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President

Congressman supports end of ‘dreamer’ policy, preaches sensible border security fix

U.S. Rep. Lee Zeldin. File photo by Kevin Redding

By Alex Petroski

The heated debate over immigration is nothing new in the United States, or in Suffolk County for that matter, but the discussion has been enflamed and accelerated by a decision President Donald Trump (R) floated, walked back and ultimately left in limbo regarding the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program this week. Zeldin addressed challenges with improving immigration policy during an exclusive interview with TBR News Media at the end of August, and also weighed in on the possible phaseout of DACA this week.

The DACA program was enacted in 2012 during former President Barack Obama’s Democratic administration as a temporary solution to the dilemma about how to handle the immigration status of individuals who were brought to the U.S. illegally at a young age, rendering their decision to cross the border as out of their hands. The policy granted “dreamer” status to roughly 800,000 individuals, retroactively. This week, Trump announced via Twitter his intentions to phase out the program within six months, though few details were offered, and since then the president has backtracked, signaling to Congress he would like for them to come up with a solution.

“Many of these children involuntarily came to our country very young, have been here for a long time, go through our education system, love our country and are looking to stay here and greatly contribute to our economy and nation’s future,” Zeldin said in a statement. “What I struggle with the most is how you can possibly allow someone illegally in our country to be given preference over someone who is not in our country solely because that individual abroad is following the rules and respecting our laws, and as a result, they are not yet here.”

“If you want to come to America and pursue the American Dream, follow the rules.”

— Lee Zeldin

The decision by Trump has drawn criticism from both sides of the aisle for both the seeming lack of compassion for the group of mostly young people who have made a life in the U.S. and know the country as their home, and for the flippant nature of making the announcement on social media. Zeldin said it is a challenging issue because dreamers have established a life in America and were brought here involuntarily, though he said allowing them special treatment creates an unfair dynamic for those attempting to come to the U.S. legally.

“I support legal immigration,” he said. “I oppose illegal immigration. If you want to com se to America and pursue the American Dream, follow the rules. If you commit a crime and are deported, don’t come back. Every nation’s backbone is its rule of law. It is great to pursue the American Dream and to consider yourself a dreamer and everyone in the United States legally should consider themselves dreamers.”

Zeldin said in his statement and in August he would be open to discussion for ways to repair what he said he views as a flawed immigration system.

Referring to Trump’s campaign rhetoric and statements he has made since taking office, Zeldin said he wished the conversation on immigration and border security could get past “build a wall” versus “don’t build a wall.” He criticized Trump for a lack of publicly stated details regarding a border wall, citing natural barriers like rivers and mountains, which already secure large portions of the U.S.-Mexican border.

“If we sat down with [Trump] and had a conversation and he says, ‘We should put a 30-foot wall in the middle of the Rio Grande,’ that would be different,” Zeldin said. The 1st CD representative said he would be in favor of strengthening existing fencing in areas, building a new barrier in vulnerable areas and even utilizing some electric fencing to secure the border.

When asked if he thought Trump had the ability to advance immigration reform in a bipartisan fashion, Zeldin said he wasn’t sure because he hadn’t spoken directly with Trump on the issue, and his public statements lack specifics.

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Verbs await like a collection of colors, quivering, shaking and jumping on their palettes to define and describe the unfolding scene.

What verbs will we use to describe the future president of the United States, whose name itself can be a verb?

Well, for starters, he tweets. We know that fact through his candidacy and it’s a pattern that continues now that he is assembling a cabinet and as he awaits his turn as president. His tweets represent his direct-to-the-people message, cutting out the middle man of the media. As with pharmaceutical companies that market their products directly to consumers, sometimes Trump’s tweet messages, which crackle like thunderbolts from his fingers, should come with a warning. For example, “Don’t operate heavy equipment while listening to these tweets, which may cause shortness of breath,” or, “If you find yourself shouting approval or disapproval in response to these tweets, try not to read them in church, in a library or any place where shouting could cause a crisis.”

When he communicates with the populace, with American leaders or with foreign leaders, what verbs will fill the canvas?

He often seems to warn, to threaten and to demand. Maybe he believes American greatness starts with a tough president who insists America and its interests go directly to the front of any line.

In recent days, he has weighed in on the discussion about the election, claiming widespread voter fraud prevented him from winning the popular vote “beauty contest.”

