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Veterans

Lisa Cooper embraces her son Dante Lombardo at a recent reunion. Photo from Lisa Cooper

Mental health, particularly among service members, often seems to be a forgotten topic. One man and his Northport High School friends want to change that by riding bicycles this June from New York to California to raise awareness about mental health concerns among those who have served our nation’s military. 

Dante Lombardo in uniform. Photo from Lombardo

Dante Lombardo is a former U.S. Marine who was medically discharged due to his mental health. The East Northport resident,  who graduated from Northport High School in 2015, served in the U.S. Marine Corps Reserve from 2015 to 2019. He was trained as a digital wideband transmission equipment operator and as a field radio operator. 

Throughout Lombardo’s time in the Marine Reserves, he struggled with depression and anxiety, and like many others in a similar position, tried to “tough it out,” because that’s what he said the current military culture dictates. “Nearly anybody who has served can tell you that it is highly frowned upon to seek out mental health care,” he explained.

These issues came to a head in April of last year for Lombardo, when he attempted to take his own life. Thankfully, he was connected with a local behavioral health service, giving access to the counseling and the psychiatric care he needed. 

“Had it not been for these services, I do not believe I would have ever begun the path to wellness that I am on today,” said Lombardo.

Unfortunately, many service members suffer from similar mental health issues but do not seek out the help provided by the military, Lombardo said, in fear of being separated from duty due to their issues.

The statistics are staggering.

“We see 20 veterans each day take their own lives,” said Barbara Van Dahlen, a clinical psychologist who created in 2005 a national network of professionals who provide free services to U.S. troops, veterans, their loved ones and their community. “People think that because the war is over, so are the challenges, but that’s not the case.” 

‘People think that because the war is over, so are the challenges, but that’s not the case.’

— Barbara Van Dahlen

As for Lombardo, he may no longer wear his Marine uniform, but he and his bike team are committed to fighting for their fellow service members. 

Lombardo, Brian Fabian and Anthony Rubin, all Northport High School graduates,  just earned their college degrees. Lombardo graduated from Clinton College, Fabian from SUNY Plattsburgh last weekend and Rubin from SUNY Buffalo. Now, they’re raising money in a GoFundMe campaign to pay for expenses that occur throughout the trip. Proceeds remaining will be donated to Give an Hour, which earns exceptional ratings as a charity on Guidestar. 

Give an Hour was chosen, the bike team stated, because it is an organization that is not affiliated with the Department of Defense and can provide mental health services to those in need, without running the risk of negative consequences from the service members chain of command. Lombardo said that the charity could provide service members the opportunity to get help and start healing before their issues become a crisis that demands the official attention of their command, or one that brings harm to themselves or others, while simultaneously defending them from the stigma of needing mental health care while serving.

“The need is huge,” Van Dahlen said in a phone interview. She is honored and grateful for Lombardo’s efforts to raise awareness and funds for the non-profit. 

Van Dahlen emphasizes the need for collaborative approach to address the issues. “We really can take care of the understandable mental health needs of those who serve and their families,” Van Dahlen said. “If we work together and coordinate services — we in the government, nonprofit and private sectors — our country can hopefully step up to serve those who have given so much.”

Northport residents Dante Lombardo, Brian Fabian and Anthony Rubin are riding bicycles cross-country to raise awareness about military mental health issues. Photo from Coast to Coast for Mental Health, Dante Lombardo’s supporters.

It’s a concept that Lombardo and his bike team understand. “This fight is not one person’s burden to bear, but instead one we face together.”

During the team’s travels cross-country, they plan to volunteer in soup kitchens, homeless shelters, elderly care homes and other places that offer opportunities to give back. Their journey aims to seek out and hear the testimonies of veterans nationwide so their stories may be heard. 

The bike team has created a Facebook group page, Coast-to-Coast for Mental Health, which will be updated to post stories and experiences of the team, as well as testimonies of those who have suffered. This trip is a humanitarian interactive wellness journey as seen through three young Long Island men who are raising awareness for those who suffer with mental health issues all too often in silence. 

