Veterans

Rocky Point High School unveiled its new Alumni Wall of Honor Nov. 16 in recognition of the many graduates of the district who have entered the armed services over the years.

High school students and teachers were joined in an assembly honoring those on the wall by veterans families, local veterans from VFW Post 6249 in Rocky Point with Cmdr. Joe Cognitore, Brookhaven Councilwoman Jane Bonner (C-Rocky Point) and county Legislator Sarah Anker (D-Mount Sinai).

The wall features close to 60 graduates of recent years and those who graduated from many years ago. Also on the wall are bronze plaques emblazoned with the emblem of each branch of the U.S. military.

Family members of the late WWII veteran Michael Colamonico and elected officials stand together at the corner of McKay Road and Beau Lane in Huntington Station. Photo by Sara-Megan Walsh

Town of Huntington officials and veterans organizations gathered to give thanks for the lifelong work of a late Huntington Station World War II veteran for his commitment to the community.

McKay Road in Huntington Station was officially dedicated as “SSGT USAF Michael J. Colamonico Way” at its intersection with Beau Lane behind Huntington High School in a Nov. 24 ceremony. The signpost stands on the corner near where Colamonico lived with his wife, Lorraine, through his death in December 2013.

McKay Road was dedicated as USAF SSGT Michael J. Colamonico Way Nov. 24. Photo by Sara-Megan Walsh

“Mr. Colamonico dedicated his life to his family and veterans affair issues for active military and veterans,” Supervisor Chad Lupinacci (R) said.

Colamonico was drafted to serve in the U.S. Air Force during World War II where he was assigned a position as a turret gunner on a B-17 bomber. On Dec. 31, 1943, Colamonico was on his first mission — a 13-hour bombing run — when his plane was shot down by a German fighter plane over southern France, according to his son, Michael Jr. He was held as a prisoner of war at the infamous Stalag 17 in Austria for 17 months before being liberated in 1945.

While a prisoner, he wrote poetry and drew illustrations in a bound book he titled, “A Wartime Log,” which his son said is now cherished as a family heirloom.

Upon returning to the U.S., Colamonico settled in Huntington and became a charter member of the town’s Veterans Advisory Board. Its current board members made the request that his home street be dedicated in his name, which was approved by a unanimous vote of the Town Board at its July 17 meeting.

He was always there for the people in the community, no one really realized the impact until he had passed,” his grandson Francis Fanzilli said. “We get so caught up in thinking of ourselves and the world, we forget the impact we can have on the people around us.”

Veterans gathered at the Nov. 24 dedication ceremony salute the flag during the national anthem. Photo by Sara-Megan Walsh

Colamonico volunteered at the Northport VA Medical Center helping and attending to injured veterans. He also was an active member of St. Patrick’s R.C. Church in Huntington, according to Father Michael Bissex.

“Michael loved the community he helped build, literally and figuratively,” Bissex said prior to blessing the sign.

Colamonico also served as a mentor to Huntington’s youth, in particular helping U.S. Army Capt. Michelle Mudge navigate her way through joining the armed services to become a pilot.

“He was a true mentor, he was one of the ones who believed in me from the time I was 15 years old,” she said. “ He pushed me through some dark times.”

Midge said she keeps a picture of Colamonico and his plane’s crew — that he once gave to her — on the mantle of her fireplace as a reminder. The captain believed her mentor would have been thrilled by the turnout at the dedication ceremony, and his wife agreed.

“I’m very honored and I know he would be, too,” she said. “I’m very happy to see him honored in this way.”

His wife spoke with family and friends with her arm stayed looped around the signpost long after the ceremony was over, as if holding onto a piece of her husband.

Town of Smithtown officials and St. James veterans give their respects at the rededication of the Vietnam War memorial Nov. 21. Photo by Sara-Megan Walsh

On Thanksgiving eve, as many prepared for the holiday fest, Town of Smithtown officials
and St. James community members came together to give thanks to a set of veterans who often feel forgotten.

Smithtown Supervisor Ed Wehrheim (R) led the rededication and blessing of the Vietnam War memorial at St. James train station Nov. 21. The town’s parks department employees have recently completed cleaning up, adding features to and landscaping the Sherwood Brothers monument after its condition was brought up by Councilman Tom Lohmann (R).

