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World War II

From left: Frank, Dominick and Nick LoSquadro in Germany, 1945. Photo from LoSquadro family

By Rich Acritelli

A longtime resident of Rocky Point and distinguished World War II veteran, Dominick T. LoSquadro died Aug. 2. He was 97. 

Through hardship and trial, this World War II veteran was the epitome of what is often considered the Greatest Generation. He was an active member of the VFW Post 6249 Rocky Point, and the veterans organization lost a dynamic and key member of its organization this month, one that always wanted to help other military service members and community residents.

From left to right: Nick, Frank and Dominick LoSquadro in Wiesbaden, Germany, toward the end of the war in 1945. Photo from LoSquadro family

LoSquadro’s story began as a poor Brooklyn kid — born July 28, 1922. He was the youngest of seven children with four brothers and two sisters. Growing up his family had no comforts at home. They survived due to the hard work of their father, who delivered blocks of ice, and their mother who managed a grocery store. Their home had no heat or hot water and when the would-be Rocky Point resident was a child, his brothers paid him a nickel to warm the toilet seat for their use. It was a common practice for this family to stay near the kitchen, where they felt some warmth from the cooking stove. Dominick did not take a hot shower until he was drafted into the Army as a young man during World War II.

The boys grew up with Italian-speaking parents, but together they only spoke a few words of the language, and their mom spoke little English. There were only a couple of Italian words that were utilized in order to communicate with each other. Years later, when LoSquadro was stationed in Germany, he understood and spoke German more than he could Italian. 

As a kid who grew up in the streets of Brooklyn, LoSquadro collected rags and sticks which he sold to a local junk vendor. He used the pennies and nickels he earned for movie tickets. He also worked with his father to deliver ice to various parts of the city. As a child his poor eyesight led to equally poor grades, and his teachers did not realize that he had a difficult time reading the board and they continually moved him to the back of the classroom. They believed that he was a challenged student that was unable to keep up with their instructions and, for many years, LoSquadro never fully realized his educational potential.

During his teenage years, family and friends remembered he always had a brilliant smile and a full head of hair, making him a favorite of local ladies. He was a talented ballroom dancer who immensely enjoyed listening to popular big band music in New York City. Before the war, LoSquadro enrolled into an automotive school where he earned a degree so he could be a mechanic. He flourished in this environment, and he would take his expertise in fixing, driving and directing heavy machinery in his military and civilian occupations.

For the late Rocky Point resident’s generation, it was a trying time to be a young adult after the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor Dec. 7, 1941. The United States quickly entered the war effort to fight the Japanese in the Pacific and the Germans in North Africa and Europe. Right away, the five “LoSquadro brothers” entered the military to do their part. Like that of his three older brothers, Dominick was drafted into the Army Dec. 29, 1942, where he applied his civilian trade as a mechanic in the service. His earliest military time began at Camp Upton Army base in Yaphank, where he entered his basic training with a serious fever that quickly became an ear infection. LoSquadro was stationed at several military bases in Florida, Georgia, Oklahoma and South Carolina, but as these units were shipped overseas, he was not sent with them due to his medical condition. The Army warned that if he was attacked with chemical or biological weapons that it could prove to be terribly fatal due to his ailments.

Despite being held back, it was his goal to be ordered overseas to be near his family members and friends that were already fighting against the Germans and Japanese. The Army eventually looked past his medical record and shipped him to Liverpool, England, where he was quickly sent to France. LoSquadro was vital in keeping the trucks, jeeps and tanks moving against the strength of the Germans, as they were pushed back to their own border. He also conducted backbreaking labor, as he helped reconfigure air strips after they were bombed and damaged by the German Luftwaffe.  

Like that of other American families, the LoSquadro boys were all in harm’s way trying to fight against the fascist regime. His brother, Frank, was with the second wave of the June 6, 1944, Normandy landings at Omaha Beach. That December, Frank was a medic that survived the Battle of the Bulge, where just about his entire unit was killed by the Germans. At one point, he acted as if he was dead for three days to avoid being shot or captured by the enemy. Later, the army wanted Frank to re-enlist, but he had witnessed terrible accounts during the war and he wanted to go home. LoSquadro’s brother rarely spoke about his traumatic experiences.