Lombardo encourages people to share the funding page, the Facebook page, as well as sharing their own stories. His message to the public, “We’ll be seeing you on the trail.”

The Times of Huntington will provide updates of the team’s journey in upcoming issues.

The GoFundMe page, Give an Hour website and an overview of the charity from Charity Navigator  can be found at: 

GoFundMe: www.gofundme.com/tmt6z-coast-to-coast-for-mental-health

Give an Hour: www.giveanhour.org

Charity Navigator: www.charitynavigator.org/index.cfm?bay=search.summary&orgid=17415

Town of Smithtown officials and St. James veterans give their respects at the rededication of the Vietnam War memorial Nov. 21, 2018. File Photo by Sara-Megan Walsh

After a successful statewide lobbying campaign resulting in the restoration of nearly $4 million in funding for a veterans peer support program some have called vital, and given an additional $300,000 for expansion, New York State officials introduced bipartisan legislation April 22 to expand the program nationally. 

U.S. Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley) introduced the PFC Joseph P. Dwyer Peer Support Program Act (H.R.1749), which would expand the peer-to-peer support program nationally for veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder and other psychological and physical traumas. The Dwyer bill was co-sponsored by NYS Representatives Elise Stefanik (R-Schuylerville), Kathleen Rice (D-Garden City), Tom Suozzi (D-Glen Cove), Peter King (R-Seaford) and others. 

“The program has worked on a local level — it’s an amazing feeling to see that these peer-to- peer groups seems to be doing well.”

— Joe Cognitore

“Expanding nationally the Dwyer program, which is currently operating in both Nassau and Suffolk counties, eventually to all states in the U.S., will ensure that every veteran can have access to a peer-to-peer support group,” Zeldin said in a statement. “With the [U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs] reporting that an estimated 22 veterans a day commit suicide, this national expansion is long overdue.”

This is the second time Zeldin has introduced legislation to expand the program nationally. Two years ago, the congressman proposed a bill that would authorize the VA to support veteran support programs modeled after the Dwyer project with federal grants. 

Joe Cognitore, commander of VFW Post 6249 in Rocky Point, was in Albany with other veterans groups in March urging lawmakers to restore full funds for the Dwyer program, and he said the new bill is a great opportunity to expand these resources to other veterans throughout
the country. 

“The program has worked on a local level — it’s an amazing feeling to see that these peer-to- peer groups seems to be doing well,” he said.

The main goal of the Dwyer project, which is currently overseen by Suffolk County Veterans Service Agency and Suffolk County United Veterans, is to provide peer-to-peer support and counseling to veterans who are facing challenges transitioning back to civilian life, along with offering a safe, supportive space for veterans to interact with one another. 

The commander of the VFW Post is glad the funds were restored as part of the executive budget of Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D), and in April stopped by the office of state Sen. John Brooks (D-Massapequa) to thank him for his support for the Dwyer program. The veteran group presented the senator with a framed picture of the famous photograph of Dwyer helping an ailing Iraqi child. 

“I support anyone who supports veterans, it doesn’t matter if you are a Republican or Democrat,” Cognitore said. “It is gratifying that we were able to do that, and we have officials that are doing the right thing.”

The program is named after Pfc. Joseph Dwyer, a Mount Sinai resident and U.S. Army combat medic who had served in Operation Iraqi Freedom. After returning home and struggling with PTSD, Dwyer succumbed to his condition in 2008.

Joe Cognitore, commander of VFW Post 6249, dedicates much of his time to helping veterans and his local community. File photo

County and state officials plan on embarking on a statewide campaign to advocate for the restoration of funds for a veterans peer support program some have called vital. 

At a press conference March 15 Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone (D) alongside state Sen. John Brooks (D-Massapequa) urged the state Legislature to restore funding for the Joseph P. Dwyer Peer Support Project, after the proposed executive budget of Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) included no funding for the project.  

