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Military

By Chris Setter

The Northport community held its annual Memorial Day parade and remembrance ceremony on Monday, May 25. The American Legion Post 694 of Northport hosted the event, which included participants from Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, high school cadets, World War II veterans and more.

A scene from a previous “I Did The Grid” event in East Northport. Photo from Megan Scherer

By Julianne Cuba

This Memorial Day weekend, for the eighth year in a row, the streets of East Northport will be filled with joggers and walkers honoring the lives of fallen soldiers.

On May 23, the Cpl. Christopher G. Scherer memorial “I Did the Grid” four-mile competitive run, one-mile fun run and four-mile recreational run/walk honors the life of Chris Scherer and all men and women who gave their lives to serve the U.S. The run will begin at Pulaski Road Elementary in East Northport.

Scherer, who was a corporal in the U.S. Marine Corps, was born and raised in East Northport. He lost his life while serving in the province of Al Anbar in Iraq on July 21, 2007.

The late U.S. Marine Cpl. Chris Scherer. Photo from Megan Scherer
The late U.S. Marine Cpl. Chris Scherer. Photo from Megan Scherer

In his memory, the Scherer family started the Cpl. Christopher G. Scherer Semper Fi Fund, and on Memorial Day in 2008, held the first annual run to honor their son and all fallen warriors.

“Put your personal achievements away for the day and come to honor them [fallen soldiers] because it is Memorial Day weekend and that’s what we should be doing … take a little time to think about the men and women who have died serving our country and the families they left behind,” Scherer’s father Tim Scherer said.

Scherer said that his son was a great kid who loved life and wanted to help his fellow Marines. In their final phone call before his death, Scherer said his son asked him to send lighter boot socks that wouldn’t make him sweat as much. Just before he hung up, his son asked if he would be able to send socks for other Marines, too, because many didn’t have families.

The father said he sent out an email asking for contributions.

“It was just an email, I never thought I’d get anything, but in four days I had $2,500 to buy supplies for the troops, so we sent over 100 packages but he never got one of them … it was just heartbreaking.”

It was through his son’s own desire to help his fellow Marines that the Scherer family got the idea for the fund and run, he said.

Scherer said his son’s greatest quality was his loyalty for everything he loved — his family, his friends, his lacrosse team and the U.S. Marines.

“This is not just about Chris,” his father said. “The race is named after him but we run for over 6,800 fallen warriors … no service person is left behind. Everyone who has given their life is represented on Memorial Day, because that’s what Memorial Day is.”

Scherer said that instead of giving out awards, the run asks participants to look up the names of the four fallen soldiers on their bibs, from either Operation Enduring Freedom or Operation Iraqi Freedom. The bibs are given out before the run. Upon completion, each participant will ring a bell to signify that no fallen warrior would be forgotten, he said.

Meghan Scherer, the late Cpl. Scherer’s sister, also said that each year, they alternate giving out either a coin or pint glass, which were two of her brother’s favorite things.

“Challenge coins in the military are usually given when someone does something extraordinary, so we feel that they should receive a coin, because they’re doing something amazing by remembering these men and women,” she said.

His sister said she and her other siblings — an older brother, Tim, and twin sister, Kaitlin — were all always so close.

“Nobody ever picked on my sister or me because they knew Chris would always have our backs,” she said. “Chris would pick on us but it was never anybody else. We were always protected from the start and that’s what he did, he protected us as a Marine.”

Matt Baudier, 34, from Northport, was an Eagle Scout with Scherer and was his mentor for a few years, he said.

“As his mentor, he always looked up to me, but the day that he deployed, he became my hero,” he said.

Baudier said the run is a good way to honor Scherer and all fallen soldiers.

“One of our taglines is, ‘We run for those who stood for us,’” he said.

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Congressman Steve Israel presents Irene Barkin with a check for $67,199 in owed benefits that her husband William Rondi earned but never received. Photo from Joe Knickrehm

Irene Barkin of Kings Park knew her late husband deserved thousands of dollars in benefits after serving in the Korean War, but all she ever heard was “No.”

That changed on Friday.

U.S. Rep. Steve Israel (D-Huntington) presented Barkin and her family with a check on Friday for $67,199 in owed benefits that her husband William Rondi earned but never received. Corporal Rondi served in the Korean War and sustained injuries in combat that later contributed to his death at age 34 in 1965.

After years of being denied benefits by the Department of Veterans Affairs, Barkin reached out to Israel for help.

“It’s unconscionable that Irene and her family had to wait almost 50 years to receive the benefits that they deserved,” Israel said. “It is never too late to right a wrong, and I am honored to present this check to them today in recognition of William’s brave service. I thank Irene for allowing me the privilege to help resolve her case and hope that the healing process can now begin.”

