Tags Posts tagged with "Memorial Day"

Memorial Day

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For close to a month, Tom Butera, a mason in Port Jefferson village, laid the bricks down for the new Armed Forces Tribute in front of the Port Jeff High School. Though he had been laying bricks for over 40 years, bending over, picking them up, planting them in the ground, to him, every brick represented a family and a sacrifice.

“These we’re the heaviest bricks I ever laid,” he said.

On May 30, veterans cut the ribbon on the new tribute surrounded by well more than 100 local residents. The center of the memorial is a large stone with a plaque on it surrounded by bricks donated by local residents with notes of names of family members who were involved in the armed services. By the end, the memorial looks remarkably like the sketch by high school student Jillian Lawler produced in January, when the brick drive was first announced.

While many donated $100 for each brick, others in the community came out to support the new memorial. Gabe Zoda, 17, a senior at the high school and a member of Boy Scouts of America Troop 45, donated benches to the project, each emblazoned with the fleur-de-lis of the Boy Scouts. Zoda expects to move on to Hofstra University after graduation where he will study broadcast journalism.

The idea for the project spawned from local Vietnam veteran Jim Henke, who had originally approached the district several years ago about building the memorial. It would take years, but the district helped form an Armed Forces Tribute committee in 2017, with local veterans and residents as members, who helped get the project rolling at the beginning of this year.

“Most of these veterans I knew myself from the Vietnam era,” Henke said. “We played ball together, we had a good time in the 60s, and we lost so many of those lives that I thought this was just fitting.”

Though it took time for the project to take root, he said it was the efforts of the school administration and Superintendent Paul Casciano.

“I want to thank the entire Port Jefferson School District community that raised enough brick sales to support the project without any assistance from the school district,” Henke said.

Local residents stooped down to take pictures of bricks donated by friends and family, and the Port Jefferson art staff was on call if people looked to get a rubbing of their bricks.

“I would like to say thank you for the names of the men and women engraved on the walkway,” said high school Principal Christine Austen. “My hope is that this tribute stands as a reminder to all the youth that Port Jefferson veterans are heroes that will always be close to our hearts.”

Butera feels a deep connection to the new veterans tribute. It’s his father’s name, Technical Sergeant Tony Butera of the U.S. Army Air Corps, that is inscribed in one of the bricks. His father was shot down during WWII over Hamburg, Germany, flying in a B17 bomber. His plane landed on a field of sheep, what they called a “fleece-lined landing,” and he and his compatriots were held at gunpoint on their knees by several disgruntled farmers. He became a prisoner of war on Jan. 17, 1945, and he was held for 134 days in a POW camp before it was liberated by troops led by Gen. George Patton. It was with his father that Butera picked up and laid his first brick.

While he looks fondly back on the stories of his father, he sees the different side of war with the record of his son, Greg, a veteran of two tours in Afghanistan. There was a time where Butera had no communication with his son for three months, though now Greg is home, and has a wife and a daughter.

“When it got hard to work, I told myself ‘shut up — these people were in a much harder spot,’” Butera said. “It was such an honor to do it.”

Jim Henke’s name was changed May 31 to correct the spelling of his last name.

By Heidi Sutton

The Long Island State Veterans Home (LISVH) in Stony Brook honored our fallen heroes with a Memorial Day ceremony on May 24.

The special event featured speeches from Congressman Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley); Colonel James McDonough Jr., director of the New York State Division of Veterans Services; County Executive Steve Bellone (D); and was attended by many veterans living at the LISVH, elected officials including Assemblyman Steve Engelbright (D-Setauket) and Comptroller John Kennedy Jr. (R) and many veteran service organization members. 

Rabbi Joseph Topek gave the invocation, Rev. Gregory Leonard gave the benediction, Father Thomas Tuite gave a Veterans Prayer and Lee Ann Brill, Miss NY Senior America 2017, sang lovely renditions of “Star Spangled Banner,” “Wind Beneath My Wings, “Amazing Grace and “God Bless America.”

The afternoon commenced with a wreath laying ceremony conducted by James Carbone, World War II veteran and LISVH member, at the Walk of Heroes on the grounds; a color guard, firing detail and taps memorial by Marine Corps League East End Detachment 642, and a “Tolling of the Bells” memorial service led by LTC Marion McEntee, deputy director of nursing at the LISVH.

