JONES BEACH, NY — For the first time ever, the regionally renowned Bethpage Air Show was held on Memorial Day, as opposed to the Saturday and Sunday preceding the holiday.
The change was not only a feat of coordination and flexibility, but it also proved to be an emblem of what the holiday should be, ideally: a tribute by the citizens to the men and women in uniform who’ve sacrificed for our freedoms, and the uniformed service members showing their gratitude in return.
Memorial Day at the beach began in much the same way as the rest of the holiday weekend: unseasonably cold, and overcast, with rain clearing out. But about an hour before the air show’s scheduled 11:49 a.m. start, something else opened up — the cloud cover over Jones Beach.
That change in the weather set the stage for a truly unique day, as members of the thousands-deep crowd pointed out.
“What’s better than this?” asked Rita Fragiacomo, a Long Islander who’d come after learning that there was no additional admission fee. Attending cost only the price of parking — $10, because the regular shows had been canceled.
Barbara Schmaible, another local resident, expressed what many people in the region are feeling about being able to be out in a crowd on this holiday, in contrast to Memorial Day last year.
“This is a big help,” Schmaible said. “Just being out to share all this with all these people.”
She’s related to a former member of the U.S.A.F. Thunderbirds team. Schmaible said that she was well aware that Monday’s performance wasn’t originally supposed to happen.
Capt. Katie Moorkamp, the Thunderbirds’ executive officer, said that the weekend washout ended up inspiring her squadron to do even more.
“We were so bummed not to fly Saturday and Sunday,” she said in an interview. “We were all sitting here, and said, ‘Why not do a show?'”
George Gorman, regional director of New York State Parks, including Jones Beach, elaborated.
“The Thunderbirds mentioned they were considering,” he said. “We said, ‘Really?’ They said, ‘Absolutely,'” he continued. “So we contacted all the authorities. The air traffic control said ‘yes’ right away, the FAA approved it right away.”
It resulted in a thrilling display of American airpower in front of a crowd that was as grateful to members of the military as they were grateful to Mother Nature.
“And the sun comes out,” said Donna Hasfal of Bayshore, Long Island. “We’re happy for that.”
Seven other aerial units performed, including the Army Golden Knights parachute team, and stunt flyer David Windmiller, a Long Island native.
The holiday and the crowd were front and center, as the Thunderbirds’ executive officer and the people who’d come out to watch both pointed out.
“Jones Beach, the energy of the crowd,” said Capt. Moorkamp, “everyone always looks so forward to the show.”
Lorraine Sirgany, a local resident, summed up the overall event.
“It represents the day,” she said. “What our men and women died for.”
She added, “We’re here to represent the freedom after COVID.”