Through his tweets, he also leveled attacks against reporters he derides for disagreeing with him.

I get it: As an agent of change, Trump may feel it’s his job not to highlight everything that’s going well with the country or to shout encouragement. That, he may believe, would be like telling a kid who has struck out continuously that he’s having a great game.

Shifting from the visuals of colors on a page to the sounds at a pep rally, will the Trump presidency repeat similar notes with a single tone? Will he continue to castigate, to criticize, to claim and to attack? Those are just a few of the verbs that describe the approach Candidate Trump took on the contentious campaign trail.

At some point, does President Trump become like a strong-willed character in a compelling novel? Will his experiences enable him to make a transition to becoming a president who emits a different tone and who leads to a symphony of greatness that comes from every part of the country?

Will the cajoling, the criticizing and the arguing transition to educating, inspiring and elevating? Yes, I know his approach and policies may help educate more Americans and may help bridge the gap between the testing levels American students reach compared with students in other nations.

Certainly, as Trump demonstrated during his campaign stops, he can and has rallied people. What actions, what verbs, will describe the way Americans and, indeed, people around the world, react to his message? As an agent of change after the polished rhetoric of President Obama, Trump may not want to compete and, indeed, may sprint away from the pontifications his predecessor proffered.

That, however, doesn’t preclude Trump from the kinds of verbs we hope we can employ to fill the pages of the next four years. Will he encourage, empower and reassure Americans about the government that supports, protects and serves them?

Michael and Cindy Rawdin, Dix Hills residents, said they support Hillary Clinton for president. Photo by Kevin Redding

As Long Island residents get ready for election day next week, some are certain for whom they will cast their ballot, and others are still undecided.

sarahleanzaportjeffwSarah Leanza, Port Jefferson

Q: Who are you voting for?

A: Clinton. Not because I necessarily trust her like anybody else, but because he’s [Trump] a misogynist, crazy … I think he’s horrific. I’m a little nervous about her, but I think she has a lot of experience at least, and I think what is wonderful is Trump has created a situation that’s going to make her make sure she’s accountable. I think she’s going to have to be very careful while she’s in office because there are so many people behind him who are so angry, so that makes me trust her situation better. He was like a necessary evil, I think.

Roe Waltmann, Coramroewaltmanncorame

Q: Who are you voting for?

A: I like Trump. I think he’s very gung-ho and I really believe that he can do the things he says he can do — unless I’m naïve. But I don’t want Hillary Clinton; I don’t want a politician. I want somebody with new blood that’s not a politician.

Now, he’s become a politician along the way without him realizing, but I really think he can energize [the country, but] if he doesn’t get the Republican Senate he’s not going to do too much.

Even though in his mind he’s saying he could, he can’t. And my family wants Trump too because they want somebody new, and that’s how we all feel. I think he’s so energetic and he can revitalize things, and I know he’s going to surround himself with good people. But he should keep his mouth closed sometimes.

ericcorleyportjeffw

Eric Corley, Port Jefferson

Q: Who are you voting for?

A: Clinton, because she knows what she’s doing, and there may be some stuff I don’t agree with — probably a lot of stuff — but you have to think of all the people that are going to be brought in as a result of a Clinton administration as opposed to the people who would be brought in with a Trump administration. You look at all the things that have changed over the last eight years, not all of which are good, but so much has changed and that’s all the result of who we elected. We have to think beyond the personalities and beyond whatever is in the media, so that’s why I think it’s an easy choice.

Tommy Parris, Port Jeffersontommyparrisportjeffw

Q: Who are you voting for?

A: I actually truly haven’t decided yet. I mean, I was leaning more toward Trump initially. There’s not enough accurate information out there; a lot of the stuff that they’re putting out there is very vague, very generic. They’re not being too specific in their campaigns. Everyone’s spoon feeding everybody what they want to hear. They’re basically telling them “Oh yeah, we’re going to make more money, we’re going to fix the economy.” It’s all slogans and sales pitches. And coming from someone in sales, you can see right through that. What’s the plan that goes beyond that?

