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TBR News Media covers everything happening on the North Shore of Suffolk County from Cold Spring Harbor to Wading River.

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Above, a 19th-century glass plate portrait of mother and infant in Australia. Photo courtesy Museum of Applied Arts & Sciences
Whaling wives in the 19th century faced daunting challenges
Nomi Dayan

By Nomi Dayan

As I prepare to become a mother for the third time around, I am brought to reflect on one of the most dirty, reeking and unlikely places possible to birth a baby: a whaleship. Today’s challenges with pregnancy and childbirth pale in comparison with the experience of the 19th-century woman — and even more so, the challenge whaling wives faced at sea.

 

Because whaling wives saw so very little of their husbands, some resorted to going out to sea — a privilege reserved for the wife of the captain. Aside from dealing with cramped and filthy conditions, poor diets, isolation and sickness, many wives eventually found themselves — or even started out — “in circumstance.”

In the 19th century, pregnancy was never mentioned outright. Even in their private diaries, whaling wives rarely hinted to their pregnancies. Some miserably record an increase in seasickness. Only the very bold dared to delicately remark on the creation of pregnancy clothes. Adra Ashley of the Reindeer wrote to a friend in 1860, “I am spending most of my time mending — I want to say what it was, but how can I! How dare I!” Martha Brown of Orient was more forward by mentioning in her diary in 1848 that she is “fixing an old dress into a loose dress,” with “loose” meaning “maternity.”

Once the time of birth approached, women at sea faced two options: to be left on land — often while the crew continued on — or to give birth on board. Giving birth on land was far preferable, as the mother would be theoretically closer to medical care and whatever social support was available. Martha Brown was left in Honolulu — much to her personal dismay to see her husband depart for 7 months on the Lucy Ann — but fell into a supportive society of women, most left themselves in similar situations.

During Martha’s “confinement” after birth when she was restricted to bed rest, a fellow whaling wife nursed her. When Captain Brown returned, he wrote to his brother: “Oahu. I arrived here and to my joy found my wife enjoying excellent health with as pretty a little son as eyes need to look upon. A perfect image of his father of course — blue eyes and light hair, prominent forehead and filled with expression.”

Giving birth on land did not always ensure a hygienic setting as one would hope. Abbie Dexter Hicks of Westport accompanied her husband Edward on the Mermaid, sailing out in 1873. Her diary entry on the Seychelles was: “Baby born about 12 — caught two rats.”

Some whaleships found reaching a port before birth tricky. In 1874, Thomas Wilson’s wife Rhoda of the James Arnold of New Bedford was about to give birth, but when the ship arrived at the Bay of Islands of New Zealand, there was no doctor in town. A separate boat was sent to search up the Kawakawa River for 14 miles; when a doctor was finally found and retrieved, the captain informed the doctor that it was a girl.

Some babies were born aboard whaleships — either by design or by accident, despite hardly ideal conditions. Births, if recorded in the ship’s logbook, were mentioned matter of factly. Charles Robbins of the Thomas Pope recorded in April 1862: “Looking for whales … reduced sail to double reef topsails at 9 p.m. Mrs. Robbins gave birth of a Daughter and doing nicely. Latter part fresh breezes and squally. At 11am took in the mainsail.”

Captain Charles Nicholls was in for a surprise when he headed to New Zealand on the Sea Gull in 1853 with his wife. Before the birth, fellow Captain Peter Smith had told him during a gam (social visit at sea), “Tis easy,” and advised the first mate be ready to take over holding the baby once it was born. When the time came, Captain Nicholls dutifully handed the baby to the first mate, only to return several minutes later shouting, “My God! Get the second mate, fast!” — upon when he promptly handed out a second infant.

Captain Parker Hempstead Smith’s wife went into labor unexpectedly: “Last night we had an addition to our ship’s company,” seaman John States recorded on Feb. 18, 1846 on board the Nantasket of New London, “for at 9 p.m., Mrs. Smith was safely delivered of a fine boy whose weight is eight lbs. This is quite a rare thing at sea, but fortunately no accident happened. Had anything occurred, there would have been no remedy and we should have had to deplore the loss of a fine good hearted woman.”