Ed Springer, commander of American Legion Sherwood Brothers Post 1244 of St. James, speaks at the Nov. 21 ceremony. Photo by Sara-Megan Walsh

“We’re very appreciative for what Tom and the town did for us here, it will be remembered for a long time to come,” said Ed Springer, commander of the American Legion Sherwood Brothers Post 1152 in St. James.

The supervisor said the town engaged in conversation with the Long Island Rail Road over making improvements at the railroad station, like improving the landscaping and painting the trestles and underpasses as part of the Lake Avenue revitalization efforts. During a site visit, Lohmann said he rediscovered the overgrown monument.

“When I started talking to people about the memorial, they asked, ‘What memorial are you talking about?’” the councilman said. “That’s the point. You couldn’t see it. It was overgrown and in complete disrepair.”

When the town sent its park employees to begin taking out overgrown shrubs, Lohmann said he received a call from MTA police officers who showed up and threatened to arrest the men for allegedly for ripping apart the memorial. After a phone call, and the two public agencies reached an agreement moving forward.

The St. James Vietnam War memorial has been cleaned up and the landscaping redone, water and electrical lines run to ensure future maintenance, and a light installed to illuminate the American flag. The monument was first dedicated in memory of the two St. James Sherwood brothers, William and George, who died three weeks apart in France while serving in World War I.

The newly refurbished and cleaned up Vietnam War memorial at St. James LIRR train station. Photo by Sara-Megan Walsh

“I’m sure everyone here has had someone in the military who has served our country,” Sal Riccobono, assistant vice commander of Sgt. John W. Cooke Post 395 of St. James. “We want you to remember all of them and appreciate all they did for us that brought us to this point today.”

Both Springer and Riccobono said that the membership of their veterans organizations are rapidly dwindling, and they both hope to bring newer and younger service members into the fold. Springer said the Sherwood Brothers post has seen 12 of its World War II veterans die in the past year.

“When I tell you from the bottom of my heart, the way to keep their stories alive is to constantly talk about them,” Richard Kitson, local chapter president of the Vietnam Veterans of America. “If you are in that post, what a tribute to the Sherwood brothers this is that you keep their memories alive.”

A former U.S. Marine, Kitson said both his brother, John, and a best friend died serving in Vietnam. He found comfort in the St. James rededication ceremony.

“This is really touching. It’s very, very touching — it’s touched my heart,” he said, wiping a tear from his eye.”

Veterans struggling with their time served in the military now have the option of seeking peer support through a program at Island Christian Church in Port Jefferson. Stock photo

A Port Jefferson pastor has a message for veterans struggling with actions taken in their past: you are not alone.

Joining the armed services and venturing overseas, leaving one’s family, being tasked in some cases with taking a life, and in all cases being at least an indirect party to that reality, weighs heavy on a human being’s mind. To try to relieve some of that burden in an informal, judgment-free setting, Pastor Pete Jansson of Island Christian Church in Port Jefferson, in accordance with the Rev. Fred Miller of the Suffolk County American Legion, have established a program called Vet 2 Vet, a peer support group where those who have served and are suffering from “moral injury” can meet with someone who has been through the same as a means of healing.

“Post-traumatic stress is the result of a near-death experience or witnessing a tragic event such as your fellow troops being blown up or killed,” Miller wrote on the subject. “Moral injury is mental injury caused by being forced to do or witness things against your moral values, such as the killing or harming [of] others, witnessing death, failing to prevent immoral acts of others, or giving or receiving orders from authority that are against one’s moral values.”

The program features military members, who have struggled with moral injury themselves previously but have reached a place of inner peace, that have been trained in how to help their fellow veterans deal with moral injury through a Department of Veterans Affairs program. The group meets on the third Tuesday of each month at Island Christian, first in roundtable group discussions, then pairing off in a “buddy system” format, according to Jansson. So far two meetings have been held and Jansson is hoping to get the word out to boost attendance.

“The bottom line is they’re believing a lie, and we’re trying to identify that lie and then replace it with truth and that’s where the challenge is,” he said of the idea that carrying out orders while in the military becomes a burden carried by veterans. “There’s this internal struggle that they have as they begin to recognize that they were there for a purpose and asked to perform this task — not asked but ordered — and that they didn’t actually violate a moral code.”

Jansson said the group is prepared to refer attendees for professional mental health services if needed, through the VA or otherwise, but that the idea of the program is to offer an alternative to those hesitant about reaching out for help. He explained why he wanted to be involved in such a program after meeting Miller, who has ties to the American Legion and has dedicated his post-pastoring life to helping veterans.