I like the fact that although Trump is not as delicate as he should be or as sensitive with the way he uses his words, he’s more transparent in the sense that you know who you’re dealing with for better or worse, so you can kind of know what to expect. With Hillary, she’s more quiet, cunning; you really don’t know much what’s going on. She’s a better politician when it comes down to it. I think it would be good to have a Republican state of mind back in the office just to kind of balance things out.

raymonddiazmountsinaieRaymond Diaz, Mount Sinai

Q: Who are you voting for?

A: Donald J. Trump, because of the political corruption and the political correctness with Hillary. It just kills me all the scandals and all the people covering up for her; it’s horrible. Trump says some mean things but would you rather have someone say a bunch of horrible things to your face and be your friend or talk behind your back? Oh, it makes me sick. I am such a die-hard Trump fan, and it’s not that I love Trump. We just need change. All the corruption in the government, and she’s just a liar.

Trump’s not the best guy in the world, but even if he does a horrible job, what’s wrong with wiping out the government for four years? Getting all the corrupt people out and starting from scratch.

mikebarbamalvernewMike Barba, Malverne

Q: Who are you voting for?

A: I’m actually voting for Gary Johnson, just because I don’t agree with Hillary [Clinton] on matters, and I don’t think Trump has enough political experience for it. He just talks a little too much for my liking, so I’ll be doing the alternative independent vote.

Although Gary Johnson had some slipups on his foreign policy, I still think there should be more than a two-party system in the country. In the United Kingdom, they have more than two, as well as a few other countries.

When conservatives and liberals are so far left and far right, it’s nice to have more of a middle ground and somebody who’s more bipartisan on a bunch of matters. Even though the independents realistically won’t win — him or Jill Stein — I think there will be enough independent votes that it will be a little more eye-opening for the country in general just to see “wow, maybe there should be a third candidate to be putting in.”

michaelcindyrawdinphotowMichael and Cindy Rawdin, Dix Hills

Q: Who are you voting for?

Michael: I’d only vote for Clinton. I know she’s imperfect but I would never dream of voting for [Trump] because I know him personally and he’s a disgraceful human being. I owned a website, GoTrump.com, that we opened in January 2006. We had it for 3 years with that “lovely” man. His staff was great, he was disgraceful … always.

Cindy: We brought him into the online travel industry. He wasn’t it in then in 2006. But because of his greed as well, we did not make a lot of money because Trump cut the biggest piece of pie for himself. We really know that Clinton is the brightest and most sophisticated and most experienced, and she’s an elitist. She’s intelligent.

Michael: She actually knows what she’s speaking about. The other one is faking it at all times. He didn’t even prep for the debates, which I found truly amazing. People are so desperate for change that they’ll vote for a psychopath. He’s really quite sick. The stupid things he says, the idiotic way he reacts, the fact that he screwed thousands of little guys out of their money. They’d go work at the Taj Mahal and just get screwed. He’s so unfit to be anything but a… make believe billionaire. He’s just a fraud.

craigmarcottwCraig Marcott, Huntington

Q: Who are you voting for?

A: It’s really an election of the perceived lesser of two evils in this case. My vote will be on the Republican ticket because I think he’s the lesser of the two evils in this one. It’s been incredible. Right down to the end, they’re just not stopping, between the email stuff on one side, the stuff on him on the other side. They’re two of the most defective candidates we’ve ever had. I’m voting more for the philosophy and for the Supreme Court justices. I don’t think our country can handle two more liberal Supreme Court justices that will rule the country for the next quarter of the century.

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Where can we turn when the dialogue from, or about, our presidents seems to fall short? Fortunately, we can look to the imperfect presidents of the past, whose ideas and inspiration have, for years, proved much more than “just words,” and whose notions about who — and what — we can or should be has helped provide a compass for the country.

James Garfield might be a good place to start: “We can not overestimate the fervent love of liberty, the intelligent courage and the sum of common sense with which our fathers made the great experiment of self-government.”

Garfield also proferred, “If wrinkles must be written on our brow, let them not be written on our heart. The spirit should never grow old.”

Thomas Jefferson suggested a way to deal with growing personal frustration: “When angry, count 10, before you speak; if very angry, a hundred.”

How about a few words from Rutherford B. Hayes who said, “He serves his party best who serves the country best.”

Martin Van Buren advised, “It’s easier to do a job right, than to explain why you didn’t.”

How about a quote from Honest Abe?