He also added his good wishes for the baby: “Success to him — may he live to be a good whaleman — though that would make him a great rascal.”

A pregnant Martha Brown had two options, to be left in Honolulu while the crew continued on or to give birth on board. She chose the first.

The author is the executive director of The Whaling Museum & Education Center, 301 Main St., Cold Spring Harbor.

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More reading:

▶ Joan Druett, “Petticoat Whalers.” Auckland: Collins, 1991.

▶ Anne MacKay, Ed. “She Went a Whaling: The Journal of Martha Smith Brewer Brown.” Orient, NY: Oysterponds Historical Society, 1993.

UNCOMMON BEAUTY Gerard Romano of Port Jefferson Station captured this image at Satterly Landing Park in Mount Sinai. He writes, ‘I stopped by the area to see my friends fishing and I noticed how nice the common reeds looked when the sun shined at a 45 degree angle so I framed the abandoned shack across the harbor with them.’

Send your Photo of the Week to leisure@tbrnewspapers.com.

Centereach Fire Department teamed up with Operation Christmas Child to collect shoeboxes filled with gifts to be donated to needy children. Photo by Kyle Barr

By Kyle Barr

It wasn’t quite Santa’s sleigh, but it was large, red and carried presents, so an ambulance was good enough for the Selden Fire Department, which took over Santa’s duties last week and stuffed 100 shoeboxes with gifts for poor young children all over the world.

Volunteers help fill a Selden Fire Department
ambulance with shoeboxes for Operation Christmas
Child. Photo by Kyle Barr

“Most of these boxes are going to go to kids who never even get a gift,” Selden Fire Department Treasurer Vincent Ammirati said. “This is something that will put a smile on a face, and this is the fire department — everything we do here is for other people. All we do is try put a smile on people’s faces.”

The shoeboxes were collected as part of Operation Christmas Child, a function of the evangelical Christian humanitarian aid organization Samaritan’s Purse. The organization takes the shoeboxes from drop-off points in local churches before sending them to distribution centers that will ship them to poor communities in Africa, South America, Asia and others. The shoeboxes are labeled by age and gender, and usually contain toys like inflatable soccer balls or stuffed animals, but mostly they contain hygiene products like soap and toothbrushes along with school supplies like books and pencils.

All seven companies within the Selden Fire Department helped contribute to the stack, with some companies acting as a group and other members of the fire department contributing indipendently.

Children in Uganda receive shoeboxes of gifts from
Operation Christmas Child last year. Photo from
Danielle McCarthy

Volunteer firefighter and Operation Christmas Child Long Island Coordinator Danielle McCarthy headed the fire department’s collection drive. She said she got the idea of filling an ambulance full of shoeboxes from watching the Los Angeles Police Department and how a funeral home had pulled in with a hearse full of shoe boxes.

McCarthy has been involved with Operation Christmas Child for more than a decade, first packing boxes before becoming a local packing leader, and then area coordinator. In 2012 McCarthy travelled to Uganda to help hand out shoeboxes.

“As we put shoe boxes into their hands and they opened up those boxes I saw their delight,” she said. “To look at them having physical needs met, to be able to see the joy that came to them from these simple things like school supplies and toys and that sort of thing, that impacted me. But what really impacted me even more, and what keeps me packing shoeboxes, were all the kids standing outside the place who didn’t get shoeboxes because there wasn’t enough to give to everybody.”

Shoeboxes for Operation Christmas
Child were collected with gifts to be
donated to needy children.
Photo by Kyle Barr

Every box also comes with a picture book called “The Greatest Gift,” put inside after each is packed. The book depicts a number of biblical stories told in that country’s native language. There was a $9 fee for every package, which pays for both the book and shipping costs. The fire department pulled together $900 to go toward this cost.

“Every one of these shoeboxes to us is not just a gift that we’re giving to a child, but around Christmas time Jesus is a gift we try to give, too,” said Victor Rossomano, an Operation Christmas Child Suffolk County-area coordinator. “It’s in their language and their culture. We try to keep it within their culture; we try not to send America to them, we want them to be who they are.”

Ammirati helped McCarthy drive the shoeboxes to the drop-off point at the Grace Gospel Church in Patchogue. He said he plans on using his officer status with the Suffolk County Volunteer Fireman’s Association to try and spread the idea out to all the different fire departments in the county.