Corporal Rondi, a United States Marine, suffered shrapnel wounds to the chest from an enemy mortar attack on November 11, 1952, while serving in combat. Unfortunately, medical officers were unable to remove a number of metal fragments lodged dangerously close to his heart and he was forced to live with them for the rest of his life.

“After years of being denied benefits from the VA, Congressman Israel took action and wouldn’t take no for an answer,” Barkin said. “William sacrificed so much for his country, and I am thrilled that my family is with me here today to celebrate his life and receive these benefits he fought so hard to earn.”

On Nov. 22, 1965 Rondi complained he was not feeling well and suddenly collapsed, shortly after returning home from work. He was rushed to Huntington Hospital and pronounced dead at the age of 34 from a “thickening of the artery walls of the heart,” which the VA would later rule to be a result of the injuries he sustained in combat.

However, it would take many years and failed appeals for Barkin’s case to finally be resolved.

Barkin first reached out to Israel’s office for help after her first denial of benefits by the VA in 2011. He was able to cut through red tape and help her obtain a second medical opinion from Dr. Kevin Olson, an internist, who found that it was probable that Rondi’s combat injuries did in fact contribute to his death, the congressman said.

This new evidence was sent to the Board of Veterans Appeals and Barkin was granted a new hearing that would ultimately lead to her previous denials being overturned.

In addition to the $67,199.52 in retroactive benefits, Barkin will also receive a monthly award of $1,254 for the rest of her life.

To date, Israel has secured more than $8.1 million in overdue benefits for New York veterans, he said.

Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone shakes hands with a veteran after signing two bills into law, as other officials look on. Photo by Rohma Abbas

A roomful of veterans and lawmakers gathered in Northport on Monday morning to salute the signing of two new Suffolk County bills aimed at protecting veterans and the public against acts of stolen valor.

County Executive Steve Bellone (D) signed the legislation, which was spearheaded by Legislator William “Doc” Spencer (D-Centerport), into law. One of the bills makes it illegal for individuals to fraudulently represent themselves as decorated veterans to members of the public in order to solicit donations or obtain money, property or other benefits. The law makes it a misdemeanor punishable by a fine of up to $1,000 and/or one year in prison.

The second law imposes stiffer requirements on veteran nonprofit groups that solicit donations in Suffolk County. Such groups will be required to disseminate financial information to the public about how their fundraising dollars are being spent.

The laws were born out of a joint effort of many veterans, Spencer said, namely John Cooney, the commander of the Northport American Legion Post 694 and Tom Kehoe, former Northport Village Board. Both men held Spencer’s “feet to the fire” to get the legislation drafted, particularly after what Cooney described as instances in Huntington Town in which individuals fraudulently represented themselves as veterans for personal gain.

“The needs of our veterans and the desire to give on part of our residents can create vulnerability, as organizations and individuals have sought to take advantage, to profit from these circumstances,” Spencer told an audience of veterans at the Northport American Legion. “The two bills that we sign here today will work in conjunction to ensure our charitable dollars go where they should go — to support our veterans.”

A number of local leaders attended the conference, including Suffolk County Legislator Rob Trotta (R-Fort Salonga), Legislator Steve Stern (D-Dix Hills), Supervisor Frank Petrone (D), Councilman Gene Cook (I), Northport Village Mayor George Doll and Northport Village Police Chief Ric Bruckenthal. The village police chief lost his son, Nathan Bruckenthal, a U.S. Coast Guardsman, who was killed in a terrorist-suicide bombing in Iraq 11 years ago this week.

“Why are we here today?” Bellone, who is also a veteran, said. “Because the notion that someone would step forward and put themselves out as a veteran of this country in order to raise money to benefit themselves is an absolute disgrace and it is something that we cannot under any circumstances tolerate. And it’s a disgrace when you have young men like [Nathan] Bruckenthal, who has family who paid the ultimate sacrifice in service to our country and you have men like that all across our country.”

Nonprofit groups seeking to solicit donations on behalf of veterans must register with the county’s Veterans Services Agency before doing so, and that process would be enhanced under this new legislation. Those groups would now have to submit information on how the funds they’ve raised benefited veterans, and they would need to provide a slew of new documents, including federal and state tax returns and the names of the group’s board of directors. The Office of the Suffolk County Comptroller would work with the Veterans Services Agency to review the information, and the agency would ultimately decide whether to approve or deny an application.

Individuals would be barred from fraudulently representing records of military service, and anyone who makes mention of their military service must provide, upon demand, proof in the form of credentials or identification of their veteran status. The Veterans Services Agency can deny or revoke a group’s registration certificate if it’s deemed that someone from the group violated the federal Stolen Valor Act.

“This is a great example of veterans coming together and working with our committed legislators to provide and protect,” Cooney said. “To protect the valor and the integrity of those who have served. And to ensure that funds go to those veterans that legitimately need assistance.”