“It is our profound duty to serve our veterans both at home and abroad,” Bellone said. “Often times when our veterans return home they carry scars with them. The Joseph P. Dwyer Peer Support Project has a proven track record of assisting our veterans regain their lives and I urge Albany to reverse course immediately and fund this vital program.”

The project, which is overseen by Suffolk County Veterans Service Agency and Suffolk County United Veterans, aims to serve veterans, active duty members, reserve and National Guard troops suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder and other adjustment conditions. One of the program goals is to provide peer-to-peer support and counseling to veterans who are facing challenges transitioning back to civilian life, along with offering a safe, supportive space for veterans to interact with one another. 

Brooks, chairman of the state’s Committee on Veterans, Homeland Security and Military Affairs, spoke on the challenges many veterans face when they come home and the good the program does. 

“These are heroes helping heroes,” the state senator said. “This is a program that enables veterans with knowledge and understanding of issues like PTSD, traumatic brain injury, depression and substance abuse to meet with and counsel veterans who are suffering from one, or several, of these afflictions as a result of their service to our country.”

The senator stressed the urgent need for this program and others like it. 

The program is named after Pfc. Joseph Dwyer, a Mount Sinai resident and U.S. Army combat medic who had served in Operation Iraqi Freedom. After returning home and struggling with PTSD, Dwyer succumbed to his condition in 2008. Last year, 23 counties across the state received $3.735 million in project funding.   

Joe Cognitore, commander of VFW Post 6249 in Rocky Point, knows the program works and echoed Senator Brooks’ sentiments that programs like the Dwyer project are necessary and vital for veterans. 

“It’s veterans to veterans,” he said. “Mental health is an important issue.”

Cognitore said on a grassroot level the program works, and he was disappointed about the proposed funding cuts. 

“This is not a Democrat or Republican issue — it’s a bipartisan one,” he said. “We are all in the foxhole.”       

As chair for the VFW Department of New York Legislative Committee and a member of the VFW National Legislative Committee, Cognitore was in Albany lobbying earlier this month with other veterans groups urging lawmakers to restore full funds for the program. This year Suffolk County only received a $185,000 share of the money in the state budget.  

Previously, when the project had its full funds there were plans on expanding the program further into New York state, in addition to the already 23 participating counties. Similarly, two years ago, U.S. Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley) introduced legislation to expand the Dwyer program to the national level.  

Cognitore mentioned if he had another chance to speak with Cuomo and other lawmakers he would tell them not to slash the budget of a program without due diligence and background research. 

“It’d be one thing if this program wasn’t working but that’s not the case here — it works,” he said. “Put yourself in our boots, come visit us and see how the program runs.” 

Cognitore hopes lawmakers in Albany reverse course and restore funds to the program. He said they are fortunate to have county and state officials on their side who are committed to helping veterans. 

Bellone plans on traveling to the Hudson Valley and Western New York over the course of the next few weeks to build a coalition of state and local officials on the issue of restoring funding. 

Beginning in 2012, more than 10,000 veterans have participated in the Joseph P. Dwyer program countywide. Suffolk County is home to the largest veterans population in New York state.

An effort spearheaded by veteran service organizations and Suffolk County Legislator Kara Hahn (D-Setauket) is nearing its fundraising goal to give nation’s newest veterans the respect they’ve earned.

The effort, dubbed Operation Remember, which looks to update four existing war memorials located in Port Jefferson, Setauket and Stony Brook to commemorate the sacrifices made by the latest generations of America’s service members, has been decisive thanks to the support of the community, according to a press release from Hahn’s office. To date, $14,400 of the estimated $25,000 has been received by the Veterans Memorial Fund established through a partnership between the American Legion and Veterans of Foreign Wars posts located in Setauket, Stony Brook and Port Jefferson Station, the Long Island State Veterans Home at Stony Brook University and Hahn. Organizers are asking for a final push in donations to complete the mission of expanding these sites to honor those who served during the Cold War, the Gulf wars and the Global War on Terror by this Memorial Day.