“It’s a great way to show our community presence with the fire department and also for Operation Christmas Child,” McCarthy said. “It’s taken a few years to get this rolling, but when we challenged the fire department to fill the ambulance, as you can see, the guys stepped up.”

The 100 boxes kicked off national collection week, which ran from Nov. 13 to 20. In 2009, Suffolk County gathered 7,100 boxes, but the number has grown. The group is hoping to have 20,000 boxes packed this year

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The defensive end's big stop, catches lead Panthers

By Bill Landon

Miller Place’s Panthers made a stand.

The football team’s defense rose to the occasion when the Suffolk County championship title was on the line in a 25-25 game with just under two minutes left to play.

As No. 1-seeded Babylon barreled toward the end zone at Stony Brook University Nov. 16, No. 2 Miller Place’s defense forced a turnover on fourth-and-8 at their 34-yard line, and Anthony Seymour scored a touchdown on the ensuing possession to put the Division IV game away, 33-25. The win clinched Miller Place’s first football title since the championships began in 1992.

At the heart of it all was 5-foot, 3-inch senior Anthony Filippetti, who made the stop to force the turnover and followed it up by getting behind the secondary for a 27-yard reception to the Babylon 6 to set up the final score. The catch came after Seymour was sacked for a 7-yard loss.

To cap the championship-winning drive, Seymour faked a handoff to Tyler Ammirato heading over right tackle, and bolted off left tackle for a 3-yard rush into the end zone that snapped a 25-all tie with 21 seconds left.

“After we stopped them on downs I looked at Anthony [Seymour] and said, ‘If we don’t get in the end zone I’m never talking to you again,’” Ammirato said jokingly. “But he did, and we got the win. It’s the best feeling in the world.”

The county title-winning drive started with 1:45 left. Ammirato, a Seymour-to-Tom Nealis connection and Filippetti helped the Panthers drive 66 yards in seven plays.

“With our playmaker — Nealis — it’s comforting to know that you have a kid like that,” Miller Place head coach Greg Murphy said. “It makes you feel that you’re never really out of it. He’s been doing that all year long.”

Filippetti scored the first Miller Place touchdown of the evening on a 54-yard run on the second play from scrimmage and Cameron Hammer’s kick tied it at 7 with 7:43 left in the first quarter.

Babylon capped the first with another touchdown, but the point-after attempt failed, making the lead 13-7 heading into the second.

Seymour and Nealis were at it again to open the second, with Nealis catching a 34-yard pass from his field general. The teams were tied again when the Panthers’ point-after attempt also went wayward.

Nealis hauled in a 54-yard pass and run soon after, being forced out at the 2-yard line to set up Ammirato’s first of two touchdowns. The kicks failed on both and the scores were separated by a Babylon touchdown.

“In the beginning of the game we ran the ball trying to establish the ground game to eat up the clock,” Murphy said. “We needed that a little bit trying to get Tyler [Ammirato] going.”

Matt McNulty charged the Babylon holder after its final score and pulled off the block, which shifted momentum back Miller Place’s way.

“It was just a big moment — I had to pick up my teammates, I just had to do what I could,” the defensive end said. “I was hyped — I wanted that ball back and a chance to make a play and that’s what happened. We knew that the toughest defense was going to win today and making a stop like that in a championship game is what it’s all about.”

Miller Place (10-1) will meet Seaford (9-2) Nov. 24 at noon at Hofstra University’s James M. Shuart Stadium in its first appearance in the Long Island Class IV championship game.

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Above, Vanderbilt’s 213-foot diesel yacht Ara, a refitted French warship. Vanderbilt Museum Archive photo

Epic cruise began 89 years ago

William K. Vanderbilt II, an expert yachtsman, naval officer and marine naturalist, first circumnavigated the globe in 1928-29. Eighty-nine years ago — on Oct. 28, 1928 — he and his wife, Rosamond, a few friends, and a crew of 40 boarded the Vanderbilt yacht Ara, moored in Northport Bay, just off the Eagle’s Nest estate grounds.

