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Navy

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High school student Jillian Lawler's rendering of the armed forces tribute to be constructed in front of the Earl L. Vandermeulen High School. Picture courtesy of Port Jefferson School District.

The Port Jefferson School District has announced the creation of an armed forces Tribute to be dedicated on May 30.

The tribute will recognize former Port Jefferson School District students and staff who served in the armed forces.

A brick campaign is currently underway at $100 for each individual brick to be set at the selected tribute site in front of Earl L. Vandermeulen High School. They will be placed on the planned “court of courage” and “path of honor” that will surround the planned tribute. Each purchased brick will be engraved with a message to honor past and current service members, family members, community members or friends, selected by the person donating.

“The Port Jefferson School District community has really embraced this project,” said Superintendent Paul Casciano, who helped spearhead the initiative.

Some of that initial support comes from a New Year’s Day fundraiser held at Tara Inn that raised $7,650. A boulder which will serve as the centerpiece of the tribute that was transported to the site by Sheep Pasture Tree and Nursery Supply.

“We are grateful to Sheep Pasture and to Tara Inn and their contributors — their generosity has gotten this endeavor off to a successful start,” Casciano said.

Earl L. Vandermeulen High School senior Jillian Lawler also took part in the initial planning by creating a rendering of the proposed site.

The brick fundraising campaign will run until March 1 and a dedication ceremony will be held on Thursday, May 30.Those interested in purchasing a brick must fill out a fundraising flyer available at the district’s website. All money raised will help fund the building of the tribute. Those interested can also contact Kathy Hanley in the superintendent’s office at 631-791-4221 with any questions.

United States Army Staff Sgt. Allen Pennington and Warrior Ranch Foundation Vice President Tony Simonetti spend time with Pennington’s horse Red. Photo from Warrior Ranch Foundation

When Marine Corps veteran StaceyAnn Castro first stepped into the round pen with a horse at Warrior Ranch Foundation, her guard was up.

Castro, who served in Operation Enduring Freedom from 2002 to 2004, and admittedly struggles with post-traumatic stress disorder, was face to face with a 1,400-pound Friesian horse named BlackJack during a July demonstration by the Mount Sinai and Islip-based nonprofit, which pairs military and first-responder veterans with rescue horses in need of rehabilitation and training.

Marine Corps veteran StaceyAnn Castro bonds with
Vet therapy: Mount Sinai’s Warrior Ranch helps heal
her horse BlackJack. Photo from Warrior Ranch
Foundation

The tough-as-nails veteran was attempting to engage BlackJack in basic ground exercises, but the horse was not budging. Its guard was up too.

“I soon realized it was because I was terrified of him,” Castro later said. “When you’re with these horses they feel everything you’re feeling, even the emotions you think you’re hiding from everybody else. You can’t hide them from a horse.”

Castro relaxed, and as she calmed down, so did BlackJack. The horse began to lick and chew — a reflex associated with the animal’s release of stress.

“By the end of the session, I wound up with a friend,” she said of BlackJack. “With the horses, you have someone you’re actually bonding with in your own private, silent language. It’s beautiful.”

Officially incorporated in June 2016, the Warrior Ranch Foundation has helped reduce the stress levels and PTSD symptoms of more than a dozen veterans still recuperating from a wide range of conflicts — from the Korean War to Vietnam War to the war in Afghanistan — by teaching them how to groom, feed and train troubled horses. And much like the veterans, the nine residential horses, mostly retired race and show animals that have been trained their whole lives to compete and perform in high-stakes settings, are learning to adapt to a new, more relaxed world.

Cathie Doherty spends time with horse Cody.
Photo from Warrior Ranch Foundation

“There’s a strong parallel between them and it’s amazing to see their emotional breakthroughs,” said Eileen Shanahan, the nonprofit’s founder and president. “While the race horses are trained to run, run, run, and as a result have emotional issues, the veterans are trained to go out there and do the best they can to protect and defend us. When they come back, they have to shut that off and that’s not so easy. We provide a safe haven for these humans and animals.”

Shanahan’s organization is the result of her lifelong love of country and horses. The Queens native, who shoots and produces television programs and commercials for a living, comes from a large military family with a father who served in the Marines, an uncle and brother in the Navy, nephews in the Army, as well as several first responders.