“Support for this effort has been incredible,” Hahn said. “In only a few months we have raised more than half of what is needed to make this lasting tribute to the sacrifices of our local heroes a reality. Our goal is to have work completed by Memorial Day, a day on which we pause to remember and reflect upon the lives of those who have given theirs in order for us to freely live ours. Raising the remaining $10,600 needed in the next few weeks will ensure the work will be complete in time for this solemn day.”

Among those who have already answered the call are Purple Heart sponsors Realty Three LLC/Ridgeway Plaza LLC and Bruce Acker. Ardolino Group Realty Connect USA and Friends of Kara Hahn became Meritorious Service Medal sponsors, while Burner Law Group, P.C. earned the Commendation Medal and Moose Lodge 1379 of Port Jefferson donated at the Recognition Ribbon level. Campolo, Middleton & McCormick, LLP also committed to a $500 sponsorship.

“Our community is very patriotic,” said Carlton “Hub” Edwards, commander of Post 1766 in Setauket. “I am certain the community will step up to help fund this Veterans Memorial Project to honor those who made the ultimate sacrifice and have yet to be fully acknowledged.”

Last fall, memorial coalition members joined together to ensure veterans of our nation’s more recent wars would receive the recognition they have earned on those foreign battlefronts back here on the homefront. The partnership, through its Veterans Memorial Fund, hopes to update the memorials to include new plaques and monument stones to be inscribed with the names of wars since Vietnam at memorials located in Stony Brook Village, on the Setauket Village Green, at the Setauket Veterans Memorial Park and along the Port Jefferson harbor front.

“This project is in recognition of all veterans who served in all wars,” said Bill Wolf, commander, American Legion Wilson Ritch Post 432 in Port Jefferson.

“For those who served and gave so much, we Americans can only say ‘thank you,’” said Jack Gozdziewski, member of American Legion Post 432 and VFW Post 3054. “Through our local veterans memorials our communities show our love of country and respect to those who gave all. America’s freedom can never be taken for granted, veterans can never be forgotten.”

“The memorial is important lest we forget the sacrifices made and what we fought for,” said Tim Still, commander of Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 3054 in East Setauket.

Those wishing to donate, can make checks payable to and mail to Veterans Memorial Fund, P.O. Box 986, Port Jefferson Station, NY 11776.

Once the fundraising goal has been met, organizers will contract with a local stonemason to update the monuments with individual designs for each of the four memorials.

“Installation cannot take place until our fundraising is complete, and the monuments are paid for in full,” Hahn said. “We’d like to meet our fundraising goals soon, with the hopes of having the monuments installed and completed for Memorial Day.”

For more information about Operation Remember and sponsorship opportunities still available, visit www.americanlegionwilsonritchpost432.org/index.php?id=101.

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By Rich Acritelli

The sounds of the Rocky Point student’s cheers rippled throughout the school’s gymnasium Feb. 9. They packed every inch of the stands, and some screamed their encouragement while standing toward the sides of the gym, all to watch their high school faculty and teachers duke it out for the first Swoopin’-N-Hoopin’ basketball game. 

Beyond the roars and excitement of watching educators layup and hurl attempted 3-pointers, the event and its participants helped raise over $3,500 for a local veterans group. It all came thanks to the idea of one longtime Rocky Point teacher who was wishing to give back to the community.

Since the moment he entered Rocky Point High School as a social studies teacher in 1986, Brooke R. Bonomi has always lived up to the words of service to helping this North Shore school district.  Armed with a contagious smile, a can-do attitude and a drive to excel at every task, this longtime educator organized one of the biggest events that Rocky Point High School has seen in some time. Bonomi mobilized almost every part of this school to lead a Wounded Warriors basketball game Feb. 8 to raise money for Rocky Point VFW Post 6249’s efforts to help veterans who have been physically devastated from the war on terror.

As the fans entered the hallway toward the gym, they were greeted by countless baskets of assorted prizes collected by a multitude of school clubs, items that were later won by the fans through a massive raffle that raised $3,500 to assist the needs of the local VFW’s wounded warriors initiatives. 