“My dream,” Lincoln said, “is of a place and a time where America will once again be seen as the last, best hope on Earth.”

Or this one: “America will never be destroyed from the outside. If we falter and lose our freedoms, it will be because we destroyed ourselves.”

Here’s another Lincoln quote: “Better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to speak out and remove all doubt.”

Turning to the other side of the Civil War conflict that threatened to tear the nation apart, Robert E. Lee, the Confederate general, said, “I tremble for my country when I hear of confidence expressed in me. I know too well my weakness, that our only hope is in God.”

John Quincy Adams’ inspirational suggestion was, “Try and fail, but don’t fail to try.”

Chester A. Arthur said, “Men may die, but the fabrics of our free institutions remain unshaken.”

Harry S. Truman indicated, “No government is perfect. One of the chief virtues of a democracy, however, is that its defects are always visible and under democratic processes can be pointed out and corrected.”

Dwight D. Eisenhower said, “If you want total security, go to prison. There you’re fed, clothed, given medical care and so on. The only thing lacking … is freedom.”

Describing a country whose ancestors came from so many other nations, Franklin D. Roosevelt said, “Remember, remember always, that all of us, and you and I especially, are descended from immigrants and revolutionists.”

FDR’s cousin Theodore Roosevelt said, “Believe you can and you’re halfway there.” Teddy also suggested, “Courtesy is as much a mark of a gentleman as courage.”

John F. Kennedy, who saw his fair share of crises during a presidency cut short, said, “The Chinese use two brush strokes to write the word ‘crisis.’ One brush stroke stands for danger; the other for opportunity. In a crisis, be aware of the danger — but recognize the opportunity.”

John Tyler offered these amusing and humbling words: “Here lies the body of my good horse, The General. For 20 years he bore me around the circuit of my practice, and in all that time he never made a blunder. Would that his master could say the same.”

William Howard Taft pointedly said, “Politics, when I am in it, makes me sick.”

An Eisenhower quote might be a fitting way to end: “America is best described by one word, freedom.”

Republican presidential candidate and Ohio Governor John Kasich answers questions from the audience at the Paramount in Huntington. Photo by Victoria Espinoza

The race for commander-in-chief made a pit stop in Huntington on Monday with Republican presidential candidate John Kasich (R-Ohio) stumping at The Paramount.

Kasich, the governor of Ohio, spoke face-to-face with New York voters ahead of the April 19 primary with hopes of gaining momentum against his Republican counterparts in the race. He received some of his loudest cheers from the audience after delivering a line about his approach toward what has been a contentious campaign cycle battling the likes of Republican presidential candidates Donald Trump and U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas).

Republican presidential candidate and Ohio Governor John Kasich greets the crowd at the Paramount in Huntington. Photo by Victoria Espinoza
Republican presidential candidate and Ohio Governor John Kasich greets the crowd at the Paramount in Huntington. Photo by Victoria Espinoza

“I may have been ignored for six months in my campaign because I spent my time taking the high road to the highest office, not the low road,” Kasich said.

Trump, a businessman, is currently leading in national polls as he has been for several months, but Kasich has been picking up speed as the Republican primaries make their way to the east coast. Real Clear Politics said Kasich has more than doubled his poll numbers from March 1 to April 1 going from 9 percent to almost 21 percent.

Audience members in the Huntington theater asked Kasich questions, many about whether or not he can actually take off the gloves and take on Trump, who has become known for his outlandish rhetoric and heated campaign rallies.

Kasich said while of course he could do it, he doesn’t necessarily want to.

“I don’t want to live in the negative lane,” he said. “I’ve got two 16-year-old twin daughters and a heck of a lot of people… in the state of Ohio who at this point are pretty proud of what I’ve done. I’ll fight, but I’m more interested in giving you the visual. I’d rather do it in a more positive, upbeat way, giving people hope.”

The governor tried to convince voters that he would be able to defeat both his Republican challengers, and eventually the future Democratic nominee by securing votes from both sides of the aisle.

“These things can’t get done with just one party,” he said. “If I’m president, we’ll have a conservative agenda, but we are not going to tell our friends in the other party to go away, to drop dead or demean them. We are going to invite them in. Before we’re Republicans or Democrats, we are Americans.”

In terms of specific policies, Kasich made several promises for his first 100 days in office, if he were to be elected.