Although she mostly rode buses and subways growing up, Shanahan always admired horses from afar, seeing them as beautiful creatures.

When she got married and moved to East Quogue in the 1980s, she took up horseback riding and, 15 years ago, began adopting rescue horses and studying natural horsemanship — a variety of rapport-based horse training techniques.

United States Army Staff Sgt. Allen
Pennington with horse Red. Photo
from Warrior Ranch Foundation

For nearly a decade, she dreamt of providing this outlet for local veterans and finally launched it with the help of longtime friends and equestrians specialists. While the group currently works out of two private barns, the future plan is to turn Warrior Ranch into a national organization.

“We want to eventually help hundreds of veterans and horses because it really works,” Shanahan said, explaining that interactions like Castro’s is very common at the ranch. “A lot of times when they come here, the veterans have their arms crossed, but by the end of the day, they have ear-to-ear grins. A lot of them break down and cry and it’s so powerful to watch.”

Tony Simonetti, Warrior Ranch’s vice president and top horse trainer, has made a career of rehabilitating emotionally distraught horses and re-interacting them with their human counterparts, resolving more than 500 extremely difficult horse cases for people across the country. When asked his most memorable veteran-horse interaction within the organization, he talked about Army Staff Sergeant Allen Pennington, Warrior Ranch’s first soldier to go through the program, and Red, a 4-year-old, retired race thoroughbred.

“[Allen’s] this big, rough and tough guy, and when the horse connected with him, I just saw all the stress he was holding inside bubble right up through his chest and then he just couldn’t keep himself composed,” Simonetti said. “He broke down and turned around and hugged that horse like it was his battle buddy. And I told him, ‘don’t feel bad about that. That’s what you’re here for.’”

During a testimonial on the Warrior Ranch website, Navy veteran Cathie Doherty, who was diagnosed with PTSD and put on medication for a number of years, said she was grateful to have attended a women veteran’s retreat at the nonprofit.

United States Army Staff Sgt. Allen
Pennington with horse Red. Photo
from Warrior Ranch Foundation

“It was really an amazing experience,” Doherty said. “I think it touched me much deeper than I imagined it would. I appreciated working with the horses and that I had to make a connection with them. I feel I was present in the moment. I didn’t care about my phone, I didn’t care what was going on around me. It was a beautiful experience for me.”

Castro said companionship with a horse might be more beneficial than a human’s.

“When you’re a veteran and you’re having a bad day, you don’t want to tell anybody, you don’t want to talk about it — you want to forget about it,” she said. “But I also don’t want to be alone and, so, when you’re there with the horse, and that horse knows what you’re going through and feeling, he feels it too. And because you love the horse and you don’t want the horse to feel that way, you’re going to try and make yourself feel better. It’s awe-inspiring.”

U.S. Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley), who served four years in the Army, visited the ranch in Mount Sinai with his family Oct. 7 and saw firsthand the value of the nonprofit.

“It doesn’t take more than a few minutes to see the positive effects that you’re having on these horses, and from these horses the veterans are getting love that they possibly have never experienced
before,” Zeldin said. “In a way, you’re directly coping with the symptoms of PTSD while also productively escaping the worst of it. It’s a great concept and I’d love to see Warrior Ranch grow into something a whole lot bigger than it already is.”

U.S. Rep. Lee Zeldin, fifth from left, meets with members of the Warrior Ranch Foundation. Photo from Warrior Ranch Foundation

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

By Rich Acritelli

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Long Islanders came together on Memorial Day to remember all the people throughout American history who gave their lives for their country. Events were held on May 30 across Suffolk County, with neighbors using wreaths, flags and rifle shots to pay tribute to the fallen heroes.

By Giselle Barkley

Independence — that’s what veteran Glen Moody is fighting for.

Glen Moody and Indy stand on the stage at the Help Glen Bring Indy Home fundraiser. Photo from the Help Glen Bring Indy Home fundraiser
Glen Moody and Indy stand on the stage at the Help Glen Bring Indy Home fundraiser. Photo from the Help Glen Bring Indy Home fundraiser

As veterans still struggle with adjusting to life beyond the war, post-traumatic stress disorder is a reality for men and women like Moody, with 22 PTSD-stricken veterans committing suicide daily. Although Moody said he wasn’t suicidal, the California-based Patriotic Service Dog Foundation and a one-year-old red fox Labrador named Independence — Indy for short — are helping make his life a little less stressful.

