Veterans

Clarence Beavers was the last surviving original member of the first all African-American parachute unit

A secluded Kings Park trail was dedicated to honor a Huntington veteran, who is remembered as “humble” and yet “a trailblazer” by his family and friends.

The state Department of Environmental Conservation unveiled a plaque April 20 dedicating the walking path of the Kings Park Unique Area off Meadow Road to Sgt. Clarence Beavers. He was the last surviving original member of the first class of African-American paratroopers from the 555th Parachute Infantry Battalion, known better as the Triple Nickles. He died Dec. 4, 2017. “This is a long overdue honor to someone who obviously was a great American and a hometown hero here in Suffolk County,” said Peter Scully, the county’s deputy executive.

During World War II, Beavers and his fellow paratroopers worked jointly with the U.S. military and United States Department of Agriculture’s Forest Service on Operation Firefly in 1945. Their mission, as smokejumpers, was to respond to any threat or fires caused by the Japanese incendiary bomb attacks on the nation’s western forests.

“My father would be honored, very honored. It was very important to him that the 555th [battalion] and what they did be remembered.”
– Charlotta Beavers

In the summer of 1945, the Triple Nickle paratroopers responded to 36 fires and made more than 1,200 jumps, according to Deidra McGee, the U.S. Forest Services’ liaison for the Triple Nickles. McGee said the unit also led the way in the racial desegregation of the military starting in 1948.

“As people come and enjoy this beautiful trail, they can think of Sgt. Beavers and what he worked so hard to protect for all of us, the beautiful forests of the United States, particularly the west coast,” said state Assemblyman Michael Fitzpatrick (R-St. James). “It’s an appropriate tribute.”

The Kings Park Unique Area is a 69-acre green space where residents can hike, bow hunt and go wildlife watching. The 0.3-mile trail dedicated to Beavers is handicapped accessible and features an interpretive kiosk that tells the story of the Triple Nickles. The site was chosen because it’s the closest state-owned woodlands to his home, according to DEC spokesman Bill Fonda.

“My father would be honored, very honored,” his daughter Charlotta Beavers said. “It was very important to him that the 555th [battalion] and what they did be remembered.”

Lelena Beavers said she and her husband, Clarence, moved to Huntington in the late 1980s, after he finished his military service, to raise their five daughters and son. He continued to work for the federal government in the Department of Veterans Affairs and Department of Defense working as a computer systems analyst and programmer.

“He was a man of faith, a man of courage, and a true leader in his community.”
– Rev. James Rea, Jr.

“Wherever he went, he would always get involved in the community,” his daughter Charlotta Beavers said.

Rev. James Rea,Jr., of Bethany Presbyterian Church in Huntington Station, recalled how Beavers played a pivotal role in helping the church after fire approximately 25 years ago when it was without a pastor.

“Clarence Beavers stepped up out of the ashes, not afraid of the fire or the smoke, and had the leadership that was necessary to have the church restored,” the pastor said. “He was a man of faith, a man of courage, and a true leader in his community.”

Beavers was also a member of the American Legion Greenlawn Post 1244, involved in the Wyandanch Reserve Officers’ Training Corps., and helped found the 555th Parachute Infantry Association, Inc. and traveled nationally speaking about the unit.

“We owe a great deal of gratitude to Mr. Beavers that those who served in a secret war, jumping into fires in near impossible conditions while fighting racism at every turn,” said Smithtown Councilwoman Lisa Inzerillo (R). “Everyone here tell his story, tell their story to everyone you meet, and let it be known that courage has no color

U.S. Rep. Lee Zeldin speaks about the expansion of the VetsSuccess on Campus program to Suffolk and Nassau community colleges at a press conference in Selden April 4. Photo from Lee Zeldin

Students who have served and their families are receiving some transitional support.

U.S. Reps. Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley) and Peter King (R-Seaford) announced the expansion of the VetsSuccess on Campus program to Suffolk and Nassau County community colleges. The initiative, through the Department of Veterans Affairs, helps veterans, service members and their qualified dependents succeed in school using a coordinated delivery of on-campus benefits assistance, including referral services and peer-to-peer counseling. The program is intended to lead students to graduation and prepare them to enter the workforce in viable careers.