Rabbi Topek said it best in his opening prayer. “Today we remember those who have laid down their lives in service of our country, who in the words of President Lincoln have laid the most costly sacrifice upon the altar of freedom … May we the citizens of the United States remain mindful of those who have sacrificed their lives for our freedom in the many conflicts of the past — Veterans of World War I, World War II, Korean War, Vietnam, Persian Gulf War … May their memories always be a blessing to our nation today and every day.”

Photos courtesy of Doreen Guma and Congressman Zeldin’s office

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The Port Jefferson School District Armed Forces tribute. Photo from PJSD

The Port Jefferson School District will unveil its new Armed Forces tribute at a dedication ceremony with students May 30, at 10 a.m., at the Earl L. Vandermeulen High School. 

The tribute, created to express gratitude to those former students and staff members who have served in the armed forces, will salute military personnel with welcoming remarks from student leaders and school and local government officials. The Port Jefferson Middle School band will perform and students from Edna Louise Spear Elementary School will share poetry written especially for the occasion. 

“More than two dozen school staff and community members came together to form this committee with enthusiasm and camaraderie to honor those who served,” said Superintendent Paul Casciano. “The culmination of months of planning, fundraising and fellowship has resulted in a tribute of which our school community will be very proud.”

For those who cannot attend the event, a public recognition will be held Saturday, June 22, at
9:30 a.m.

In honor of Memorial Day, Mount Sinai’s Heritage Park hosted its annual Parade of Flags, while VFW’s in Rocky Point and Sound Beach took the time May 27 to memorialize those servicemen and servicewomen lost throughout the years.

Joe Cognitore, the commander of the Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 6249 in Rocky Point, read the names of 204 people who have died in the service of the U.S., with each set of names said to the sound of a bell. He said the number of names he reads every Memorial Day grows every year.

Over in Sound Beach, the Sound Beach Civic, along with members of the Sound Beach Fire Department, hosted their own ceremony at the Sound Beach Veterans Memorial. Flags flew at half mast, but veterans of each branch of service, from the U.S. Military, Navy, Marines and Coast Guard, helped raise each of the flags high to the bright, sunny sky. Members of the Miller Place Boy Scouts of America Troop 204 played an echo version of taps.

“Flowers, memorials and flags at half staff, and the sad notes of taps, as meaningful as they are, they are not enough,” Cognitore said. What we really must do to honor their sacrifice is to live what they died for.”

 

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Members and compatriots of the American Legion Wilson Ritch Post 432 in Port Jefferson Station hosted their annual Memorial Day commemoration at Veterans Memorial Park right in front of Port Jefferson Harbor.

After a presentation of the colors and the wreath laying, veterans moved the flags to half-mast. The group moved onto the Three Village area, where they participated in the unveiling of a newly rejuvenated veterans memorials in Stony Brook Village and the Setauket Village Green. The work is being done with the efforts of Suffolk County Legislator Kara Hahn (D-Setauket) and several local veteran groups and has been funded through outside donations. This first phase of the project was completed by Memorial Day, and the second phase is expected to revitalize the Setauket Veterans Memorial Park and the Port Jefferson Veterans Memorial Park by Veterans Day this fall.

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Craig McNabb with former Secretary of Defense Ash Carter. Photo from Rich Acritelli

By Rich Acritelli

“Each of the patriots whom we remember on this day was first a beloved son or daughter, a brother or sister, or a spouse, friend and neighbor.”

The above feelings were expressed by former President George H.W. Bush, who was a combat aviator during World War II in the Pacific and in Asia.  These national sentiments will be felt this week as people will begin to reflect on contributions that have been made by members of every armed service to protect American ideals. While this holiday was created by President Dwight D. Eisenhower in 1953, every year the United States pauses to honor all of the men and women who have militarily sacrificed for our country. This Monday, veterans from across this country will recall their own efforts of service at home and abroad.

The Cognitore family. Photo from Rich Acritelli

Back in the 1950s and 1960s, Joe Cognitore, now the commander of Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 6249 in Rocky Point,  grew up playing football and running track at Farmingdale High School.  Once he graduated in 1964, he went to Dakota Wesleyan University in South Dakota and was drafted into the army in 1969 towards the end of the Vietnam War. Cognitore is an extremely likable figure who has always been drawn toward leadership positions. This was no different in South Vietnam, as he was a platoon sergeant involved in heavy fighting against the Vietcong and North Vietnamese army in Cambodia. For his efforts to care for his men and to distinguish himself in battle, the VFW commander was awarded the Bronze Star.

