By Daniela Schrier – NEW YORK — Fleet Week starts in New York this week, bringing a diverse group of nearly 1,500 sailors, Marines and Coast Guardsmen to the city. This year’s Fleet Week, 26th the annual celebration of America’s sea services, coincides with Memorial Day — making the celebration even more meaningful.
The USS Oakhill docked in New York City, carrying men and women of the U.S. Navy and Marines from their base in Norfolk, Virginia. Like the country itself, service people represent many cultures and ethnicities.
According to the Navy, Latinos are the third-largest group in that branch of the armed services.
Petty Officer Asbielle Alcantare was born in the Dominican Republican and came to the U.S. as a child. He has served in the Navy for 11 years and cites his parents as his inspiration to enlist.
“They did their part to give us a better life, give us a better education, and I just wanted to give back and do what is right for my country,” said Alcantare.
Giving back was a popular theme among first-generation Americans serving in the Navy, like Guyana-born Diana Pollydore,
“I’ve been in America for approximately five years and I’ve gained my associates degree and working on my bachelors degree, I’ve gained so many things and I felt the only way I can give back to the government, because he sent me to school for free, is by serving,” said Pollydore.
Nyleen is a proud Navy wife of her Colombian-born husband. She’s excited to reunite with him in New York.
“It’s an honorable pleasure to be up here and actually see for the first time, cause I’ve never been to a Fleet Week, and to have my husband coming in, is an amazing feeling,” said Nyleen.
While the prevailing emotion is one of excitement, the fact that Memorial Day coincides with the event adds a certain solemnity for some.
“I had a friend, I lost him a couple years back. I’m basically from New Jersey so the World Trade Center that was a big thing. And you know, Memorial Day is a very important time of the year for me and my family because I’m proud of what I do,” said Alcantare.
During Fleet Week, civilians can board Navy vessels and see the ships’ latest technological capabilities. They can also interact with the men and women of the sea services.
It’s an experience that may give extra meaning to those in New York celebrating the Memorial Day holiday on Monday.