On Saturday, at Napper Tandy’s Irish Pub in Miller Place, the 35-year-old Afghanistan and Iraqi vet led the Help Glen Bring Indy Home fundraiser, which aims to raise PTSD awareness and raise money to help veterans afford and obtain a PTSD service dog. These service dogs help veterans snap out of flashbacks, anxiety attacks and address other PTSD-related issues. Moody, who was born and raised in Miller Place, mentioned the dogs will also keep an eye on their war heroes — they are trained to guard or protect their vet by sitting in front, beside or behind them.

According to Moody, around 300 people attended the event. He said they raised $20,000 Saturday night, which is double what he hoped to raise. Typically, veterans will get their service dog from the foundation after the dog is 18 months old. But in light of the overwhelming community support on Saturday, Indy will live with Moody until January. This allows Indy to adjust to Moody’s lifestyle in New York.

“Tom was proud to tell me that … no one’s killed themselves [after getting a Tackett dog],” Moody said about the veterans who’ve obtained dogs from Tom Tackett’s foundation — Tackett is a trainer and the president of Patriotic Service Dog Foundation.

The absence of suicide attempts is an accomplishment for the foundation, whose goal is to reduce the statistic from 22 veterans committing suicide down to zero. Tackett could not be reached prior to publication due to technological difficulties, but Moody said he met Tackett after a fellow marine advised Moody’s family to get one of Tackett’s service dogs. The suggestion lead Moody to California in August, where he met Indy.

Charlie Kapp, Joseph Sguera and Glen Moody pose for a photo with a steel sculpture made by Kapp. Photo from the Help Glen Bring Indy Home fundraiser
Charlie Kapp, Joseph Sguera and Glen Moody pose for a photo with a steel sculpture made by Kapp. Photo from the Help Glen Bring Indy Home fundraiser

Moody served as a Fleet Marine Force corpsman with the U.S. Marines from 1999 to 2005. While Moody fought in the front lines, he was also the doctor on the field.

“If anything bad happens, they’ll cry on my shoulder, or if they get shot or blown up, they all come to me,” Moody said. “I’m the one that’s got to treat them first hand.”

The experience left Moody with anxiety attacks and issues with his personal life when he returned to Long Island. He said his PTSD was to a point where it affected his everyday life and those around him. According to Moody’s aunt LynnAnne Daly, Moody didn’t have anyone to turn to during his time of service. She added that there should be more support for causes and providing service dogs for veterans.

“We need to get government funding for this,” Daly said about providing service dogs to veterans. “These men and women are fighting for us.”

According to the Patriotic Service Dog Foundation, around 460,000 veterans from the Afghanistan and Iraq wars suffer from PTSD or brain injuries after or during their time of service. The training period for dogs like Indy starts at eight weeks old until they are 18 months old. With the large portion of veterans suffering from PTSD, Daly added that the fundraiser and the cause “is not just about Glen. It’s about spreading awareness.”

Moody agreed and said he is trying to make a difference, starting with the foundation, the fundraiser and his four-legged companion.

“I’m not the only guy [suffering] — I know I’m not,” Moody said about his PTSD. “When I talk to veterans they say the same thing. We need more awareness and that’s what I’m doing.”

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Sept. 1, 1919 — Celebration, Parade & Memorial Service on Labor Day. The soldiers who posed for a picture on the Setauket Village Green included: Ernest West, second from right, front row; George West, second from right, fourth row; Harvey West is third from left, third row. Photo from Beverly Tyler

By Beverly C. Tyler

Yesterday, Nov. 11, was Veterans Day, a day to honor all the men and women who served our country. However, Veterans Day began to mark the anniversary of the end of World War I (The 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month of 1918 — the Armistice with Germany). President Woodrow Wilson proclaimed Armistice Day on Nov. 11, 1919.

“To us in America, the reflections of Armistice Day will be filled with solemn pride in the heroism of those who died in the country’s service and with gratitude for the victory, both because of the thing from which it has freed us and because of the opportunity it has given America to show her sympathy with peace and justice in the councils of the nations.”