Above, from left, Rosamond and William Vanderbilt, atop camels at the Pyramid of Cheops in Giza, Egypt, 1929. To the right is the Great Sphinx. Vanderbilt Museum Archive photo

The crew weighed anchor and, with Vanderbilt at the helm, pointed the 213-foot ship westward toward New York City, then headed for the Atlantic. The Ara cruised southward along the eastern seaboard, passed through the Panama Canal and steamed across the Pacific. The voyagers made numerous ports of call in the South Pacific, Asia, the Middle East, through the Red Sea to Mediterranean destinations, through the Strait of Gibraltar and back home. By the time they arrived back in Miami six months later, they had traveled 28,738 miles.

During the journey, Vanderbilt collected marine and natural-history specimens for his Hall of Fishes museum in Centerport. Artist William Belanske, hired away from the American Museum of Natural History, traveled with the Vanderbilts. He made detailed paintings of many of the fish collected for the museum.

By late 1929, Vanderbilt, using his ship logs and photographs, produced and privately printed a 264-page book about the journey, “Taking One’s Own Ship Around the World.” Nineteen full-color plates of Belanske’s work are included.

Chapter One begins: “For years I had waited and toiled for the moment when, as captain of my own ship, I would be able to undertake a voyage rarely accomplished — the circumnavigation of the globe. Even as a youngster, I had a leaning toward the sea, and lost no opportunity to pass my hours of leisure near the water. As time went on, I gained experience and a certain amount of knowledge in the handling of small boats.”

Vanderbilt became an expert sailor and owned a series of increasingly larger boats. Just before the United States entered World War I, he enlisted in the U.S, Naval Reserve and was commissioned a lieutenant, junior grade. After America entered the war, he began sea duty in command of the torpedo boat SP-124, originally his own 152-foot steam turbine-powered yacht, Tarantula 1.

“Strangely, in 1898, during the Spanish-American War, the army rejected me, a freshman then at Harvard, because of a weak heart. Apparently, at thirty-nine, I had staged a comeback.”

In February 1918, Vanderbilt passed an exam and obtained his Master’s certificate. Later, advanced endorsements made his certificate “good for all oceans and unlimited tonnage.”

In 1928, he purchased the motor yacht Ara, a refitted French warship built originally for the British Navy.

From an article on the Ara voyage in The New York Sun in 1929: “Paris, April 12 — William K. Vanderbilt and Mrs. Vanderbilt are pausing here on one of the most interesting around-the-world cruises ever undertaken. Other yachtsmen have circled the globe in their own ships, but Mr. Vanderbilt is no mere passenger — he is the master of his 213-foot motor yacht Ara and employs no captain. He attends to all matters of navigation himself and takes all responsibility himself for the safety of his ship and complement of over forty persons.

“Mr. Vanderbilt has three watch officers to help work the ship, but in stormy weather it he is who remains on the bridge, and who performs the other fatiguing duties that go with command of a vessel.

“However, this is no novelty for him. For fifteen years, he has been a licensed master, qualified to sail any ocean, and he holds the rank of lieutenant-commander in the United States Naval Reserve. The Ara carries several guns, but her owner made it clear today these were used solely for saluting. He strongly believes in the efficacy of a friendly approach.”

Visit the Suffolk County Vanderbilt Museum, 180 Little Neck Road, Centerport through the holidays to view more photos of William K. Vanderbilt’s adventures including a photo of him as a child with his parents and grandparents on a ship on the Nile; of him at various ages with his cars and large marine specimens; and with the crew of the Alva, in the Ship Model Room of the Memorial Wing in the mansion. For more information, call 631-854-5579 or go to www.vanderbiltmuseum.org.

‘This Must Be the Place,’ by Roy Lichtenstein, 1965. Collection of Dr. Harvey Manes

By Jennifer Sloat

It has been 50 years since the Summer of Love. It was a time that pushed the boundaries of music, art and society and had many feeling groovy and putting flowers in their hair. A half-century later that era still fascinates us.

The Heckscher Museum will explore that era through art with its latest exhibition titled From Frankenthaler to Warhol: Art of the ’60s and ’70s.