Services may be accessed by:

  • Service members and veterans eligible for any of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs educational programs, including Post 9/11 GI Bill and Montgomery GI Bill
  • Service members and veterans attended training through the VA’s Vocational Rehabilitation and Employment program
  • Eligible dependents of veterans who are in receipt of VA education benefits, including spouses attending school through the Post 9/11 GI Bill and eligible children

“Our nation’s servicemen and women put their lives on the line to protect us, and when they return home, they have earned nothing less than our unwavering support when transitioning back into civilian life,” Zeldin said during an announcement of the program’s expansion at Suffolk County Community College April 4. “The expansion of the VetsSuccess on Campus program means local veterans here at Suffolk and Nassau will have access to an even wider rage of tools at their disposal to help them transition into their new lives after military service.”

Suffolk County is home to the largest number of veterans in the state. SCCC serves more than 700 military-connected students annually across three campuses, and NCCC serves more than 300.

Students like retired Air Force Master Sgt. Olivia McMahon benefit from the program, and she said she’s thrilled to hear that what she was once provided remote access to will now feature a more personal connection to resources and benefits.

“As a single working parent and veteran, I cannot stress enough the importance of this program,” the SCCC student said. “It allows us to reach our educational goals and further educate our community.”

VetsSuccess on-ampus counselors provide:

  • Adjustment counseling to resolve problems interfering with completion of educational programs and entrance into employment
  • Vocational testing
  • educational and career counseling
  • Expedited VR&E services
  • Support and assistance to all veterans with VA benefits regardless of entitlement, benefit usage or enrollment status

Christopher Holder, the VetsSuccess on-campus program counselor, was at the April 4 press conference to talk to veterans about his position in the program and share firsthand experience with re-acclimating to society.

“As a veteran, as a disabled veteran, I have made the transition these students are making now,” he said. “I hope that my experience on both sides, as a veteran and as an administrator, will help these veterans make theirs.”

During the event, Zeldin and King presented SCCC Vice President of Student Affairs, Dr. Christopher Adams, with an American flag flown over the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C., to commemorate the expansion of the program and to honor the veterans it serves.

“Suffolk County Community College has a long history of assisting student veterans and maximizing their benefits and achieving their educational goals,” Adams said. “They deserve it and we are honored to be able to recognize their service to our country in this way.”

VetsSuccess on Campus began as a pilot program in 2009 at the University of South Florida in Tampa and has expanded to such an extent that SCCC and Nassau are now two of 99 colleges in the nation with the program.

U.S. Rep. Lee Zeldin, standing, visits with James and Noreen Saladino after the couple shared how adult day health care has helped them face service-related health issues in 2016. File photo by Phil Corso

By Alex Petroski

Disabled veterans received some good news March 28.

President Donald Trump (R) signed the Adult Day Health Care Act into law this week, a bipartisan bill sponsored by U.S. Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley) that will expand access to health care for disabled veterans who need extra assistance and special attention in their daily lives, according to a press release from Zeldin’s office.

“This is important legislation that provides a valuable and necessary service to our nation’s veterans,” Zeldin said in a statement. “By expanding access to [the] Adult Day Health Care [Act], we can ensure that all veterans receive the best and most efficient outpatient services that provide each veteran with the assistance and special attention they need, while still allowing them to maintain their independence.”

The bill defines the program as a reimbursable treatment option through the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. Previously, the program was only accessible for disabled veterans at three state veterans homes in the country, leaving the expense of health care oftentimes directly shouldered by the veteran and his or her family, according to the press release. One of the three homes was Long Island State Veterans Home in Stony Brook.

The Adult Day Health Care Act provides comprehensive medical and personal care combined with engaging social activities for the physically or cognitively impaired, as well as an array of therapies and counseling.

With the passage of the bill, now those who are 70 percent or more disabled as a result of their service are able to access the in-home day care at no cost at any of the 153 state veterans homes in the U.S.

“I am grateful to Congressman Zeldin for having the foresight to introduce this bill on behalf of all severely service-connected veterans who reside in state veterans homes across the country,” Vietnam veteran and patient of the Stony Brook facility Al Anderson said in a statement. “The bottom line is that this legislation will allow me to return home to my family while still having the ability to receive essential services through the Adult Day Health Care program. I can keep my chronic conditions in check and still enjoy the comforts of my own home.”

Fred Sganga, director of the Long Island State Veterans Home, also thanked Zeldin for his efforts in advancing the legislation.

“This legislation helps to restore a veteran’s freedom to remain an active member of their community even after succumbing to the perils of military service,” he said. “Congressman Zeldin never forgets the sacrifice of brave women and men who donned the uniform to protect the freedoms we all enjoy today.”

