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Veterans Affairs

Butch Langhorn has served his nation for decades. Above, he is pictured in uniform during his Army days. Photo from Langhorn

By Rich Acritelli

Butch Langhorn has served his nation for decades. Above, he is pictured in uniform during his Army days. Photo from Langhorn
Butch Langhorn has served his nation for decades. Above, he is pictured in uniform during his Army days. Photo from Langhorn

To say that Long Island native Butch Langhorn has lived a full life would be an understatement. As a veteran and a community man, he has both seen a lot and given a lot back to the county that raised him.

From his youth, Langhorn was a gifted three-sport athlete, excelling in football, basketball and track for Riverhead High School. His impact was so great that he held the record for the triple jump for 10 years after his graduation.

In 1964, the young man enlisted in the U.S. Army and was stationed at Fort Totten in Bayside, Queens. While he worked in the personnel office, his sporting abilities allowed him the chance to play basketball within the Special Services of the Army. Langhorn competed as a 5-foot-8-inch guard against many who had experience playing semiprofessional and Division I hoops. The servicemen competing had the rare opportunity of representing their military bases in games that ranged from Maine to New Jersey.

The next year, Langhorn was deployed to South Vietnam, where he saw the earliest action of the war in Southeast Asia. In an interview, he noted the beauty of the nation and the influence of French culture on the former capital of Saigon, now known as Ho Chi Minh City. For a couple of months, Langhorn was a gunner on a helicopter that flew into the major combat areas of South Vietnam, engaged against the North Vietnamese Army and the Viet Cong. He was tasked with helping medical evacuation crews with the vital mission of returning wounded and dead U.S. soldiers to American bases.

As a young African-American soldier during the height of the Civil Rights Movement in the United States, Langhorn observed the treatment of blacks in South Vietnam. According to Langhorn, he had a relationship with a local woman of French descent who took him home to meet her family. When he met her mother, the woman told him to shower and take a nap before dinner. Again he came into her presence and she wrongly believed that he was a white soldier who had too much dirt on his skin. It was one example of a different racial experience for Langhorn — he quickly learned that most of the black soldiers who were fighting against the communists in South Vietnam were not understood by the very people they were trying to protect.

Butch Langhorn has served his nation for decades. Above, he is pictured with his family. Photo from Langhorn
Butch Langhorn has served his nation for decades. Above, he is pictured with his family. Photo from Langhorn

After more than a year overseas, Langhorn went home to finish his Army tour. By 1971, he quickly re-enlisted as an active guardsmen reservist, serving full-time for the New York 106th Air National Guard base in Westhampton Beach. For many years, he was the head of the recruiting station that brought in many fine airmen, noncommissioned officers and officers. Langhorn had a prideful hand in signing military members from different backgrounds to enhance the Air Force wing. Many of the men and women he recruited have been deployed to the Middle East to fight the war on terror, conducted massive air-sea rescues in the Atlantic Ocean, endured the rigors of the elite pararescue jumper training and deployments, and tackled the older mission of aiding space shuttle landings. Langhorn later oversaw the personnel department that was responsible for sorting out the paperwork needs of the military unit.

Langhorn may be retired after serving four decades in uniform, but he is still a dominant member of his community and has spent a lot of that time trying to help young people. He served on the Riverhead Central School District Board of Education for five years, working to keep athletics and other programs in the schools, and as a current assistant for the Suffolk County Sheriff’s Office, he organizes educational programs that bring high school criminal justice students to visit the county jail. In his role, he also helps guide nonprofit groups that are focused on rehabilitating inmates. In addition, former Congressmen Michael Forbes and Tim Bishop both recognized Langhorn’s professionalism, and he served as an instrumental member of their staffs to handle veterans affairs.

Since his youth, this North Shore citizen has given back to his society and to his nation. TBR Newspapers salutes him during Black History Month.

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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.