidays for people to support our troops."
Even visitors from other countries got caught up in the spirit of the day. Carla Smale was visiting from London, England, but took part in thanking the U.S. servicemembers. Smale has family in Chicago and calls the U.S. "a second home."
"They're doing a great job," she said of the troops. "I couldn't do it."
The day wrapped up with the official United Service Organizations Fleet Week Kickoff at a Midtown Manhattan club. Approximately 500 servicemembers and their guests let loose. Food, beverages, music and karaoke got the party started and kept it going until nearly midnight.
For some, the kickoff party was a chance to come back to a city they hadn't seen for a while. Though things have changed in the past 20 years since, Navy Petty Officer 1st Class Gregg Bentz has visited the city last, he said he still finds it loud.
Bentz, an aviation warfare systems operator aboard the USS John F. Kennedy, and fellow sailor, Petty Officer 1st Class Moncrieff Antone, an operations specialist, participated in a ceremony at Ground Zero. "I'd been there when it was the World Trade Center," Bentz said.
Antone heaped praise on the USO for being so supportive and accommodating and said that New York and the people on the streets have made them feel right at home.
"The USO, I can't thank them enough. They'll do anything they can to help us out," he said describing the assistance he's received with transportation and the options the organization presented them.
"When you feel appreciated for the job you're doing ... you just have that desire to do that job to the best of your ability," Antone said.
Marine Staff Sgt. Carlos Vaquero said the people of New York have been appreciative and curious. "They keep coming up to us and asking for pictures," he said.
Servicemembers will enjoy Fleet Week events daily through May 30, Memorial Day. Those events, including an America Supports You concert tonight, are designed to express the appreciation of New York and the American people.