The Senate version of the bill was sponsored by U.S. Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah).

“Our nation’s veterans and their dedicated families have sacrificed enough,” Zeldin said. “This bill will give veterans the care they have earned while providing families with the support and relief they need to help their veteran loved ones to lead a fulfilling life, while keeping families together and strong.”

When Charles Murphy returned home to Northport in 1971 after serving 14 months in the Vietnam War, he wasn’t greeted with open arms or hand shakes. In fact, it was just the opposite.

“There was no band, no rallies, no thank you’s,” said Murphy, 68, an Army veteran. “You went back into the population and tried to cope with who you were. And you were a different person then. As a group, we Vietnam vets got the short end of the stick.”

Thomas Semkow, 71, who was in Vietnam between 1968 and 1969, said he remembers being looked down on when he came home.

“People weren’t very nice to us,” the Wading River resident said. “We were the outcasts of society.”

But Aug. 1 — more than 50 years since members of the U.S. Armed Forces first set foot on the battlegrounds in Vietnam — Murphy, Semkow and dozens of other Vietnam veterans within Rocky Point VFW Post 6249 and beyond finally got the recognition they’ve always deserved.

“People weren’t very nice to us. We were the outcasts of society.”

—Thomas Semkow

It happened during the intermission of  Suffolk County Legislator Sarah Anker (D-Mount Sinai) and the VFW’s annual Rocky Point free concert series.

Each of them stood together in front of a grand stage outside St. Anthony of Padua R.C. Church as Anker and Military Liaison Steven Castleton presented Vietnam veteran lapel pins on behalf of the U.S. Department of Defense and a special proclamation signed by President Barack Obama in 2012. Family members of veterans were also honored.

The veterans smiled with gratitude and hundreds of residents applauded as they received the accolades. Part of the proclamation read, “Let us strive to live up to their example by showing our Vietnam veterans, their families, and all who have served the fullest respect and support of a grateful nation.”

“I salute you all, thank you for your service … and welcome home,” said Joe Cognitore, the VFW post commander.

Cognitore, who served in an Army reconnaissance unit in Vietnam between 1969 and 1971, said the VFW has been putting on summer concerts for the community for more than 10 years and was excited at the prospect of giving back to those who warrant the attention.

“They were never welcomed home, and so I’m anxious to see them all come up tonight,” Cognitore said earlier in the evening. “Us Vietnam veterans look out for the guys and girls that are out serving now — we’re dedicating our lives to help them. Men and women who serve today are just unbelievable and we don’t want anything to happen to them like it happened to us.”

“Us Vietnam veterans look out for the guys and girls that are out serving now — we’re dedicating our lives to help them.”

—Joe Cognitore

Daniel Guida, of Shoreham, was an Army lieutenant in 1967 and 1968. He said it felt really good to be recognized not just with medals, but love and support from the community.

“Recently, when I had my Vietnam veteran hat on walking into K-Mart, six or seven people thanked me and wanted to shake my hand before I even got in the store,” Guida said. “That’s a foreign concept to me and it really brings a certain reality to what you did and shows that people do appreciate it.”

Members from the Long Island Young Marines stood holding flags during the concert’s opening pledge of allegiance and “God Bless America” performance before Cognitore addressed all the veterans in the crowd, from those who served in World War II to those currently enlisted.

The pin and proclamation ceremony ended with residents and veterans holding hands in a large group circle, swaying and raising them in the air to the chorus of the Southbound band’s cover of Lee Greenwood’s “God Bless the USA.”

“We’re all forever brothers,” Murphy said of his fellow Vietnam veterans. “No matter where we go. Forever brothers. We’re the only ones who know what we dealt with.”

The Cognitore family, including United States Army Reserve veteran Joseph Cognitore Jr., pictured in uniform; and Chris Schulman, pictured surprising his sister Lisa during Rocky Point's 2017 graduation ceremony, share their Rocky Point roots and military service in common. Photo on left from Cognitore; file photo on right by Bill Landon

By Rich Acritelli

As our nation commemorates the anniversary of our fight for independence July 4th, there are many examples of military service that would make our Founding Fathers proud. The sacrifices that are made by our local citizens to protect this country should not be overlooked or forgotten.

