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Fleet Sails Into New York City

Since 1984, the U.S. Navy has made New York City one of its largest port calls in the days leading up to the U.S. holiday of Memorial Day, which honors those who have died defending the country. VOA's Kane Farabaugh spent time with some of the thousands of men and women in uniform on the visiting ships in port for Fleet Week, and has this report.

In 1609 Henry Hudson sailed his ship, the Half Moon, up the river that now bears his name, past Manhattan Island.

Almost 400 years later, the USS Kearsarge led a fleet of ships up part of the same Hudson River in an annual event that turns the Big Apple (New York City) into a sea of white.

Sgt. Glenn J. Smith, a U.S. Marine, says he is delighted to be visiting New York. "I'm from a small town, so New York City is pretty big to me. I'm from Fayette County, Alabama -- Fayette, Alabama -- and it's a small town, so I enjoy coming to the Big City."

The Big City is also a big change from Sergeant Smith's recent duty station. Through the war in Iraq's three years, Smith has served three different deployments there.

Sgt. Smith says, "I've been in [the Marines] for about six years now, and I've been overseas to Iraq three times, and that's my job."

World War II veteran Ben Dempsey says, "We've been over there long enough."

Though a lifelong New Yorker and an Army veteran, this is Ben Dempsey's first time visiting the ships making a port call for Fleet Week.

With the Memorial Day holiday Monday, Iraq is on many people's minds.

Petty Officer Brenda Kidd, U.S Navy, says she has been reflecting on the past. "And because we're in a war, it takes time to reflect on the past and the present for the death that's going on in the Iraqi w ar."

But shore leave is supposed to be a chance to put the job aside for a while. And in typical New York fashion, the city has opened its arms to men and women in uniform.

Some get free drinks, others get free meals, and all get a chance to step off the ship for the main reason Petty Officer Kidd is here. "My biggest thing is going shopping!"

Dempsey adds, "They must have had good times while they were here. I guess anything besides being on the ship for six months must be a good time!"

But all good things must come to an end. Memorial Day marks the end of Fleet Week. It also is a salute to those in uniform who may be called on to make the ultimate sacrifice for their country.