“This night of fun should be a tradition that is permanently carried on at our school.”

— Julia Salino

Even as Bonomi ran this entire function, he also played basketball with his fellow staff members that were comprised of four teams. Each squad of teachers, administrators, aides, security and even grounds keepers were coached by the students who drafted and traded these players in the days leading up to the game. Bonomi even enlisted the help of Athletic Director Charles Delargy who served as the basketball commissioner for this game.  During the draft that was held in the school’s auditorium, Delargy read the top selections as main rules interpreter for this athletic event, and guidance counselor Michael Conlon helped pick and play music that was tailored toward each participant.

Bonomi planned this fundraiser for months with his Be a Nicer Neighbor Club. Support was also provided by school athletes, the technology club, the school band as well as staff and community members to help ensure that this basketball game was a smooth success.  

As he approaches the end of his career, Bonomi has always been motivated to get the students, teachers and administrators involved in causes to benefit the community and beyond. For weeks, the students saw Bonomi’s presence in the main hallway selling tickets, dribbling a basketball and playing music to promote this game. A constant presence next to him were the brilliant smiles of fellow teachers Dan Capell, Jenessa Eilers, Gina Grillo and Carly Tribby who were helping bring attention to this event.

VFW Post 6249 Commander Joe Cognitore served as the grand marshal for the game. The veteran served in South Vietnam and Cambodia during the Vietnam War where he was awarded the Bronze Star. He is constantly reminded of this conflict through injuries that he had sustained overseas. Cognitore marveled at the ability of Bonomi to perform “a magnificent job in utilizing all ages of teachers to participate in front of a packed house of fans.” 

Standing next to the military color guard that posted the flag within the center of the gymnasium was senior Joshua Vogel who performed the national anthem.

From the beginning of this project, Bonomi wanted the kids to accept ownership in putting the game together. Rocky Point senior Trey Miller, a skilled basketball and baseball player, was thrilled to support this function.

“I love helping Bonomi and putting our minds together to make unique ideas happen for our school,” Miller said. “This was most importantly a patriotic program that showed respect to our local veterans that deserve to be recognized for their services to this nation.”  

All week and during the course of the game, the well-known creativity of Bonomi was always present through player nick names.  These included library media specialist Jessica Schnall’s “Barkley,” Assistant Principal John “The Total Eclipse” Hart, social studies teacher John “The Bullet Train” Mauceri, English teacher Kevin the “Ginga Ninja” Parker, and the Most Valuable Player for this evening, math teacher Jay “Rubber Band Man” Rand.

Bonomi also enlisted the aid of the technology club, which played music and performed colorful commentary over the offensive and defensive prowess of these teams. While the players took a break during halftime, members of the band played music for the packed house of fans. Resembling a New York Knicks or Islanders game, the younger teachers ran along the stands throwing balled up Swoopen’-N-Hoopin’ T-shirts to the roaring fans. Through all of these activities, Bonomi had a radiant smile on his face as he watched a charitable and patriotic night come together. 

“Spirit and pride was abound with a packed house and I certainly appreciate the passion and energy Mr. Bonomi puts forth to create a positive climate and culture for our student body.”

— Susann Crossan

High school senior Julia Salino works closely with Bonomi’s club and she said she hopes the event continues into the future.

“This night of fun should be a tradition that is permanently carried on at our school,” she said.

Since the moment that he started teaching, coaching and being a club adviser decades ago, Bonomi has long preached the importance of helping others. High School Principal Susan Crossan, who has known this educator for many years, said she was extremely pleased about the game

“Spirit and pride was abound with a packed house and I certainly appreciate the passion and energy Mr. Bonomi puts forth to create a positive climate and culture for our student body,” the principal said. 

One of the most important goals Bonomi showed to the school’s younger teachers was the significance of donating time and energy into the kids and community even well after the final period of the day rings. Over the last 33 years, Bonomi’s presence has represented the following words of President Theodore Roosevelt who wrote: “…(the figure) who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”

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

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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.

