Air show featuring military aircraft highlights holiday weekend in N.Y.

By KERY MURAKAMI | The (Melville, N.Y.) Newsday | Published: May 26, 2012

By midmorning, thousands sat under a sea of umbrellas on Jones Beach in Melville, N.Y., as a mammoth B-17 "Flying Fortress" bomber flew low just offshore.

A group of people sang "The Ride of the Valkyries," popularized in the 1979 film "Apocalypse Now," and began chanting "watermelons," knowing what was to come.

Dan Ialacci, 26, of Patchogue, said it was his fourth time coming to the show. "You see things you don't usually see," he said.

Moments later, he watched the bomber on its second pass drop several watermelons from its hatch.

Ialacci settled back to wait for what he said was his favorite part of the show: Helicopters flying upside down.

The Patchogue resident was among thousands who gathered Saturday morning under clear skies for the start of the Bethpage Air Show at Jones Beach, where a team of parachuters began the show at 10 a.m.

A steady stream of spectators, many of them with young children, made their way from parking lots, carrying lawn chairs and coolers, for first day of the Bethpage Air Show at Jones Beach.

Mark Fox, 41, of Coram, his wife, Jennifer, 41, and sons, Angelo, 10, and Aiden, 7, were among them.

"It's a nice family day," he said. "You come to the beach, hang out with the kids and just relax."

Jennifer Fox was anticipating the planes. "I like the really loud ones that shake your whole body," she said. Angelo said he was looking forward to the tricks, recalling how bombers dropped watermelons into the ocean at last year's show.

Steve Jay, 51, of Smithtown, said he was coming for the first time. "It's going to be an impressive display of technology," he said.

Some, however, saw not fun but death in the mostly military airplanes at the air show.

About 35 demonstrators stood at the entrance to the show near pink ribbons they'd tied to a railing. They stood in a line holding photos of members of the U.S. military who have died in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Judy Gardner, 65, of Huntington said, "I want people to remember Memorial Day isn't a day to glorify war but to remember people who've lost their lives. The air show, she said, "leads young people think war is a game. It's not a game."

For the most part spectators filed by the vigil wordlessly, but Sister Mary Beth Moore, 64, of Wantagh, said one man had intentionally bumped her and told her she was blocking his way.

Gardner said that when the group began the annual vigil eight years ago "people would spit on us." But she said last year the group got more thank yous or just silence.

Jay Gottlieb, 55, of upstate Pleasantville, who was on his way to the show with his two sons said "Thank you" to the protesters as he walked by.

"I have mixed feelings," he said after he walked away. "It does glorify war. But at the same time the planes are really cool. In a way it [the air show] does honor people [who've given their lives in the military]."

Near the demonstrators Phila Strehl, 72, of Farmingdale, collected donations for the Farmingdale American Legion Hall. The money, he said, would go to the Northport VA Medical Center and other medical programs for veterans.

Strehl, who said he served stateside in Georgia during the beginning of the Vietnam War in 1960-63, said he'd been at Long Island National Cemetery, Pinelawn, at 6:30 a.m. Saturday to place flags on the graves of veterans, including some he knew from Hicksville High School who died in Vietnam.

"I think of them every day," he said, but Memorial Day weekend was a time to remember veterans especially. He had no problem with the air show.

"It's a just a great way for young people to come out and be exposed to the military," he said.

The Bethpage Air Show at Jones Beach is scheduled to take place again Sunday from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. The scheduled military performers include the U.S. Navy's Blue Angels, the Royal Canadian Air Force's 431 Flight Demonstration Squadron (aka The Snowbirds), the U.S. Army Golden Knights Parachute Team, a U.S. Navy F-18 Super Hornet and a U.S. Air Force F-22 Raptor.

Distributed by MCT Information Services