“I have a real passion for this village and a real desire to meet felt needs in people’s lives,” said Jansson. “We’ve done grief share classes for people that have gone through a tremendous loss. I personally lost my wife to cancer six years ago this month, and so I’ve been through the grief share.”

Those interested in being involved in the program, either in need of support or to help those seeking it, are instructed to contact Jansson at 631-473-9229 or Miller at 631-395-4646.

Local children took time out of their school day Nov. 9 to show veterans that they will never forget.

Some 50 students from New Lane Memorial Elementary School in Selden performed a patriotic musical celebration at the annual Veterans Day ceremony at the Long Island State Veterans Home at Stony Brook University.

Fifth-graders from the school thanked the 300 veteran residents for their contributions and sacrifices while serving in the armed forces after the performance by shaking hands.

Also in attendance were state Sen. John Flanagan (R-East Northport), who was the keynote speaker; Fred Sganga, LISVH executive director; several veteran service organization members; and the New York Army National Guard.

Greenlawn American Legion Post 1244 honors all veterans, their spouses and family members for the time and sacrifices they have made to serve our country Nov. 11.

Dennis Madden, commander of American Legion Post 1224, acted as the master of ceremonies for the dozens of veterans, enlisted and community members who came together to pay solemn remembrance of the 100th anniversary of Armistice Day, marking the end of World War I. The brief ceremony included a performance of the National Anthem along with several wreaths laid at veterans memorial at Greenlawn Memorial Park,  at the intersection of Broadway and Pulaski Road.

Huntington residents gathered in the blustery cold Sunday morning to pay solemn remembrance to those who have served our country.

The Town of Huntington held its annual Veterans Day ceremony Nov. 11 at 9 a.m. in Veterans Plaza on the front lawn of Huntington Town Hall in order to honor local veterans and those across the nation. Bill Ober, chairman of Huntington Veterans Advisory Board, served as this year’s master of ceremonies.

“We are celebrating the service of our veterans on the Centennial of the World War I Armistice, which occurred at the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month of 1918, when the incessant boom of artillery abruptly went silent along the Western Front in France,”  Huntington Supervisor Chad Lupinacci (R) said.

Lupinacci said that the town was recently contacted by the family of Walter Marshall, a service member from the Town of Huntington who served in World War I, whose name is in the process of being added to the World War I memorial plaque inside Town Hall.

“On Veterans Day we recognize, honor and thank the brave men and women who have served in our Nation’s armed forces,” Councilman Mark Cuthbertson (D) said. “We must always remember their sacrifice in the name of our freedom not only on Nov. 11 but also on the other 364 days of the year.”

There are approximately 8,500 veterans living in the township, according to Councilwoman Joan Cergol (D). One of whom is a member of the town board.

“It is humbling to stand amongst other veterans who live in Huntington,” Councilman Ed Smyth (R) said. “It was an honor and a privilege to serve in the U.S. Marine Corps reserve. The Corps has done far more for me than I could ever do for the Corps.”

Kings Park veteran Ernie Lanzer, on right, with his daughter, Claire, wrapped in his Quilt of Valor. Photo by Sara-Megan Walsh

Nearly 70 years later, a Kings Park resident has been recognized for his service in World War II for the first time.

At roughly 12:05 p.m. Oct. 19, former Setauket residents Linda and Larry Heinz presented U.S. Navy vet
Ernie Lanzer with a Quilt of Valor to honor his service to his country. Now 91 years old, Lanzer recounted his time in the service as he was wrapped in the 80-inch by 60-inch handmade blanket in the colors of red, white and blue.

Ernie Lanzer dressed in his U.S. Navy uniform circa World War II. Photo from Claire Lanzer

“That was a lifetime ago, it’s ancient history,” he said humbly. “I was only a kid when I went in, 17, maybe 18.”

Lanzer said he registered under the draft and been called to serve near the end of World War II. He recalled fondly his assignment to the U.S.S. Antietam, an Essex-class aircraft carrier, as first-class seaman with the title of aviation machinist mate. His ship was stationed in waters off China and Japan during the period of occupation following the war.

“It really got my life started with aircraft; I went from fixing propellers to working on F-105, a real modern-day jet bomber,” Lanzer said.