In 1954, Armistice Day was amended to honor all veteran and the name was changed to Veterans Day.

On Sept. 1, 1919, a celebration, parade and memorial services were conducted at the new East Setauket Memorial and then, at the conclusion of the parade, on the Setauket Village Green.

Muriel Hawkins of East Setauket, 18 years old at the parade, remembered how her uncle Ernest West, who was a ship’s carpenter in the Navy, made seven trips across the Atlantic and back during the war. Ernest was one of four brothers who served during the war. The other three, George, Harvey and Percy, were in the Army. All four were the sons of Setauket blacksmith Samuel West and all four returned.

Two who did not return were memorialized at a ceremony on the Village Green at the end of the parade as reported by the Port Jefferson Times.

“With the service men in uniform standing stiffly at attention and the civilians with bared heads, the entire assemblage united in singing ‘America’… The Rev. T.J. Elms then dedicated a rock to the memory of the Setauket boys who died in the war — Raymond Wishart and Harry Golden… Mrs. Wishart received a medal for her son and Mr. Golden for his boy.”

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 DeLeftwich Dodge who painted the murals on New York history that are in the state capital in Albany.

Private Raymond Wishart, son of Postmaster and Mrs. Andrew Wishart, was born Sept. 10, 1893, and he died in France on 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 of 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.”

To be continued.

Beverly Tyler is the Three Village Historical Society historian.

Darryl St. George at a RAP Week press conference earlier this month. File photo by Victoria Espinoza

Since returning home from serving overseas, a homegrown Northport High School teacher has devoted his free time to inspiring students, zeroing in on two specific issues.

Darryl St. George, a Centerport resident and United States Navy veteran who served in Afghanistan, is the co-advisor of the Northport High School branch of Students Against Destructive Decisions and the advisor of Project Vets, a club that works to improve the lives of veterans once they return home.

“I love working with young people,” St. George said. “I find what I do in these clubs an extension of what I do in the classroom.”

St. George graduated from Northport High School in 2000 and earned his teaching degree from Marymount Manhattan College. He was in Manhattan when the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001 occurred, and said the day instilled a passion in him to help his country.

“I had this sense that I really wanted to serve,” St. George said. Personal reasons held him back until 2009, when he enlisted in the United States Navy.

His first deployment to Afghanistan was in 2011. When he came home nine months later, he said he discovered that one of his former students from Northport High School had died of a heroin overdose, and his own brother Corey had started abusing opioid drugs.

A few months later, he lost his brother to an overdose from prescription medication, which “changed everything.”

St. George was honorably discharged from the navy after three years and returned to his job at Northport High School, where he became a co-advisor of SADD with Tammy Walsh, another Northport High School teacher.

“One of my colleagues asked me to run the club with her, and together, the club really expanded from three kids at a meeting to more than 50.”

St. George said he was able to get the club to take a more active role in Recovery, Awareness and Prevention Week.

“We felt that the drug epidemic was such a crisis that this club would be the perfect vehicle to help combat the issue,” St. George said. “Tammy and I are open and candid with the kids about our own history with this problem, and I think the kids are receptive to that kind of honesty.”

St. George said he finds working with SADD very fulfilling, and sees it as necessary. “Ultimately, my drive for getting involved is to do everything I can so that no family has to go through what my family did,” St. George said.

St. George and Walsh have been working on a SADD Summit, which they hope will help bring RAP Week-like programs to other schools on Long Island. He wants to change the culture in every school.

Aside from working with SADD, St. George is involved in another club in Northport High School called Project Vets.

He said this club has a two-pronged mission statement — to work with veterans and help them with the transition period once they come home.

“I am a vet, and I personally know many of my friends that have had difficulty transitioning back home,” St. George said. “But they are not looking for any handouts. This club explores how we can improve their transition period.”

Project Vets is only in its second year, and St. George said at the first meeting there was more than 60 students wanting to join.

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Members of the American Legion Wilson Ritch Post 432 stand at attenion in front of their headquarters on Port Jefferson’s East Main Street in the mid-20th century. The post is now based on Hallock Avenue in Port Jefferson Station. Photo from the Port Jefferson Village historical archive

Port Jefferson area residents have a history of serving their country, from the Civil War to more recent conflicts. The community also has a history of honoring veterans and military personnel.