Once Cognitore returned home from South Vietnam, he wanted to get back to civilian life, to get a job and start a family. This longtime management figure for Coca-Cola was briefly a substitute social studies teacher in Longwood, where he enjoyed working with students and coaching them in sports. Cognitore is one of the many 2.5 million Vietnam veterans who were not warmly received by the American public once they arrived home. Unlike the World War II veterans who were thrown parades and given yellow ribbons, some of these veterans were cast aside by a government that wanted to forget this Cold War struggle.  For two decades, Cognitore coped with the war through the love of his wife Cathy and his two boys Joseph and Christopher. For 31 years, Cognitore was employed at Coca-Cola, where he was promoted to management positions.

It was not until Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait in 1990 that Cognitore became a major figure within the Rocky Point VFW post. Next to other veterans, Cognitore raised money for necessary materials that were sent to local residents who were deployed during the military campaigns of Desert Storm and Shield. The VFW commander  was also a key figure to raise funds for the athletic programs of Rocky Point High School when it faced austerity in the early 1990s. Since the moment that Hussein started the Gulf War, Cognitore has constantly been a vital fixture at this post to greatly help the communities of the North Shore.

It is the daily routine of Cognitore to attend meetings at government buildings in Hauppauge or Albany, or speak with political leaders in Washington D.C., addressing veterans affairs. While he is now in his 70s, Cognitore has shown no signs of slowing down and ensuring the men and women who have been deployed since the War on Terror began are adequately cared for by this country. For the last 12 years, Cognitore assisted the organization of a Wounded Warrior Golf Outing that has raised more than $200,000 for those local citizens who have returned home with traumatic injuries. His VFW also sponsored the creation of one of the largest 9/11 memorials in Suffolk County at the Diamond in the Pines Park in Coram. Most recently, Post 6249 was a sponsor to ensure that the Rocky Point High School Veterans Wall of Honor was properly funded to build this structure for past, present and future service members. 

In the summer, this veterans organization, spearheaded by Cognitore, has also been the driving force behind the Rocky Point concert series that has brought in talented musicians like Mike DelGiudice’s Billy Joel Big Shot band. And closer to home, his son Joseph has just been promoted to the rank of colonel and he graduated from the immensely difficult Army War College in Carlisle, Pennsylvania.  He is a proud grandfather who has always wanted to help others.

John Fernandez. Photo from Rich Acritelli

Another local veteran who fondly looks at Memorial Day with extreme pride is Shoreham resident John Fernandez. This talented lacrosse player and wrestler graduated from Rocky Point High School in 1996 and the U.S. Military Academy at West Point in 2001. When he was deciding which college to attend, Fernandez was influenced by the wartime involvement of his older family members to achieve a military education. On this date, Fernandez thinks about both of his grandfathers who fought during World War II in the Pacific and in Anzio, Italy.  

Fernandez left the academy in June 2001, and with Shoreham resident Gabriel “Buddy” Gengler, they drove to their first training station at Fort Sill, Oklahoma.  While both men were from the rival schools of Rocky Point and Shoreham-Wading River, they share a tremendous bond with each other. For more than a decade, they have tirelessly pushed for increased awareness to properly assist soldiers gravely wounded in Iraq and Afghanistan. They represent the newest generation of veterans who are motivated to ensure the strength of this nation at home and abroad.

It was at Fort Sill that Fernandez was instructed in the operation and firing of artillery guns. As he left West Point during a time of peace, this quickly changed on Sept. 11, 2001.  This young officer continued his development by being sent to Fort Irwin in California, where Fernandez participated in major war games. He learned the significance of logistics, supply, armor, infantry and artillery at these exercises. A short time later, he was ordered to Fort Knox where he instructed West Point cadets. As a lacrosse captain in high school and college, Fernandez is a natural-born leader who enjoyed guiding these prospective officers. In 2003, Fernandez was handpicked to be a platoon leader of an artillery battery that opened the primary attack into Iraq during the Second Gulf War.