‘Chicken Noodle from Campbell’s Soup I’ by Andy Warhol, 1968. Collection of Dr. Harvey Manes

According to the museum, the exhibit, which opens this Saturday, delves into two trends that defined the art of the times and stretched the definition of fine art: abstract works that explore line, shape and color; and representational art on subjects from popular culture to everyday urban and suburban environments. Color field, minimalist, pop and photorealist works speak to the myriad styles that characterized the art world during the dynamic decades of the ’60s and ’70s.

In a recent interview, the museum’s curator, Lisa Chalif, said the time period was a watershed in American history and that many of the issues of the ’60s and ’70s continue to exist today. “The exhibition showcases the depth of The Heckscher Museum’s permanent collection. A good number of these works have not been exhibited for a while,” she said.

Andy Warhol’s soup can and Roy Lichtenstein’s comic-inspired images are among the works of art featured. The galleries will include iconic images from art legends Jasper Johns, James Rosenquist, Romare Bearden and May Stevens. There will be a total of 42 pieces on display.

“This generation of artists solidified America’s dominance of the international art world,” said Chalif, “They stretched the definition of fine art by using images from consumer culture and experimenting with processes such as silk screen, previously used in commercial applications.”

During this time, more women and African-American artists entered the mainstream art world as well, bringing fresh perspectives to modern subjects.

The art and music scene often intertwined in that era, and, fittingly, the museum will have a ’60s and ’70s soundtrack as the backdrop for the exhibit. “The show will be bright, colorful and fun,” Chalif continued. “We’ll have a photographic time line highlighting social, political and cultural events of the period, as well as music from the period in the galleries.”

The exhibit will be on view Nov. 18 through March 11. An opening reception for museum members and guests will be held on Dec. 2 from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. In conjunction with the exhibit, two Gallery Talks will be held. On Jan. 19 at 7 p.m. art historian Thomas Germano will present a lecture titled “Andy Warhol and the Soup Can School,” and author and music historian Tom Ryan will present “How Music Changed History: 1960’s and 70’s” on Feb. 9 at 7 p.m.

The Heckscher Museum of Art is located at 2 Prime Ave. in Huntington. For hours, prices and more information, call 631-351-3250 or visit www.heckscher.org.

Photo courtesy of Heckscher Museum

Olivia Newton-John
Celebrating the lives of Linda Ronstadt & Olivia Newton-John

By Ed Blair

Olivia Newton-John was born in Cambridge, England, and raised in Melbourne, Australia. Linda Ronstadt was born in Tucson, Arizona. “They were polar opposites in fashion style, song content and personality,” said Sal St. George, longtime creator of productions chronicling the lives of popular stars of the past and present. “And yet,” he continued, “Olivia and Linda had very similar beginnings and successes.”

Thus the reason that St. George has paired the two iconic songstresses in a Living History Production titled Tribute: Linda Ronstadt & Olivia Newton-John, a heartwarming holiday show that will run from Nov. 19 through Jan. 10 at the Ward Melville Heritage Organization’s Educational & Cultural Center in Stony Brook Village.

“Country, pop, opera, rock, Broadway — they successfully conquered all music genres and became music legends,” he added. The celebration of the lives of the two internationally famous singers focuses on their incredible stories, and audiences will thrill once again to their classic songs.

The show’s motif will be familiar to St. George fans. “The program will follow the same format as in the past,” he explained, “except we have two of the most popular singers of the seventies as our stars. We are in the year 1978. Olivia is riding high with the success of ‘Grease.’ Linda is astounding New York audiences in ‘The Pirates of Penzance.’ Both shows will be discussed in the program, and, along with the songs of the stars, seventies’ fashions will be highlighted.”

Linda Ronstadt’s singing career was quite diversified. Beginning with her work as lead vocalist for the folk-rock group Stone Poneys in the mid-1960s (“Different Drum” scored high on the ratings charts), Ronstadt pursued country, alt-country, country rock, pop rock, Latin and classic jazz genres. Along the way, she put together the band that became the Eagles, won a dozen Grammy Awards and was christened the “Queen of Country Rock.”

By the mid-1970s, Ronstadt’s image became just as famous as her music. In 1976, she appeared on the cover of Rolling Stone and was also featured on a TIME magazine cover in 1977. She was the top-selling female vocalist of the 1970s and produced a succession of platinum albums on into the ’80s. Ronstadt’s popularity continued into the ’90s, and beyond.

