Several days before the Veterans Day Parade on Friday, Nov. 11, 2016, Commander Louise McCann and I were finishing up the last-minute details when I received an unexpected email. It was from Colonel David Lange, USAF, who is on active duty, but who was home in Great Neck on leave. Lange grew up on the peninsula and graduated from North High in 1984. His family still resides in Saddle Rock, but this was to be his first Veterans Day in his hometown in many years.
Lange had just returned from a two-year assignment in Korea and decided to come home for some family R and R before reporting to his next assignment in Illinois. He had seen the articles about the parade in the Great Neck Record and reached out to participate. Of course, he was wholeheartedly welcomed.
He arrived at the Alert Fire Company firehouse smartly dressed in his Airman Battle uniform and marched at the head of the parade with the elected officials and color guard. Later that afternoon, Lange joined the elected officials in a Thank You to Our Veterans celebration at the Great Neck Social Center.
After the day’s events, the colonel shared his heartwarming thoughts on Great Neck and Veterans Day.
“As a teenager, I was, like many of my classmates, eager to get away from Great Neck. I wanted to see what the rest of the world was like and I was convinced that I would find a better place to live. I never did. I quickly began to miss Great Neck but, despite my best efforts, have never been assigned within 1,000 miles of home.
“Since I joined the Air Force in 1984, I’ve lived in nine states and two foreign countries, but my home of record has always been Great Neck—it’s on my driver’s license and it’s where I vote, albeit by absentee ballot. Though I’ve had the opportunity to change my legal residence, I’ve never had the desire to—Great Neck was and is home. It’s a special place.
“Within this context, I must say that today’s events were particularly meaningful for me. I love my hometown and I want to belong; I want to be a part of it. It’s hard to stay connected when I only get home for a couple weeks each year. Also, most of my friends have left and nearly all of my childhood teachers have moved out or, sadly, passed on.
“Stores have changed and new houses have replaced the ones I remember. Each time I come home, I feel a little less connected and a little less sure about how the residents of my town will look upon me and those many veterans who have served before me.
“Occasionally, certain stereotypes prevail and those of us who serve, or have served, are never sure how we will be viewed. The wonderful activities I participated in today can go a long way towards setting our minds at ease…helping us to find peace. For my part, I felt very welcomed and I was truly appreciative of the sincere warmth and kind words shared throughout the day. I suspect my fellow veterans felt the same way.
“While I always appreciate a ‘thank you for your service’ from a stranger; a warm handshake and a ‘welcome home’ from members of the community I grew up in is something I truly treasure. Today, I had the opportunity to meet a lot of terrific people—our wonderful veterans, elected officials and public servants, and a number of well-wishing strangers who just wanted to say, ‘thank you.’
“I couldn’t have felt more proud to be a member of this community. I was grateful for the kindness shown to me but, even more so, I was sincerely appreciative for the love shown to those veterans who served before me—many of whom returned from war to a less favorable welcome. I know that each special veterans-focused event goes a long way towards healing old wounds. Seeing the care shown to our veterans means the world to me, and Great Neck showed its true heart today.
“I send on my warmest thanks to all involved in putting these activities together and, of course, to our elected officials for taking time from their busy schedules to participate. It was a great day!”
Now that Veterans Day has passed, with heartfelt memories of the veterans we honored and thanked, Commander McCann said, “only six months until Memorial Day.”
View Great Neck Veterans Day Parade pictures here.