Once this assault began, this talented lacrosse player who was known as “Spanish Lightning” headed north with thousands of other soldiers towards Baghdad. On April 3, 2003 as his artillery guns were preparing to shell and eventually take Hussein’s national airport near the capital, Fernandez was severely wounded. As he was cared for in the field by the medics, the very next day this vital objective was taken by American soldiers. While Fernandez was treated in Iraq and Kuwait, the war was over for him. His injuries were so severe that he eventually lost the complete use of the lower portion of his legs.  

Ever the optimist, Fernandez stated that he received a tremendous amount of attention from the moment that he was hit to the time that he spent at Walter Reed Hospital in Washington. He was later transferred to a larger military medical facility in Bethesda, Maryland, which was better equipped to treat the increased number of casualties from the increased fighting. Once he received his prosthetic legs, Fernandez returned back to his sweetheart Kristi, rented a home in Rocky Point and began physical therapy.  Although he was terribly hurt in Iraq, Fernandez positively identified how fast he was discharged from this hospital and it fostered a faster return home to rehabilitate on his own.  The VFW under Cognitore wanted to properly ensure that Fernandez was thanked by this community. Outside of Post 6249, Cognitore successfully petitioned the Town of Brookhaven to rename the local street in the honor of Fernandez.  

The following year after he was hurt in Iraq, Fernandez’s daughter Madison was born in 2004. The vet went back to school at Dowling where he earned his master’s degree in education to teach mathematics. Along the way, John continued the process of walking again and his high school lacrosse coach Michael P. Bowler never doubted the drive of his former player.  

“John was one of the most determined and courageous athletes that was ever my privilege to coach to exceptional athlete, student and most importantly — a genuine good man,” Bowler said. 

In 2006, he was offered a position to work for the Wounded Warrior Project. It was at this charitable organization that Fernandez raised money and awareness to assist returning veterans who endured overwhelming medical difficulties. Armed with a big smile and a can-do attitude, Fernandez sat in meetings with major corporate leaders, politicians and owners of the National Football League. Just recently, he met President Donald Trump and Vice President Michael Pence.  Today, Fernandez has a family of five children, and enjoys coaching his kids, going on school trips and speaking about his experiences at his former high school and around the nation.  His eyes are always set to help all of those members of the armed forces who have endured combat-related hardships through their defense of the U.S.

The LaRusso boys, with Kevin second from left. Photo from Rich Acritelli

Another graduate of Rocky Point High School who also attended the West Point Military Academy was Kevin LoRusso. Like Fernandez, he was a talented athlete who excelled at soccer, wrestling and lacrosse. This student-athlete was known as K-Lo, and was well-liked for his calm presence during all athletic competitions. After a year at the prep school for this military academy, LoRusso entered West Point in 2005. Although he was also recruited by the Naval Academy to play lacrosse, this cadet chose Army, as he did not want to compete against his older brother Nicholas who was a goalie on this team. This dynamic athlete had won more than 100 wrestling matches in high school and was later determined to win a national championship at West Point.  He was one of many Rocky Point lacrosse players who attended this school and was later named captain for his leadership skills. While LoRusso was a competitive lacrosse player who loved this sport, his true responsibilities rested in being a devoted army officer.

LoRusso is one of four brothers, including Nicholas, Brian and Larry, who all attended West Point and played lacrosse. Three of them became artillery officers. The oldest brother Nicholas is a major who served in both Iraq and Afghanistan as a combat engineer. From 2010-2012, LoRusso was deployed to Afghanistan and to Germany, serving in the northeastern part of Afghanistan near Mazar-i-Sharif. This area is a unique combination of desert, mountains and flat plains. There, LoRusso encountered heavy fighting against the Taliban, which widely contested the strength of American forces in this region. As LoRusso is known for his calmness, he is sometimes reminded of the fighting when fireworks are unexpectedly detonated near him. This combat veteran took advantage of being sent to Germany where LoRusso and his buddies traveled to more than thirty nations.  He has the fond memories of being with his army friends as they visited France, Italy, Poland, Portugal, the Netherlands and Turkey.  On Memorial Day, LoRusso goes about his daily routines, but always in the back of his mind he thinks of the contributions that have been made by his family and friends who wore a uniform and sacrificed for this country.

Craig R. McNabb was an active kid who participated in football and baseball at Rocky Point High School. As he grew up with his friends and nearby family members, he was always eager to join the army. His father, Craig Sr., worked as a Suffolk County sheriff and he was a member of the Army National Guard that was ordered to Kuwait.   Like Fernandez, McNabb was one of the earliest soldiers into Iraq during the start of the second Gulf War. Ten years later and during his senior year, McNabb enlisted into the same type of Army National Guard unit and occupation that his father held as a combat military officer.