At Rocky Point High School’s 2017 graduation ceremony, senior Lisa Schuchman was surprised to be reunited with her brother, Chris, who has been serving overseas in the United States Air Force. It had been three years since Chris traveled home from his duty station in Germany to see his loved ones in Sound Beach. As his former teacher and baseball coach, Chris is a sincere young man who represents all that is right with America. For the people gathered on the special occasion, myself included, it was an honor to witness the special moment for Chris, Lisa and their family. The big smile that beamed across Chris’s face for the crowded gym to see was characteristic of his genuine demeanor that I remember.

He was a kid who always hustled, never made excuses and was an outstanding teammate on and off the baseball field. Walking around the hallways of Rocky Point, Chris demonstrated a respect that was second to none and a smile that was contagious among his friends. It seemed like yesterday that his buddies Danny Capell, Jonathan Popko and Steven Soltysik could count on the outstanding attributes of “Schucky” to be an outstanding friend and teammate. When Chris told me that he was going to enlist in the Air Force, as his teacher, coach and a veteran, it was easy to understand that like with baseball, he would flourish in the military. He was a student who always understood the differences between right and wrong and a kid who was motivated to serve his nation.

Two months after he graduated, Chris completed basic training at Lackland Air Force Base in Texas. For Chris, this was one of his proudest accomplishments, as it solidified the discipline and structure that he learned in order to fulfill his future duties. When he completes his active duty obligation in 2019, it is his goal to return to civilian life to become a police officer and continue to serve in the Air Force Reserves.

“It is my fondest memories of the local kid who always shook my hand as a student, looked me in the eye and now answers ‘yes sir’ to many of the questions asked of him.”

— Rich Acritelli

Over the last three years, Chris has spent most of this time in Germany at the huge military base at Ramstein and at Kaiserslautern where he currently serves. He has handled the internal security for the air installations and worked with German police authorities to ensure that American military personnel are properly following the laws within the country.

From November 2014 to May 2015, Chris was deployed to Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan. He remained on base to ensure the safety of the American and NATO forces who count on the vital post for resources, reinforcements and logistical support. During his deployment, Chris recalled the presence of the enemy through the constant mortar attacks the Taliban waged against the mostly western forces that have been in Afghanistan since October 2001. Although he endured the frigid weather and snow, Chris vividly described the beauty of the mountains that were always nearby. His long-term deployment in Germany has allowed him the chance to travel to Ireland, France, Austria, Poland, Switzerland, Norway and the Netherlands. He has said he thoroughly enjoyed the ability to travel, learn about the different cultures, understand the German language and, with his big smile, he met a lovely German young lady who is studying to become a nurse.

Speaking with Chris, it is evident he fully understands the attention to detail required of his security forces job through the measured responses he provided about his time in Germany and Afghanistan. It is my fondest memories of the local kid who always shook my hand as a student, looked me in the eye and now answers “yes sir” to many of the questions asked of him. While his parents are very proud of every one of their children, you can tell the immense satisfaction that his father holds when he describes the experiences his son has gained through his service to America.

Joseph Cognitore Jr. graduated from Rocky Point High School in 1991. He is the son of Post 6249 Rocky Point Veterans of Foreign Wars Commander Joseph Cognitore, who was the last Grand Marshall of the Rocky Point St. Patrick’s Day Parade. Before going to college, Cognitore Jr. enlisted in the United States Army Reserves and was stationed at the military center in Shoreham, where he was trained as a medical supply specialist. In high school, Cognitore was a talented soccer and baseball player, who later went on to Suffolk County Community College, where he both played sports and studied criminal justice. After completing his first two years of school, he transferred to SUNY Brockport where he entered the Army ROTC program to become an officer. While he was determined to gain his commission, he continued studying criminal justice and minored in military history. In 1995, Cognitore graduated and was immediately promoted to the rank of second lieutenant. He was later trained in the difficult job of being an ordinance officer at Aberdeen Proving Grounds in Maryland.

A short time later he was deployed to South Korea where he was stationed near North Korea on the Demilitarized Zone. Cognitore worked in a missile maintenance company that helped ensure the air defense of American and South Korean forces against the constant threat of attack from North Korea.

“Like his father, who is a Vietnam veteran and a recipient of the Bronze Star, Cognitore has an incredibly bright future within the military.”

— Rich Acritelli

As a young second lieutenant, he served as a platoon leader who learned a great deal about the importance of taking care of his men in a combat area. Cognitore said he enjoyed traveling around South Korea and later volunteered for the explosives ordinance disposal unit. After serving for a year on the Korean Peninsula, he was promoted to a first lieutenant and he trained at ordinance training facilities in Alabama, Florida and Maryland. He was later ordered to Selfridge Air Force Base in Michigan to handle the sensitive ordinance materials at the base.