Operation Veronica founder Janet Godfrey tapes up a package to be shipped to a solider. Photo by Kyle Barr

Nearly every Friday at St. Anthony Padua R.C. Church in Rocky Point a number of women are hunched over boxes, twine and packing slips.

Though it may be Christmastime, for the women of Operation Veronica, a nonprofit that sends care packages to active military personnel stationed all over the globe, the season of giving has lasted since 2005.

“I’ve been here 13 years, almost since the first day,” volunteer Annabelle Skoglind said. “The government takes care of their basic needs, but there’s always something that could make them feel a little better.”

Operation Veronica founder Janet Godfrey, in back, and volunteers Judi Miranda and Annabelle Skoglind put together items to be shipped as care packages to soldiers across the world. Photo by Kyle Barr

All of it comes from the mind of Wading River resident Janet Godfrey, who has led her team for more than a decade of giving, sending much more than 70,000 items, including food, toiletries, utensils, playing cards, hand warmers, blankets, scarves and items that help those soldiers remember that people back home still care about them and support them.

The many volunteers who work with Operation Veronica have nothing but praise for Godfrey. 

“She never stops, she’s like a dynamo,” Skoglind said.

During packing days Godfrey is a bundle of energy with her packing-tape gun like a magic wand in her hands. Though the weeks vary, the group can send more than 50 boxes out in a single session. These boxes end up in nine different countries and U.S. Navy ships.

The boxes the group dispatches are filled with essentials, but the volunteers often add other items at soldiers’ requests, such as glue traps to deal with vermin. The group is often busy making their own products such as neck coolers made from cloth or survival bracelets made from 550 paracords, the same cordage airborne infantry used making World War II parachutes. 

It’s not cheap to send so many boxes overseas, even using medium-sized flat-rate United States Postal Service boxes. If the group wishes to send a more irregular-sized box, it may cost upward of $30 or $40. Operation Veronica relies mainly on donations from the community, and Godfrey is constantly going out to civic meetings and seeing public officials to help raise funds.

“She takes great care in every package she sends,” said volunteer Liz Meskill. “She goes out to all these places to raise money just for our postage. She goes out and she does it, and she never complains. It gives her the enthusiasm to keep going.”

They often rely upon support from American Legion Post 1880 in Ridge, American Legion Women’s Auxiliary at the Leisure Glen Homeowners Association in Ridge, Rocky Point VFW Post 6249 and The Richard and Mary Morrison Foundation based in Port Jefferson.

Operation Veronica volunteer Irene Stellato braids a bracelet. Photo by Kyle Barr

“Janet, who leads this nonprofit volunteer organization in certainly more than deserving the recognition as person of the year,” said Joe Cognitore, commander of VFW Post 6249. “Janet would share some of the great responses that the troops send back. They are very appreciative that Operation Veronica cares about them and that they are remembered.”

The genuine feeling of appreciation for the troops overseas is evident in everything Godfrey and the volunteers do. It’s evident in the care and attention they pay to each package they ship out. It’s apparent in simply how they talk about the troops with an absolute reverence.

“She feels for the troops,” volunteer Irene Stellato said. “When something happens with the troops she cries, we all cry. She feels it from her heart.”

Godfrey said while her group isn’t explicitly a Christian organization, she was inspired by the story of St. Veronica The name for the group comes from the story of St. Veronica, who in the Bible is said to have used her veil to wipe the face of Jesus as he carried his cross to the mound. Godfrey’s words describing her organization and what it does ring true beyond all today’s
current politics and issues overseas.

“She couldn’t take him off the walk, she couldn’t change his fate, but she gave him a momentary relief from physical discomfort, and that’s what we’re trying to do,” Godfrey said. “We can’t change their fates, we can’t change their lives, we can’t bring them home as much as we want to, but we can cool them off when they’re hot, we can warm them up when they’re cold, we can give them something to eat when they’re hungry, so we do what we can.”

