Brooklyn serves those who serve at Fleet Week welcome in Red Hook
Fleet Week returned to Brooklyn in grand style, making up for a hiatus of several years, as two of the U.S. Navy’s Arleigh Burke class destroyers, Farragut and Bainbridge, and the U.S. Coast Guard medium endurance cutter Forward cruised with majestic grandeur into New York Harbor, docking in the Red Hook Ferry Terminal. Awaiting the ships’ companies was the succulent odor of barbecue, courtesy of BBQ Brethren, a loose association of smoked meat aficionados who pulled out all the stops to provide sailors, marines and members of the Coast Guard a memorable welcome back.
Barbecue chefs worked a variety of smokers and grills: some industrial, others homemade. Chicken and brisket and crayfish were offered at several spots, but pork seemed to hold the place of honor amid the smoke and flames and clank of stainless steel tongs.
An impromptu honor guard composed of veteran Freedom Riders, relatives of service personnel and even a trio of Little Patriots “Welcome Them Home” ambassadors hoisted flags of various sizes while guiding crew members off ship and into liberty.
“This was my kindergarten teacher’s idea,” said Long Island resident and Little Patriots president, Michael Martello, now in the fourth grade. Helping Michael greet the crew of the USS Bainbridge were little brother and Little Patriots Vice President Anthony, 7, and Jack Fenech, 9. “We do this all over now, wherever Navy ships dock,” Michael added.
Elsewhere on the dock, cadets from the Lt. Michael Murphy Division U.S. Naval Sea Cadet Corps wrestled into rigid white spats and tied aiguillettes (black military braids) onto their left shoulders, preparing to form an honor guard for the official welcoming ceremony. A brace of WWII vets awed the mostly younger crowd with high-stepping dance moves opposite Brooklyn Nets cheerleaders Ashley and Shannon to rhythms supplied by a U.S. Marine Corps jazz ensemble. Members of the U.S. Coast Guard Ceremonial Honor Guard performed a synchronized rifle drill and toss without a single false move.
Organizations dedicated to aiding veterans, both in and out of active duty, were on hand. Angelo Coyle of United War Veterans Council explained how his group produces veterans’ parades all over the U.S. Broken Gear provides support to military personnel disabled in the course of their service. The Lt. Michael P. Murphy 4 Mile Run/Walk Around the Lake raises money for scholarships and wounded or disabled veterans.
Proximity to the water ameliorated what was probably the warmest day of 2016, but the heat, flames and smoke from roasting meats took a toll. Event organizer Jennifer Pinto was briefly overcome and sought aid from EMS personnel. She recovered in time for the presentation of wreaths and Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams’ proclamation welcoming the Navy back to Brooklyn, but she still appeared a bit shaky on stage.
Brooklyn Borough Deputy President Diana Reyna spoke at length about the significance of the U.S. Navy’s relationship to Brooklyn, reminding the audience that the USS Monitor, a key component to the Union’s ultimate victory in the Civil War, had been built and launched from the Brooklyn Navy Yard. Reyna also encouraged people to visit the USS Monitor museum in the near future. She added a personal note, saying that when she was young and growing up in the Dominican Republic, she saw U.S. as a place of authentic freedom, guaranteed in large part by the U.S. Navy.
The ceremonial portion of the day concluded as the quartet of ships’ commanding officers grabbed on to a chef’s knife to cut the “Welcome to New York” cake.
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