Upon leaving the U.S. Navy, he worked on various planes for Farmingdale-based Republic Aviation. In 1961, he would continue to build a legacy of service by joining Engine Company #2 of the Kings Park Fire Department. Lanzer rose up the ranks of the firehouse, serving as fire commissioner from 2000 to 2006.

While recognized by the Kings Park Fire Department for more than 50 years of service in 2010, Lanzer said he doesn’t remember ever being thanked for serving his country before.

“We consider it a privilege to honor you,” his certificate from the Quilts of Valor Foundation reads. “Though we may never know the extent of your sacrifice and services to protect and defend the United States of America, as an expression of gratitude we award you this Quilt of Valor.”

Ernie Lanzer’s Quilt of Valor as boxed up and shipped from former Setauket resident Linda Heinz. Photo by Sara-Megan Walsh

Heinz said she requested a quilt be made to recognize Lanzer for his legacy both of service to his country and community after she joined with the Quilts of Valor Foundation, a nonprofit organization whose mission is to “cover” all service members and veterans who are physically or psychologically wounded. It started in November 2003 when a quilt was presented to a young soldier from Minnesota who had lost his leg serving in Iraq, according to its website.

“It’s to give them comfort,” she said. “A handmade quilt will always give you comfort no matter who you are.”

Heinz is a member of a volunteer group that calls itself The Myrtle Beach Shore Birds, a group of quilters that has taken up the mission of the Quilts of Valor Foundation. Together, they presented 33 quilts to veterans at the Myrtle Beach Air Force Base July 3 and have made more than 1,400 such gifts since 2010.

There is no charge for a quilt and the organization openly accepts requests at www.qovf.org. The website also provides information for those willing to volunteer their time to make the quilts by supplying patterns and guidance.

Rocky Point High School. File photo by Giselle Barkley

Since Rocky Point High School was built in 1971, its graduates have gone on to become musicians, scientists, college athletes and more; but many also have gone into the armed services.

Now, the Rocky Point school district is looking to show its appreciation for those graduates turned veterans by creating a new Wall of Honor featuring the faces of close to 60 men and women who made the choice to serve after high school.

“We recognize the students for so many different things throughout the school year, whether it be academics, sports-related accomplishments, clubs — and this is just one thing that it’s nice to recognize these students for all they’ve done for our country,” Rocky Point High School Principal Susan Crossan said.

Crossan had seen similar walls in other school districts such as Longwood and Comsewogue and said she figured it was time her school also honored its homegrown veterans. She originally pitched the idea to a number of history teachers at the high school, including Jamie Mancini and Heather Laughlin-Cotter, who came to appreciate the idea very quickly she said, though it was high school social studies teacher Richard Acritelli, himself a nine-year army reservist veteran, who truly picked up the idea and ran with it.

“Rocky Point is a blue-collar area with a lot of men and women in the service community, a lot of policemen, firemen and many who served in the armed services,” Acritelli said. “We have strong ties to the defense of this country.”

Since spring, many Rocky Point teachers and students worked together in an effort to find and contact the district’s veterans. Acritelli said it was a balancing act, doing their best to get students who attended Rocky Point High School many years ago in addition to ones who only graduated recently.

“We have a variety of veterans up on the wall, such as those in military academies, those who served in the Cold War, those in the War on Terror, young people in ROTC programs, and those who literally just left the school,” Acritelli said. “In a short period of time — with the number of names we were able to get compiled — it’s going to be really tastefully done.”

Acritelli said almost all funding was provided by local sponsors, including the Rocky Point Teachers Association, the Rocky Point Athletic Booster Club, the Rocky Point VFW Post 6249 and the nonprofit Feal Good Foundation.

The wall is being constructed by Ronkonkoma-based Fricke Memorials, and each plaque will include a picture of the veteran, their name, rank and branch of armed service. Along with the plaques the wall will include black granite etchings and bronze emblems representing each military branch.

Some of the Rocky Point graduates named on the upcoming wall go back more than 50 years, before Rocky Point High School even existed, when students who graduated from the middle school instead traveled all the way to Port Jefferson to finish their education. Crossan said she expects more names to be added to the wall as the news of it in the community spreads.

“It’s very important that we show loyalty to the students who have served, that they know that their school has recognized their services at home and abroad,” Acritelli said.

The Wall of Honor will be located just to the right of the main entrance to the high school past the main auditorium entrance.