The crew of the N-5 poses aboard the submarine. Photo from the Port Jefferson Village historical archive
The crew of the N-5 poses aboard the submarine. Photo from the Port Jefferson Village historical archive

Veterans Day has been celebrated since Nov. 11, 1919, when it was known as Armistice Day and marked the anniversary of the end of fighting in World War I.

It was expanded to honor all American war veterans in 1954, according to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.

Although the fighting in World War I was overseas, there was an impact close to home. Port Jefferson saw action through sailors aboard the U.S. Navy’s coastal defense submarine N-5, also known as the SS-57. According to the village’s historical archive, that submarine conducted engine trials nearby and later patrolled the Long Island Sound, keeping watch for German U-boats.

Other Navy ships from the Atlantic Fleet passed through during that time as well, including the battleships USS New York and USS Louisiana, both of which maneuvered on the Long Island Sound and anchored just outside Port Jefferson.

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President Dwight D. Eisenhower makes Veterans Day an official holiday. Photo in the public domain

By Rich Acritelli

Veterans Day is a time to remember all of our past, present and future members of the Armed Forces, but it was only about 60 years ago that President Dwight D. Eisenhower officially created the holiday we know today. Much happened on Nov. 11 even before it became a date of remembrance — there were significant losses and gains for our militaries during this month throughout history.

In the fall of 1776, Gen. George Washington was reeling from one loss after another that sent his army retreating from Long Island, Manhattan and across New Jersey toward Pennsylvania. It was a dark moment in the Revolutionary War for Washington to lose ground to the British, though he ultimately led the colonies to victory.

President George H.W. Bush rides in an armored jeep with Gen. H. Norman Schwarzkopf Jr. in Saudi Arabia, Nov. 22, 1990. Photo in the public domain
President George H.W. Bush rides in an armored jeep with Gen. H. Norman Schwarzkopf Jr. in Saudi Arabia, Nov. 22, 1990. Photo in the public domain

During the Civil War, in November 1863, Gen. Ulysses S. Grant was summoned to Chattanooga, Tenn., to prevent a total collapse of Union forces against the Confederacy. As Grant headed into the beleaguered city, he saw northern forces terribly hurt from the nearby Battle of Chickamauga. President Abraham Lincoln sent 20,000 soldiers from the Army of the Potomac to aid the defensive and later offensive efforts of Grant to defeat the South in that region, and while the Confederates had been on the verge of gaining a huge victory, Grant opened up the “Cracker Line” to Chattanooga, with additional men, supplies and horses to deter the enemy. Grant’s calm and cool presence helped secure a much-needed victory for a thankful Lincoln, who saw the battle as one of the greatest tests of survival for the Union.

Eisenhower had his own recollections of this date through his experience leading the Allied Forces during World War II. As a new commanding general, he planned the mid-November 1942 allied landings of Operation Torch against the Germans and the Vichy French in North Africa. From Morocco to Algeria, untested American military troops drove to destroy the war machine of Germany. The chainsmoking Eisenhower eagerly waited in Gibraltar for news that his men had achieved all of their objectives against the enemy. Two years later, in the fall of 1944, Eisenhower looked eastward as his forces operated on a broad front against the Nazis in France. By that time, his armies were nearing the German frontier with the belief that their bitter enemy was about to surrender. Little did he know that Hitler was planning a final December offensive, which would later be called the Battle of the Bulge, to drive a wedge against the Allies on the Western Front.

In 1990, President George H.W. Bush led the American efforts to destroy the strength of Saddam Hussein. That dictator had invaded Kuwait and was poised to attack Saudi Arabia, but the U.S. aimed to protect the Saudis through Desert Shield. Two weeks after Veterans Day, Bush was eating Thanksgiving dinner in the desert with the American military forces that eventually led the fighting into Iraq and Kuwait to defeat Hussein’s Republican Guard army.

Over the last 15 years, the United States has been in a constant state of warfare against aggressor and terrorist forces. From the deserts of Iraq to the mountains of Afghanistan, American service members from across the country have tirelessly fought against an enemy bent on hurting our way of life. Currently, this mission has expanded over the skies of Northern Iraq and Syria to limit the growing expansion and influence of ISIS.