Directly after he graduated high school, McNabb finished his basic training and advanced individual training in Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri. For two years, he was one of the younger combat military officers in his National Guard unit based out of Fort Hamilton, Brooklyn. In 2016, McNabb was handpicked to be deployed to Afghanistan to carry out the sensitive security details of protecting American generals from every branch and foreign dignitaries. With his team, McNabb was responsible for protecting former Secretary of Defense Ash Carter and James Mattis. McNabb was sent to a NATO military base in Kabul to carry out this vital mission to ensure the security of leaders that were defying the Taliban.

Craig McNabb in Afghanistan. Photo from Rich Acritelli

For about a year, McNabb ran more than 700 missions to ensure that these key figures were able to carry out their business within that perilous county. Currently, McNabb is a specialist/E-4 and he will soon be eligible to be promoted as a sergeant. This North Shore family shares a rare military bond that is not always seen. After the 9/11 attacks, McNabb was quickly sent into New York City to help the people who were suffering from the terrorist attack. He spent 15 months fighting in Iraq, where he traveled to every major Iraqi city, cleared homes that were occupied by insurgents, conducted patrols and trained police.  There is a unique family connection towards this military police job to assist American army forces in their mission to not only fight, but to provide a better life for the people of Afghanistan and Iraq.

This capable young man is still serving in the National Guard and only a couple of months ago, McNabb became a Suffolk County correctional officer. While he is still a young man, McNabb has immensely grown through his experiences in the military, where he has matured into a seasoned veteran. He would like people to think about the importance of Memorial Day and thank those people who have fought in distant lands to ensure that our way of life is not threatened.  

Thank you to all of the veterans of the Armed Forces who continually make this nation proud of their unyielding spirit to always strengthen the resolve of the U.S.  As a North Shore community, we do not have to look far to see the many numerous examples of patriotism as we remember our military on Memorial Day 2019.

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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New York State Assemblyman Steve Englebright (D-Setauket), above, addresses attendees of the 2018 Memorial Day Parade at East Setauket Veterans Memorial Park with Congressman Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley) to his left. Photo by Beverly C. Tyler

By Beverly C. Tyler

The celebration of Memorial Day, or Decoration Day as it was first called, began when the first proclamation for a day to decorate the graves of Union soldiers killed in the Civil War was made on May 5, 1868, by Gen. John A. Logan, national commander of the Grand Army of the Republic.

He declared, “It is the purpose of the Commander-in-Chief to inaugurate this observance with the hope that it will be kept from year to year.” May 30 was chosen as the day, “for the purpose of strewing with flowers or otherwise decorating the graves of comrades who died in the defense of their country during the late rebellion.”

In 1873 New York State recognized Memorial Day as an official holiday and many other states followed during the next few decades.

In the Three Villages, Memorial Day is observed with ceremonies, first in Stony Brook and then in Setauket. In Stony Brook a plaque first dedicated on July 6, 1946, states, “This tablet is erected and dedicated, as an abiding memorial and as a token of the affectionate esteem of grateful citizens, to those gallant young men and women of the Stony Brook community who, in obedience to their country’s call, courageously offered their lives in World War I and World War II to maintain the American principles of liberty and justice.”

Two men from the local area gave their lives in World War I, Raymond Wishart and Harry Golden. The massive boulder and south-facing bronze tablet were erected on the Setauket Village Green in their memory. The boulder was brought from Strong’s Neck, and the plaque was designed by the well-known artist William de Leftwich Dodge who painted the murals on New York history that are in the state capitol in Albany.

Private Raymond Wishart, son of postmaster and Mrs. Andrew Wishart, was born Sept. 10, 1893, and he died in France Aug. 23, 1918. His remains were returned to this country and were buried in the Caroline Church of Brookhaven graveyard on a Sunday in July 1921. Harry Golden is remembered by his nephew, Sam Golden. “He was a sergeant in charge of the mules,” Sam recalled. “His unit was attacked, and he was killed. He was 28 years old when he died, and he’s buried there in France.”