In a 2011 interview with the Arizona Daily Star, Ronstadt announced her retirement and sadly, in August 2013, she revealed to AARP that she was suffering from Parkinson’s disease, saying “I can no longer sing at all.” In an April 2016 interview, Ronstadt is quoted as saying, “I can’t sing anymore. That’s that. I can still sing in my brain but I can’t sing. It’s just the way it is. If you’re going to have Parkinson’s you’d better have a sense of humor.”

Actress Emily Tafur, who portrays Ronstadt in the WMHO production, noted, “I feel challenged and appreciated and honored to be portraying one of the great music legends of our time.”

Olivia Newton-John was known in the UK and Australia for her performances on television and in clubs, but her fame grew further when she came to the United States. Her hit recording “I Honestly Love You” (1974 Record of the Year) garnered a Grammy Award, and more successful albums followed. Newton-John really rocketed to international stardom, however, for her role in the 1978 film “Grease,” in which she co-starred with John Travolta.

Although she received another Grammy in 1981 for her hit, “Let’s Get Physical,” Newton-John’s musical career waned somewhat in the 1980s. She was diagnosed with breast cancer in 1992 and underwent a partial mastectomy. She has since donated portions of the proceeds of her appearances to cancer research and has recorded songs she designed to provide hope and courage to cancer patients and their families. Continuing her advocacy, Newton-John organized a charity walk along the Great Wall of China with other cancer survivors to raise funds to build the Olivia Newton-John Cancer and Wellness Centre in Melbourne. During the past year, the singer learned that the cancer had returned, and she is currently undergoing treatment.

Cierra Ervin, who portrays Olivia Newton-John, offered these comments: “This is a daunting and exciting experience! To portray such an identifiable entertainer has been a dream come true. We think audiences will have a wonderful holiday experience at the show.”

The Ward Melville Heritage Organization’s Educational & Cultural Center, located at 97P Main St. in Stony Brook Village will present Tribute: Linda Ronstadt and Olivia Newton-John on Wednesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays at 11:30 a.m., and on Sundays at 12:30 p.m. on the following dates: Nov. 19, 25, 26, 29 and 30; Dec. 6, 7, 9, 10, 13, 14, 16, 17, 20 and 21; and Jan. 3, 4, 6, 7 and 10.

Partially sponsored by the Roosevelt Investment Group, admission is $48 adults, $45 seniors and children under 15 and $40 groups of 20 or more. Performances are followed by a luncheon, tea and dessert. Reservations must be made in advance by calling 631-689-5888. For more information, visit www.wmho.org.

This post was updated Nov. 17 to correct pricing for seniors and children.

Brookhaven Town Highway Department offers funds to engineering majors

Brookhaven Highway Superintendent Dan Losquadro (R) invites high school seniors to apply for one of two $500 Highway Superintendent’s Association scholarships. Applicants should submit a cover letter and high school transcript, with a 400-word maximum essay about why they plan to pursue a career in engineering. Applications should be submitted to kdandrea@brookhavenny.gov by Friday, Nov. 17.

Veterans Dan Guida, Gary Suzik and Joseph Cognitore during a visit to Rocky Point High School to commemorate Veterans Day. Photo by Rich Acritelli

By Rich Acritelli

This week marks the 63rd anniversary of the first Veterans Day, Nov. 11, 1954, as declared by President Eisenhower, an annual remembrance of national service.

“On that day let us solemnly remember the sacrifices of all those who fought so valiantly, on the seas, in the air, and on foreign shores, to preserve our heritage of freedom,” Eisenhower said.

Many North Shore residents have served at home and abroad to protect the freedom of the United States. Just recently, proud veterans from VFW Post 6249 in Rocky Point were interviewed by members of the Rocky Point High School History Honor Society about their years in uniform.

The first veteran to be interviewed was Gary Suzik, who is a resident of Rocky Point. The native of Michigan’s upper peninsula grew up playing football, hockey and downhill skiing and still has a touch of his Mid-western accent. He served in the U.S. Navy for four years and was stationed on the USS LaSalle, where he helped guide the landing craft. As it turned out, this was one of the last ships to be built locally at the historic Brooklyn Navy Yard. Suzik said he is immensely proud of his duty on a vessel that saw naval missions for more than 40 years in every corner of the world. The ship and crew even helped retrieve the Gemini capsule, a spacecraft carrying two astronauts, after it landed from an early space mission.