“We will have a system that puts a freeze on all federal regulations except for health and safety, so we stop crushing small business,” he said. “I can tell you that we’re going to have lower taxes on businesses so they’ll invest in America and not in Europe, we’re going to have a simplified tax system with lower taxes for individuals and we’re going to have path to a balanced budget.”

He also addressed how he would handle immigration, an important subject to Suffolk County residents.

According to the Long Island Index, the number of white residents has declined in the past 10 years, as Hispanic and Asian populations have continued to grow. According to the United State Census, in 2014, foreign-born persons made up nearly 15 percent of the total population.

Kasich said he would implement a guest worker program that would help the 11.5 million illegal immigrants who have not committed a crime find a path to legalization.

“We’re not going to hunt you down,” he said.

Kasich said that Suffolk County is a diverse area with residents on all ends of the political spectrum, and he acknowledged he could represent more than just one party.

“I happen to be a Republican but the Republican Party is my vehicle, not my master,” Kasich said.

According to Brookhaven Town Supervisor Ed Romaine, harmful chemicals are also found in telephone poles. Photo by Giselle Barkley

After four decades the government is finally updating the Toxic Substances Control Act of 1976 with partial thanks to Brookhaven Town officials.

President Gerald Ford signed the act decades ago to regulate the introduction of new chemicals into society, excluding those found in food, pesticides, tobacco, firearms, drugs and cosmetics. The act gave the United States Environmental Protection Agency the authority to require documentation of chemical substances to determine if the chemical is hazardous to humans. The 62,000 chemicals that existed before 1976 were grandfathered into the act and deemed safe for humans and the act wasn’t updated until last year.

The government amended the act with Toxic Substances Control Modernization Act of 2015. Its bill, the Frank R. Lautenberg Chemical Safety for the 21st Century Act updates the act and requires the EPA to establish a risk-based screening process for new chemicals. Supervisor Ed Romaine (R) and his fellow town board officials proposed the bill, which states the EPA must determine if a certain amount of old or new chemicals are safe for humans by a certain deadline. The EPA will reprimand manufacturers who don’t comply with safety requirements by restricting or prohibiting the creation, processing, distribution and disposal of new chemicals.

The EPA did not return requests seeking comment by press time.

According to Romaine, the uptick in cancer cases, particularly breast cancer on the North Shore, over the years was troubling. With advancements in science and technology scientists have found that some of the chemicals previously deemed as safe actually pose potential health risks for humans. This includes development of cancers and endocrine and immune system-related complications among other issues.

“We have a concern about the high rates of cancer in children and we’re concerned because people are trying to get answers,” Romaine said.

There were around 142.7 cases of cancer in Suffolk County between 2000 and 2004 according to the National Cancer Institute. The cases increased to around 528 per 100,000 people between 2008 and 2012 according to the cancer institute’s State Cancer Profiles.

County Legislator Sarah Anker (D-Mount Sinai), who has focused on the environment and its health effects for more than a decade, said these chemicals could be particularly harmful to children and their health.

“When you’re exposed to something when you’re growing up … it stays in your body,” Anker said. “As you get older something may set off the cancer…It takes decades sometimes for cancer to evolve.”

In a 2008-2009 study from the United States Department of Health and Human Services, scientists found 300 pollutants in the umbilical cord blood of newborn babies. According to the study, children are more vulnerable to chemical pollutants in the environment because of their size and poorer immune systems.

According to Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley) these chemicals are found in everyday products like soaps and toothpastes among other items used on a daily basis. There are around 85,000 chemicals that are currently in use. But Zeldin said “the flaws in TSCA have left many of these new chemicals untested and unregulated.”

While Zeldin said the government should update important bills like TSCA, it’s common for some acts to go untouched for several years while others are updated almost annually.

“There are certainly examples of both extremes,” Zeldin said. “TSCA happens to be an example of one of those bills that really should have been updated many years ago, if not decades ago.”

Ray Calabrese and Mayor Margot Garant smile with Thomas Jefferson. Photo by Elana Glowatz

Thomas Jefferson will watch over Village Hall visitors in the future, thanks to a donation from the Calabrese family.

“Much to my surprise, there’s nothing for the public viewing of anything of Thomas Jefferson — no statue, no bust, no painting,” Ray Calabrese said at the Port Jefferson Village Board of Trustees meeting Monday night. “So I decided to do something about it.”