On the opposite side of the rock is a plaque that was placed there after World War II. It reads, “1941–1945 — In memory of Clifford J. Darling, Henry P. Eichacker, Francis S. Hawkins, David Douglas Hunter, Orlando B. Lyons, Anthony R. Matusky, Edward A. Pfeiffer [and] William E. Weston of the United States Armed Forces who gave their lives in World War II.” A new plaque was later added to honor Chris Brunn who died in Vietnam in 1969.

The graves of these soldiers who served during the two world wars are often decorated by the Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 3054. The grave of Francis S. Hawkins, tech sergeant, 853 AAF Bomb Squadron, is also in the Caroline Episcopal Churchyard and Cemetery, near the stone of Raymond Wishart, and it details his service. “The son of Everett Hawkins [the last miller in Setauket] and Celia Swezey was born at Setauket, L.I., June 18, 1911. He volunteered in the U.S. Army Air Force September 24, 1942. On November 25, 1944 he gave his life to his country while on his 28th bombing mission over enemy lines, when his plane ‘The Moose’ was shot down over Hanover and crashed near Gehrden, Germany.”

The graves of patriots who served in the Revolutionary War are not forgotten either. In the Three Village area the graves of 30 patriots, including Nancy Strong, will be decorated before Memorial Day. The graves are in eight separate graveyards some of which are small family burying grounds. The list is a permanent part of the Three Village Historical Society’s Local History Collection.

After ceremonies on the Setauket Village Green, units of the Veterans of Foreign Wars, American Legion, fire departments and other community organizations parade each year to the Memorial Park in East Setauket for the final services of the day. The brief tribute honoring those who died in the service of their country is an experience that may be observed and renewed each year.

Beverly C. Tyler is Three Village Historical Society historian and author of books available from the society at 93 North Country Road, Setauket. For more information, call 631-751-3730 or visit www.tvhs.org.

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Editorial cartoon by Dale Neseman/NYPA

The First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution specifically protects the practice of religion in this country. While there have been few exceptions to this rule, mostly in cases where a religion may lead to harm, it has constantly and clearly protected the rights of people to practice in the way they see fit.

When a recent story by TBR News Media broke on social media, based on several readers’ comments, it looked like many people were confused when it came to freedom of religion.

The article reported on a Stony Brook University graduate wearing a turban, who was refused admission into a Port Jefferson restaurant because the establishment has a no-headgear policy on Friday and Saturday nights. The manager was allegedly sticking to the restaurant’s policy, while either being unaware or ignoring the unconstitutionality of refusing a person service based on religious attire. The customer in question practices Sikhism, where males wear turbans as articles of faith in public.

While the restaurant owner said he would change the rule, the event and comments on social media showcase a particular ignorance of the most foundational law in the U.S. Unfortunately, many readers have said they thought the manager had the right to make the call and refuse the graduate service.

They are wrong. Our Constitution protects our expression of religion, and the Civil Rights Act of 1964 outlaws discrimination based on race, color, sex, national origin — or religion. Whether a Sikh is wearing a turban, or a Jewish man is wearing a yarmulke, they cannot be asked to remove their head covering in order to get a drink or something to eat, just like service can’t be denied to a nun in her habit or a Muslim woman wearing a hijab.

Freedom of religion in this country even protects employees of that restaurant and other businesses when it comes to practicing their religions. State and federal laws, unless causing undue hardship on the operation of business, require employers to make accommodations, within reason, for workers whether they need a break to pray or take a day off to observe their Sabbath or celebrate a religious holiday. The employer may ask them to make up the hours, but they can’t deny an employee time off for religious reasons unless it will be detrimental to a business, for example, due to a small staff. So, whether a Christian can’t work Sundays, or a Muslim needs to take a break to pray, an employer cannot dissuade them from doing so.

Employers must also allow dress and grooming practices that employees follow for religious reasons, including not only head coverings but certain hairstyles or facial hair such as the Sikh beard. So, as Americans, whether it’s as a customer or an employee, we are free to practice our religions.

Sikhs have been active in the U.S. Armed Forces, where they have been given special exception to wear turbans, while remaining as dedicated as any other service member. As we celebrate Memorial Day, May 27, remembering those who died to protect our rights, let us also not forget the principles that are being protected.

Comsewogue students clean graves at first annual Joe’s Day of Service in 2018. Photo from Comsewogue School District

By Andrew Harris

Each Memorial Day, people often wonder what they can do to be more patriotic. Some of us even feel guilty because we shopped, barbecued and beached … and came away without any real opportunity to express our appreciation for America’s fallen heroes.