Suzik participated in operations in the Mediterranean Sea, where he visited ports in Italy and France. He was also deployed to Cuba and the Caribbean during the Dominican Civil War in 1965. It was common for this ship to carry about 400 sailors and 500 to 600 Marines who  utilized landing crafts to assault enemy forces in hot spots around the globe. Suzik mentioned how the ship had the honor of carrying Admiral John McCain Jr., who is the father of senator, noted Vietnam veteran and prisoner of war John McCain (R-Arizona). Veterans Day is a special moment for Suzik as he recalls not only his memories, but that of his father who fought during the Battle of the Bulge in World War II and other family members who were also in the military.

Dan Guida grew up in Nassau County and currently lives in Wading River. His mother had nine brothers, of which seven served in the military during World War II. Since his youth, Guida said he learned the importance of national service from stories that were presented to him by his uncle. After high school, Guida was granted a temporary military deferment in order to attend St. John’s University in Jamaica, Queens, but a short time later, he decided to leave school and was drafted into the Army. With some college behind him, Guida was accepted into the Army Officer Candidate School and became a second lieutenant. Today around the post, many of the VFW members cheerfully refer to him as “Lieutenant Dan,” a reference to the film “Forrest Gump.”

From 1967 to 1968, Guida served in Vietnam with the I Corps. As an officer, he was responsible to direct tanks, armored personnel carriers and the trucks that operated within the northern areas of South Vietnam, not too far from Da Nang and the demilitarized zone. Guida recalled the tanks didn’t function well within the terrain of Vietnam through the heavy rains that saturated the grounds and made it difficult for American armor to gain enough traction in the mud. He shared interesting insights into the buildup to the war with the students.

Later, Guida utilized the GI Bill to attend Nassau Community College and Hofstra University, where he majored in accounting. He held a job as an accountant for a good part of his life and he still happily holds financial responsibilities today for Post 6249. The Wading River resident said Veterans Day is a moment that our citizens should be thankful for the sacrifices that past, present and future veterans have made toward the security of this nation. Guida said he saw that gratitude as he entered the high school before the interview. He had a big smile on his face when a younger Rocky Point student personally thanked him for his service.

Rocky Point resident and local commander of VFW Post 6249, Joseph Cognitore was also asked about his time in the service by the students. While Guida saw the earlier part of the war, Cognitore, who was drafted into the Army, endured the latter phase of fighting in Vietnam. From 1969 to 1970, he was a platoon sergeant that served in the air cavalry that transported soldiers by helicopters into various areas of the country. 

Cognitore was tasked to conduct “search and destroy” missions against the Viet Cong and the North Vietnamese Army who were situated in caves, tunnels, jungles and mountains. He also fought in Cambodia against an enemy that utilized the strength of the Ho Chi Minh trail to move troops and materials through the country to attack American and South Vietnamese forces.

Cognitore said it took a long time to put the war behind him. During the Gulf War in the early ’90s, he joined the VFW and rose to be its commander and to hold prominent leadership positions within the local, state and national levels of the organization. He said he is constantly reminded of his combat tours through injuries to his legs that have left him hobbling for years.

Cognitore views every day as Veterans Day. Each day he answers countless emails and telephone calls to help men and women that have served at home and abroad. Recently, Cognitore helped spearhead a golf outing that has raised over $200,000 to help the Wounded Warriors. One of the most important qualities the students were treated to during the interview was the camaraderie the veterans have toward each other, a dynamic likely strengthened by Post 6249’s daily mission of helping every veteran.

Rich Acritelli is a social studies teacher at Rocky Point High School and an adjunct professor of American history at Suffolk County Community College.

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Handful of cross country runners compete at state meet

Port Jefferson's cross country team finished first in Suffolk County's Class C. Photo by Dick Olson

By Jim Ferchland

Coach Rod Cawley called runner Sam Walker a “take-charge kind of guy,” and at the Suffolk County Class C championship Nov. 3, the senior raced his team to its second straight title.

