Written by Tom Montalbano Friday, 21 May 2010 00:00
On May 31, hundreds of Syosset-Woodbury veterans, student musicians, civic group members, firefighters, Scouts, and Little Leaguers will march the length of Jackson Avenue in honor of Syosset’s fallen servicemen, while hundreds of spectators line the street to cheer them on. For some, the Memorial Day Parade is a pleasant rite of spring, the first trip of the year into downtown Syosset without a jacket. For others, it is a cherished Syosset tradition that dates back to the early days of World War II.
Few people have brought these factions together more effectively than Gus Scutari, the coordinator of Syosset’s Memorial Day Parade since 1991. A 30-year Syosset resident and an active member of both the Syosset VFW and American Legion posts, Gus successfully bridges the gap between those who come together each year to honor family and friends who have given their lives, and those who view the Memorial Day Parade as an opportunity to celebrate life itself.
A World War II veteran who served in the Pacific from 1942 to 1946 aboard the USS Haynsworth, Fire Controlman First Class Scutari was just 24 years old when a kamikaze plane struck his ship and instantly killed 14 of his closest comrades. From that moment on, Scutari never took his life for granted.
Upon his release from the Navy, Gus married Woodbury native Fran Zorbo, and the couple eventually found their way to Syosset. In 1985, the outgoing and energetic Scutari joined the Syosset Post of the Veterans of Foreign Wars and quickly worked his way up to commander. Then, one day, he was unexpectedly thrust into what turned out to be a defining mission.
“Days before Memorial Day in 1991, the parade coordinator announced that he was unable to run the parade,” recalls Scutari. “I offered to take over and I’ve been running it ever since.”
After years of waning interest in the parade among locals during the 1980s, Gus and Fran Scutari pumped new enthusiasm into the event, engaging many new participants, including some who make their way along the route on horseback, Harley Davidsons, and hot rods. For the past two decades, the Syosset Memorial Day Parade has remained a highlight of every year, a day when all of Syosset emerges from winter hibernation and old friends linger on Jackson Avenue to “catch up.”
While Gus is pleased to see friends and neighbors enjoying the annual event, he is somewhat saddened by the apparent indifference many display toward young soldiers who are presently in harm’s way. “Many people don’t realize that we are at war right now and that young men and women are giving their lives every day,” says Gus. “Someone once wrote that a soldier is someone who writes a blank check payable to The United States of America for an amount up to and including his or her life. That is honor and we should respect that.”
To ensure that young people never take the sacrifices of our soldiers for granted, Gus takes this message to local schools and club meetings throughout the year. Since 1993, he has spearheaded the National VFW’s local “Voice of Democracy” competition, in which Syosset High School students submit patriotic-themed audio essays in a quest for a $25,000 prize. He also represents the American Legion at an oratorical contest challenging Syosset students to create their own patriotic speeches. In addition, Scutari runs the “Patriot’s Pen” program at Syosset’s middle schools, delivers presentations about Americanism to local Boy Scout chapters, officiates at Syosset Eagle Scout ceremonies, and serves as Americanism Chairman for the Nassau County VFW. Still, he finds time to devote to his beloved Syosset Memorial Day Parade.
“It’s such a pleasure and an honor organizing the parade,” says Gus, emotionally. Fran Scutari, who assists with the planning each year, adds, “Being proud of the parade is the most important thing to us.”
This year’s procession kicks off at 10 a.m. at the Variety Child Learning Center and makes its way north on Jackson Avenue to the Syosset Memorial Park on Underhill Boulevard. A brief ceremony will include prayers by local clergy and addresses by New York State Senator Carl Marcellino, New York State Assemblyman Charles Lavine, Town of Oyster Bay Councilman Chris Coschignano, First Lt. Christian Kapey U.S.M.C., and others. Afterward, all community members are invited to enjoy hot dogs, ice cream, and soda - compliments of the Syosset VFW and American Legion - at the Syosset VFW post on Queens Street.
If you have never been to a Syosset Memorial Day Parade, you are sure to be captivated not only by the overall energy of the event, but by Gus Scutari’s unique ability to merge sincere reverence for the fallen with an uplifting dose of good humor.
“It’s so easy to speak to a crowd when you know everybody out there,” Scutari remarks. “As long as I’m on Earth, I plan to keep the parade going!” Those who look forward to Memorial Day each year would like to thank him.