Crossan said the wall will be installed this coming weekend, and all plaques will be put up on the wall Nov. 12. The school will be hosting a school assembly celebrating Veterans Day Nov. 16, which will be followed by an unveiling of the wall.

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Les Paldy, 84, takes on the Marine’s Leadership Reaction Course in Quantico. Photo from Jefferson's Ferry

As told to Cathy DeAngelo, vice president of sales and marketing, Jefferson’s Ferry.

Les Paldy is not your average 84-year-old. The Jefferson’s Ferry resident and distinguished service professor emeritus at Stony Brook University has spent more than 50 years teaching in the departments of technology and society, physics, political science and the university’s Honors College. While Paldy has retired, teaching only one class each semester and living with his wife Judy, a retired Three Village Central School District science teacher, in a two-bedroom cottage at Jefferson’s Ferry, he keeps a busy schedule.

“I had trained at Quantico in the 1950s when training methods were relatively primitive. Today’s training is more rigorous, designed to challenge the motivated college graduates competing to become Marine officers.”

— Les Paldy

Paldy, a former Marine infantry and intelligence officer and Korean War veteran, was recently invited to the Marine Corps base at Quantico, Virginia, to observe current Marine officer candidate training during the Marine Corps Recruiting Command’s 2018 Educators and Key Leaders Workshop. He wound up participating at a level he hadn’t anticipated.

“I had trained at Quantico in the 1950s when training methods were relatively primitive,” Paldy said. “Today’s training is more rigorous, designed to challenge the motivated college graduates competing to become Marine officers. On this visit I was assigned to a four-member team given the opportunity to attempt the Leadership Reaction Course involving a set of physical obstacles. The team leader must make a team plan and execute it within a time limit. Marine officer instructors observe to rate the leader and team.”

Paldy said the goal was to retrieve a wounded Marine supposedly held captive by hostiles.

“The physical obstacles consisted of two 8-foot-high platforms separated by a 5-foot gap,” Paldy said. “The team had to scale a wall to the first platform, crawl through a section of conduit pipe, bridge the gap to the second platform and climb down to retrieve the stretcher-borne Marine. Then the team would have to reverse course, re-cross the gap with the wounded Marine on the stretcher, and then lower him to the ground from the first platform. The team had only an 8-foot plank and a short length of rope to work with.”

Paldy volunteered to lead.

“With a separated shoulder and replaced knee, I had planned to stay at the base of the first platform to help lower the casualty to the ground,” Paldy said. “I had no intention of attempting the climbs and gap traversals but one of my teammates was clearly hesitating. It was obvious that we needed three persons to climb up and over to retrieve the wounded Marine. Someone else would have to be the third climber and that person would have to be me.”

“I’ll try to share the excitement of acquiring new knowledge with a younger generation that will have to deal with issues and problems that have eluded us.”

— Les Paldy

Paldy scaled the first wall, bridged the gap between platforms with the plank, and had almost crossed it before losing his balance, falling 8 feet to the ground and becoming a real casualty.

“Probably poor judgment to try it,” he said, “but I didn’t see any alternative.”

He said he gave himself a C-minus for the effort. Course instructors told him he may have the distinction — “dubious,” he said — of being the oldest person to have tried to run the Marine Corps Leadership Reaction Course.

When Paldy is not climbing walls in Marine officer training, he consults with Brookhaven National Laboratory’s Nonproliferation and National Security Department and volunteers as a professor in the Department of Pathology, working to connect Stony Brook medical and engineering researchers with their counterparts at national laboratories and the Naval Submarine Medical Research Laboratory at the submarine base in Groton, Connecticut.

“This Navy lab is the world’s premier research center for submarine medical research, focusing on ways to maintain the health of submarine crews, dedicated men and women whose submarines may stay submerged for months,” Paldy said. “Navy and Stony Brook researchers have exchanged visits and gone aboard attack submarines to discuss possible collaboration.”

He also makes a study of nuclear weapons proliferation and other global concerns and this fall will lead a senior seminar in Stony Brook’s Honors College.

“I’ll try to share the excitement of acquiring new knowledge with a younger generation that will have to deal with issues and problems that have eluded us,” Paldy said. “The university gives me the freedom to work on interesting things with the support of faculty colleagues and professional and civil service staffers who make the university run. No one could ask for more. With some luck, I’ll keep doing it.”

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