Americans should not neglect the “Forgotten War” veterans of the Korean conflict who bitterly fought against the communists during that Cold War battle, nor the Vietnam War veterans who honorably served for a decade in that Southeast Asian country.

May we always remember and honor our veterans from every American conflict, on Veterans Day and throughout the year.

Rich Acritelli is a social studies teacher at Rocky Point High School and an adjunct professor of American history at Suffolk County Community College. He was a staff sergeant in the New York Air National Guard 106th Rescue Wing in Westhampton Beach.

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Yogi Berra was an iconic major league baseball catcher for the New York Yankees. Public domain

By Rich Acritelli

Yogi Berra may have grown up playing baseball in Missouri, but when he was a catcher for the Yankees he was Mr. New York.

Yogi Berra was an iconic major league baseball catcher for the New York Yankees. Public domain
Yogi Berra was an iconic major league baseball catcher for the New York Yankees. Public domain

The legend died a few weeks ago at 90 years old, but he will be remembered by Long Island baseball fans for years to come.

Born in 1925, Lawrence Peter “Yogi” Berra grew up in the Italian section of St. Louis, the son of immigrants who worked many hours to make ends meet for their family. As a kid, Berra discovered his love for baseball and would play at every opportunity, though his equipment was not always very advanced — coming from a poor family, he used old magazines as shin guards.

The Hill neighborhood of St. Louis produced outstanding ball players such as catcher Joe Garagiola, who played against Berra. However, the legend did not get to the major league right away.

Berra’s grades were poor and education was considered a luxury during the Great Depression, so he went to work in a coal mine. But Berra was meant to play baseball — he lost his job because of his habit of leaving work early to play the game with his friends. His parents did not understand or like baseball, but their son excelled and became one of the best players from their neighborhood. In 1942, the New York Yankees brought him into their dugout.

At 17 years old, Berra was away from home for the first time. His career began slowly, and he committed 16 errors in his first season as a catcher, although his hitting was consistent. Times were tough for the young man — he made $90 a month, before taxes were deducted, and there was little leftover after covering his living expenses. There were times Berra was close to starving. At one point, his manager loaned him money to buy cheeseburgers and adoring fans made Italian heroes for him to eat. He sold men’s suits in the winters to get by.

“What you have to remember about Yogi is that all he ever wanted was to be a baseball player.”
— Jerry Coleman, hall of fame broadcaster

Soon into his career, America’s priorities changed. With World War II raging, Uncle Sam started to draft baseball players into the military. Berra joined the U.S. Navy and was in the middle of the action in Europe on one of the most important days for the Allied war effort: June 6, 1944. On D-Day, Berra was on a rocket boat that fired armaments against the German fortifications at Normandy.

That August, the catcher aided landing troops during the amphibious invasion of southern France through Operation Dragoon. After fighting on D-Day, Berra said he was scared to death during those landings, because he realized the Germans could have killed his entire crew due to their proximity to the beaches. Despite his fear, he fought valiantly and went back behind home plate with a Purple Heart.

By 1946, with the war behind him, Berra returned to the ball park. He was one of the toughest and most talented players in the league, a three-time MVP who hit 305 homeruns and earned 10 World Series rings. Don Larsen, who in the 1956 World Series threw a perfect game to Berra, believed the catcher was the best pitch caller in baseball.

Yogi Berra was an iconic major league baseball catcher for the New York Yankees. Public domain
Yogi Berra was an iconic major league baseball catcher for the New York Yankees. Public domain

The all-star was at the center of many historic plays, including when Jackie Robinson famously stole home during the 1955 World Series. Berra, who was catching for pitcher Whitey Ford, attempted to tag out Robinson, but the umpire deemed the runner safe — a call Berra did not agree with.

Once he hung up his catcher’s gear in the 1960s, Berra became a coach and manager for the Yankees, the Mets and later the Houston Astros, among other business ventures.

For a man who did not earn an education past the eighth-grade level, Berra accomplished much during his lifetime, included being known for his creative sayings, commonly known as “Yogi-isms,” such as his famous quotes, “It ain’t over till it’s over,” and “It’s déjà vu all over again.” He was an American and athletic icon who represented the grit and character of his unique nation.

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