During the 9/11 attacks, fighter jets from Selfridge were scrambled too late to intercept Flight 93 over the skies of Shanksville, Pennsylvania. While he was serving in the upper Midwest, he said the attacks were devastating for him to watch. He grew up an hour from lower Manhattan, and right before the acts of terrorism, Cognitore visited the World Trade Center towers.

In 2007, he left his family in Michigan to be deployed to Kandahar, Afghanistan. His primary mission was to help train the Afghan Civil Order Police, to help ensure that the Taliban would not influence areas that were liberated from their previous control. It was another unique experience for the local officer who worked with NATO countries from England, Germany, the Czech Republic, Canada and Turkish military forces. For a brief time, Cognitore served at a Forward Operating Base established by the German army that was frequently attacked by the Taliban. Cognitore said he was thankful for his wife, Carrie, for her love and ability to take care of their home and children, Claire and Joseph Cognitore IV, while he was deployed.

In 2012, with his father at his side, Cognitore was promoted as a lieutenant colonel, and he accepted a new position as an executive officer of a transportation company at his base. With every job, duty station and elevated rank, he has continually distinguished himself as a capable officer that could handle all of his military tasks. Like his father, who is a Vietnam veteran and a recipient of the Bronze Star, Cognitore has an incredibly bright future within the military. He has already graduated from the Command and General Staff training program and will be attending the Army War College in Carlisle, Pennsylvania.

As we take time to honor the historic actions of our Founding Fathers, may we thank our current patriots who still continue to strengthen the American way of life for current and future generations of this great nation.

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

Communities from across Suffolk County gathered on a wet Monday in support of the men and women who served our country to commemorate Memorial Day.

Scenes from Greenlawn's Veterans Day Ceremony Nov. 11. Photo by Victoria Espinoza.

For anyone planning to attend the Greenlawn Memorial Day ceremony May 29, this year’s event promises to be a unique one.

After a joint effort between the Greenlawn American Legion Post 1244, the Greenlawn Fire Department and Huntington Town, the Greenlawn monument located across from Greenlawn Park was refurbished.

According to the legion post, the monument was originally dedicated as a memorial to Greenlawn residents who fought in World War I. It was then rededicated in 1960 as a monument to “all those who made the supreme sacrifice.” The landmark has been in its current location since 1996 at the corner of Pulaski Road and Broadway in Greenlawn.

The original World War I plaque and the 1960 dedication plaque have been refinished to their original conditions, and four smaller plaques have been added to the sides of the monument, commemorating those who served in World War II, Korea, Vietnam and the current Global War on Terror. A new eagle will also replace the monument’s existing eagle, which is a smaller one donated by the fire department after the original bronze eagle was stolen. The monument has also been moved several feet forward so it’s easier for residents to see the plaques on the back of the monument.

Bob Santo, public relations chairman for the Greenlawn post, said the work for this project started a year ago, and it was completed thanks to a team effort.

“It was important to our group because that’s the location we celebrate Veterans Day and Memorial Day,” Santo said in a phone interview. “But it’s also a focal point of the community, and we wanted to bring it up to date and make it look great again.”

Huntington Councilman Mark Cuth-
bertson (D) said he was approached with the idea from the post and the fire department after the previous year’s Veterans Day ceremony.

“It was my honor and privilege in assisting the A.L. Post 1244 in this important endeavor,” he said in a statement. “I would like to commend Dennis Madden, commander of Post 1244, and Bill Irving of the Greenlawn Fire Department for their dedication and commitment to our nation’s veterans and community.”

A few days prior to the monument’s unveiling, a Purple Heart will be sealed into the base of the monument in honor of all those who were killed or wounded in all of America’s conflicts. In addition, a National Defense Ribbon will be included in honor of all who have worn a United States service uniform.

“I’m very happy with how everything came together,” former post commander Dennis Madden said in a phone interview. “It was important to get this done because this is a monument to all of the people who have fought for this country.”

Bill Irving said this project came together thanks to the teamwork and unity of the post and the fire department.

“This was a true partnership. We did this together for the right reasons,” he said in a phone interview. “It’s important to us to support our veterans in any way we can. This is my way of saying thank you to our veterans for all they have done.”

Residents can come see the unveiling after the Memorial Day parade Monday morning, which starts at 9 a.m., just prior to the annual Memorial Day ceremony.

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