Thousands of volunteers gathered at Calverton National Cemetery Dec. 15 to pay tribute to fallen service members on National Wreaths Across America Day. The event, organized by the Support Committee at Calverton National Cemetery, involved over 3,000 volunteers including veterans, Boy Scout troops and community members who placed 44,000 wreaths in just 90 minutes.  

Wreaths Across America is a national organization that coordinates wreath ceremonies at 1,400 locations in all 50 U.S. states, at sea and abroad.

Rocky Point High School unveiled its new Alumni Wall of Honor Nov. 16 in recognition of the many graduates of the district who have entered the armed services over the years.

High school students and teachers were joined in an assembly honoring those on the wall by veterans families, local veterans from VFW Post 6249 in Rocky Point with Cmdr. Joe Cognitore, Brookhaven Councilwoman Jane Bonner (C-Rocky Point) and county Legislator Sarah Anker (D-Mount Sinai).

The wall features close to 60 graduates of recent years and those who graduated from many years ago. Also on the wall are bronze plaques emblazoned with the emblem of each branch of the U.S. military.

Town of Smithtown officials and St. James veterans give their respects at the rededication of the Vietnam War memorial Nov. 21, 2018. File Photo by Sara-Megan Walsh

On Thanksgiving eve, as many prepared for the holiday fest, Town of Smithtown officials
and St. James community members came together to give thanks to a set of veterans who often feel forgotten.

Smithtown Supervisor Ed Wehrheim (R) led the rededication and blessing of the Vietnam War memorial at St. James train station Nov. 21. The town’s parks department employees have recently completed cleaning up, adding features to and landscaping the Sherwood Brothers monument after its condition was brought up by Councilman Tom Lohmann (R).

Ed Springer, commander of American Legion Sherwood Brothers Post 1244 of St. James, speaks at the Nov. 21 ceremony. Photo by Sara-Megan Walsh

“We’re very appreciative for what Tom and the town did for us here, it will be remembered for a long time to come,” said Ed Springer, commander of the American Legion Sherwood Brothers Post 1152 in St. James.

The supervisor said the town engaged in conversation with the Long Island Rail Road over making improvements at the railroad station, like improving the landscaping and painting the trestles and underpasses as part of the Lake Avenue revitalization efforts. During a site visit, Lohmann said he rediscovered the overgrown monument.

“When I started talking to people about the memorial, they asked, ‘What memorial are you talking about?’” the councilman said. “That’s the point. You couldn’t see it. It was overgrown and in complete disrepair.”

When the town sent its park employees to begin taking out overgrown shrubs, Lohmann said he received a call from MTA police officers who showed up and threatened to arrest the men for allegedly for ripping apart the memorial. After a phone call, and the two public agencies reached an agreement moving forward.

The St. James Vietnam War memorial has been cleaned up and the landscaping redone, water and electrical lines run to ensure future maintenance, and a light installed to illuminate the American flag. The monument was first dedicated in memory of the two St. James Sherwood brothers, William and George, who died three weeks apart in France while serving in World War I.

The newly refurbished and cleaned up Vietnam War memorial at St. James LIRR train station. Photo by Sara-Megan Walsh

“I’m sure everyone here has had someone in the military who has served our country,” Sal Riccobono, assistant vice commander of Sgt. John W. Cooke Post 395 of St. James. “We want you to remember all of them and appreciate all they did for us that brought us to this point today.”

Both Springer and Riccobono said that the membership of their veterans organizations are rapidly dwindling, and they both hope to bring newer and younger service members into the fold. Springer said the Sherwood Brothers post has seen 12 of its World War II veterans die in the past year.

“When I tell you from the bottom of my heart, the way to keep their stories alive is to constantly talk about them,” Richard Kitson, local chapter president of the Vietnam Veterans of America. “If you are in that post, what a tribute to the Sherwood brothers this is that you keep their memories alive.”

A former U.S. Marine, Kitson said both his brother, John, and a best friend died serving in Vietnam. He found comfort in the St. James rededication ceremony.

“This is really touching. It’s very, very touching — it’s touched my heart,” he said, wiping a tear from his eye.”

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