Andrew Harris

This year, one event Comsewogue School District teachers are planning on having will be one of the most impactful and educational field trips for our high school students. Although this may not be your typical run of the mill, fun field trip, we believe that our students will walk away with a new sense of pride, purpose, and a more meaningful self-respect for themselves and others, especially those who have served and given the ultimate sacrifice for our nation.

On May 29, we will host our districtwide Joe’s Day of Service initiative. Joe’s Day of Service is about community service, where students and the Comsewogue community pledge to give back. This project was inspired by Superintendent Joe Rella’s spirit and belief that students and community members can improve the lives of others, and their own lives, by working together. One example is the Calverton Project, which was created by students in our consortium program but is available to all students at the high school.

After applying to be “of service” at Calverton Cemetery, which is part of our National Cemetery Administration, Comsewogue students have been accepted to assist with a very special task. Management at Calverton have told us many of the tombstones for our fallen soldiers do not receive full sunlight on a daily basis. Because of this, some of the tombstones start to develop mold and become discolored.

Since the U.S. upholds very high standards at our national cemeteries, they have selected us, and will allow our Comsewogue students to do the very honorable job of beautifying and cleaning the tombstones on this special day — on this very special hallowed ground. It certainly will not be fun, and might even be monotonous and challenging… perhaps even boring. It will also take some good old fashioned “elbow grease” and require hard work; especially when they reflect upon exactly who they are doing this for, and see the names and information as they are working on each tombstone.

This year some of our students will be selected to escort the family members of veterans, who are coming from around the New York City area, perhaps for the first time, to visit the grave of their fallen family member. Some may need assistance to walk, or perhaps to read or even translate the headstone into their native language. Surely a few tears will be shed.

We feel that this act of kindness, selflessness and patriotism will be extremely powerful to our students. Hopefully, the impact will take a student outside of themselves (and away for their cellphones) to be educated, inspired, and humbled by giving service to others.

During this time, they will get a chance to reflect and think about how other men and women of all ages, backgrounds, faiths, races and creeds have laid down their lives for each and every one of us. We realize that this is quite different than the standard Bar-B-Q’s, storewide sales and beaching that we all have become accustomed to around Memorial Day.

Our students may even have to stop, respectfully remove their hats, and bow their heads as young fallen soldiers might be carried through the cemetery, accompanied by their families, to be laid to rest on that day. This field trip is like no other they have ever, or will ever experience. We will be giving special honors to our community’s fallen airman, Dashon Briggs from Port Jefferson Station, whose children will be attending our schools next year. One of our students, Ava Pearl, is doing her project with the creation of a portrait for the family, which will be placed in our schools so his children, and all the students, may see that he was a hero who died so “That others may live.”

Along with the Calverton Cemetery visit, some teachers and students are planning to host a walk to fundraise for a student in our high school whose family is having financial distress due to his recent diagnosis and treatment for leukemia.

Teachers have the opportunity to “plug in” by creating their own Project Based Learning activity that tie into their own curriculum or joining in the many activities around the district, all service projects for our local community.

Local and national news media outlets and politicians will be attending, as well as members from 106th Airlift Wing.

If you would like any more information, please feel free to contact Andrew Harris in whatever way is most convenient for you, at aharris@comsewogue.k12.ny.us, phone or text 631-428-2530, Twitter with #JDOS2019, or Facebook at Joe’s Day OF SERVICE.

Let’s do it for Joe.

Andrew Harris is a special needs teacher at the Comsewogue High School.

Hundreds of Northport residents lined the village streets to honor those who serve our country and have
made the ultimate sacrifice this Memorial Day.

Northport held is annual Memorial Day parade and services May 28, led and organized by Northport American Legion Post 694. The parade stepped off at 10 a.m. from Laurel Avenue School.  As the parade wound its way into the village, members of the American Legion stopped at various memorials throughout town to lay wreaths to honor veterans. One of the wreaths laid was in memory of U.S. airman Master Sgt. Christopher Raguso, also a New York City and Commack firefighter, who died in the line of duty March 15.

Raguso was one of seven members of New York’s 106th rescue unit killed in the line-of-duty March 15 when a H-60 Pave Hawk helicopter crashed while carrying out a mission in support of Operation Inherent Resolve, an American-led mission to defeat ISIS in Iraq and Syria, according to the United States Department of Defense.

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