The Port Jefferson cross-country competitor finished first at the 5,000-meter Sunken Meadow State Park course, crossing the finish line in 17 minutes, 48 seconds.

Sam Walker, who placed first at the Suffolk County meet, rounds a corner before punching his state qualifying ticket. Photo by Dick Olson

Walker has claimed gold his junior and senior season and said placing first two years in a row to cap off his final county cross-country meet was icing on the cake. He also was quick to point toward it being more about the team than himself this time around.

“I’m not going to lie, it felt pretty good,” Walker said. “This year didn’t entirely go as I wanted it to, but I was proud of myself because my main concern was if the team was going to qualify.”

The Royals finished 5-1 in League VIII, winning all but the final meet of the season with a loss to Shelter Island by a single point, 27-28. In all other meets, Port Jefferson dominated its opponents by 30 or more points.

“They worked very hard all season,” Cawley said of his athletes. “They did what they had to do.”

The head coach has led the Royals to 13 county crowns in his 25-year tenure. He said he gives all of the credit to his runners, especially Walker, who he said he’s had the privilege of coaching for four of them.

“He leads by example,” Cawley said. “He works hard and does what he has to do. He continued to improve each year.”

Walker said his focus this time around was on the underclassmen because of the fact the team hasn’t had many state qualifiers over his last four years.

“That whole race was trying to get the younger guys to the state meet and get that experience,” he said. “I know those guys have got a lot of talent and a lot of promise. And I know they’ll do the same for their younger guys.”

Grant Samara finished right behind teammate Sam Walker for second place. Photo by Dick Olson

The Port Jefferson team ran an average of 18:48.21, and had three runners place in the Top 5, with freshman Grant Samara placing second in 18:41 and freshman Cooper Schoch rounding out the fifth spot with a 19:05 finish. Right behind Schoch was Mike Ruggiero with a time of 19:06, and three others placed in the Top 15 — Brian Veit finished in eighth, Alex Rebic placed 11th and Owen Okst finished 15th.

“It’s amazing to see,” Walker said of the talented underclassmen. “I know when I go off to college, I’m going to be coming back to watch these guys. I know they have so much promise in this sport, especially since we are such a small school compared to the bigger Class A schools. We got so lucky with these freshmen that have such a future. I wasn’t even that driven when I first participated in the sport.”

Cawley said he too is liking what he’s seeing from his young guys.

“Samara’s an outstanding freshman,” Cawley said. “He came along quite a bit. He was the fourth guy in the beginning of the season and he ended up being the second. He improved considerably over the course of the season. For Schoch, he’s very talented and right there with Grant. Both of them ran as eighth-graders.”

Cawley said there were some challenges this year, but they were primarily a result of mother nature.

“It was a warm season — it was difficult to train sometimes and difficult to compete,” he said. “One meet got canceled because they ran out of ambulances, so I would say the weather was a difficult challenge for us this year. Cross-country is designed for the 50s and maybe the 60s, not the 70s.”

Cooper Schoch placed fifth at the Suffolk County meet. Photo by Dick Olson

With this, the weather once again became a colossal obstacle for Port Jefferson in the state meet at Wayne Central School District in Ontario Center just east of Rochester. The conditions were in the 20s with snow and wind, according to Cawley, a drastic change from what the Royals were getting used to. Port Jefferson finished the meet in ninth place.

“The ground was frozen,” Cawley said. “It wasn’t pleasant, and everyone had the same conditions, but the upstate schools are a little better handling that than us Long Islanders.”

Walker hit a major setback in the state meet as he suffered an injury in the tough conditions, costing him a Top 20 finish.

“I was feeling good,” Walker said of his confidence before his injury. “I tried catching up with the lead pack, but it was so muddy and there were foot tracks from the previous day that had frozen over. There were a bunch of holes and I rolled my ankle, fell, and it took a while to get back up. I knew that race was over. I couldn’t run as well as I wanted to, but it’s something to learn from.”

Despite the rough upstate experience, Cawley continues to remain optimistic about the future with his young, talented team.

“I’m very excited,” Cawley said. “I have very high expectations for the next few years.”

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