To applause from the audience, he presented Mayor Margot Garant and the board with a painting of Jefferson, the original of which he said was done by Rembrandt Peale in 1805, halfway through the president’s tenure.

Garant said the portrait would hang above the stairs so that as people go between the first and second floors, “they’ll see Thomas.”

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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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Harry S. Truman was president during a critical time in the United States. Photo in the public domain

By Rich Acritelli

He came from humble beginnings to make one of the most critical but grave decisions in United States history.

Born on May 8, 1884, to a poor Missouri farming family, Harry S. Truman’s roots were far removed from those of Franklin Delano Roosevelt. While he was a capable student, his poor eyesight prevented an appointment to the U.S. Military Academy at West Point. He never attended college, and was expected to help with the family business. But to get away from the boredom of agriculture, he enlisted in the National Guard and, though he would have been exempted from Selective Service, re-enlisted at age 33, when President Woodrow Wilson declared war in April 1917.

At once, Truman’s superiors and peers voted that he become an officer, and the future president was proud to take on the role. His soldiers saw him as an organized and bright leader who took care of his men. After training in Oklahoma, Truman and his artillery battery traveled to New York City, where the Missouri soldiers were some of the first Americans to be transported on the USS George Washington, a confiscated German passenger ship that was used to transport a portion of the 2.5 million Americans who fought on the Western Front. While in New York, Truman was not overly impressed with Manhattan and, in fact, liked Paris better when he visited that city after the World War I armistice.

Once in France, Truman learned how to fire the French 75-mm field gun, the best artillery weapon produced during the conflict. He was promoted to captain and the head of an artillery battery, and proved to be an honest man, speaking objectively to superior officers about the needs of his men. Near the front, Truman trained with Gen. John J. Pershing and led his battery in the 1918 Muesse-Argonne offensive. He was one of the 600,000 soldiers used to punch a hole into the tired lines of the German military. It is possible Truman’s guns fired some of the final shots before the Central Powers surrendered on Nov. 11, 1918.

The interwar years were spotted with success and failure for Truman. Once the war concluded, Truman desperately wanted to marry his Missouri sweetheart, Bess Wallace, and for a brief time he was a partner in a thriving clothing store with a veteran from his unit. While he had good sense, the business closed and Truman refused to file for bankruptcy protection. Some 20 years later, right before he became president, he finally paid off those debts.

Did you know?

President Truman was a talented piano player. According to the Harry S. Truman Library and Museum, as a child he woke up at 5 a.m. to practice for two hours, and music was one of his passions throughout his lifetime.

Truman got his political start as a county judge, with help from Kansas City Democratic political boss Thomas J. Pendergast. While he probably favored Pendergast on municipal building projects in return, he was seen as a clean politician and later won a spot in the U.S. Senate. Truman was a key advocate of Roosevelt’s New Deal as well as measures to supply American allies with military necessities early during World War II. He used a common-sense approach to leadership, stemming from his time as a farmer, a captain in the Army and a businessman, and it was an approach small-town Americans understood.

As Roosevelt ran for his fourth and final term, he picked an originally reluctant Truman as his vice president. But shortly after the victory, Roosevelt’s health declined. After four months in office, Truman was commander-in-chief. Americans, saddened over the trusted Roosevelt’s death and in the midst of war, knew little about the make-up of Truman. During World War I, he was a junior officer under future Gens. George C. Marshall, George S. Patton and Douglas R. MacArthur, but he was now their boss. And the stakes were higher — the Manhattan Project gave the U.S. the atomic bomb. Truman had a tough call to make.

It was 70 years ago this month that Truman authorized the military to drop the bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. It was a strategy to end the war, save American lives and demonstrate the nation’s immense power to the Soviets. About his controversial decision, the plainspoken Truman said he could not have looked into the eyes of American mothers who lost a son in combat knowing that he could have defeated the Japanese earlier but chose not to.

The presidency was a difficult chore to handle, but Truman never wavered from his responsibilities. Though he faced criticism during the postwar recession and the earliest moments of the Cold War, he was the underdog figure with a bullish sense of honesty that helped win World War II and set a precedent for American dealings with the Soviet Union for decades to come.

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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