During the height of the war, the brothers were determined to meet up with each other. Dominick worked on the military trucks that operated at the air fields, where they loaded and delivered war supplies to the soldiers in the field. He was in closer contact with his brother Frank who was stationed near the railroad lines at the front. They both decided to search for their brother Nicholas, who served with the Office of Strategic Services (later renamed the Central Intelligence Agency during the Cold War). He helped collect and analyze intelligence from enemy double agents, the resistance, captured prisoners of war and more.

Both Dominick and Frank hitchhiked on the French roads as they were looking for Nicholas. They were pleasantly surprised, as it was Nicholas who discovered them as he drove down a road in his jeep. These two brothers, both grunts, saw a much different face of the military from Nicholas who was an officer, as he was not often in the field and he lived in homes that had servants to clean his clothing and cook meals. They were overjoyed to be briefly together during the course of the war, where they were alive, united and fighting for their nation.  

Dominick LoSquadro during his army days. Photo from LoSquadro family

At the very end of World War II, as the U.S. dealt with the growing power of the Soviet Union in Europe and the end of the fighting against the Japanese in Asia, the LoSquadros were formerly recognized for their service. About a week before the Japanese surrendered on Sept. 2, 1945, their mother received a letter from Secretary of War Henry L. Stimson. It genuinely stated, “For my part, I should like to assure you of the deep appreciation of the nation which has accepted their service with gratitude and a strong sense of responsibility.” Stimson was one of the most powerful leaders in the nation to oppose Germany and Japan, and he evidently respected the role that the entire LoSquadro family played to help defeat the Axis powers.

As a seasoned veteran that spent over three years in the military, LoSquadro finally returned home to New York City where he was employed as a diaper and furniture delivery man. In the late 1940s, he brought these items to famous musicians like that of Jimmy and Tommy Dorsey and to the actress Kitty Carlisle. Later in life, LoSquadro had poor knees and it was attributed to running up the stairs of high-rise buildings where he made these deliveries. It was not until the mid-1950s that LoSquadro was motivated to earn a city job. Once he was examined for his eyes, it turned out that he was an able test taker and he performed well on exams, and he was later employed as a bus driver.

After the war, LoSquadro again flourished as a dancer, and he always received interest from the ladies that had liked his ballroom skills and looks. He spent many nights at the Roseland Dance Club in Manhattan, near the Ed Sullivan Theater. He was friends with all of the bouncers, perfected his craft of dancing and met his wife at this establishment. Once he was married, LoSquadro raised a family of five children, including one son and four daughters at homes in Corona and Elmhurst. While he worked long hours, he was known for his creativity as a handyman who could repair practically anything. He drove many hours of overtime to support his large family on one salary. The World War II vet was known for spending many hours studying for the Metropolitan Transit Authority exams which enabled him to be promoted as a foreman and later a general superintendent. As when in the Army, LoSquadro also faced resentment for being an Italian American as he began to get promoted within higher city positions at the MTA.

He would eventually become responsible for operating large bus garages in Queens Village and in Flushing near the present home of the New York Mets at Citi Field. For many years, he handled numerous responsibilities with the drivers, investigated bus accidents within his district, petitioned for additional funds and made sure that his garages followed MTA regulations. He was always known for utilizing common sense and fairness with a staff of over 500 workers. He would grow to be respected for helping to provide transportation services utilized by millions of people within the city.

During his spare time, local family and friends counted on LoSquadro to repair umbrellas, bicycles, doors, windows and anything that needed some TLC. His children widely believed that if it was broke, that “daddy could fix it.” As a young kid that endured poverty, LoSquadro utilized his ingenuity to recycle products and save money. Later in life, he always enjoyed having nice clothing and cars, but he never forgot the lessons that poverty teaches. It is said in his prime that he had an unbelievable amount of stamina, allowing him to work all day and tinker in his basement for hours where he became a self-taught carpenter.

In the early 1980s, Dominick began living with a longtime companion, where they renovated a bungalow in Rocky Point. For many years, he was a devoted member to Post 6249 Rocky Point Veterans of Foreign Wars, helping to provide aid to vital military and civilian causes. Armed with a big smile and can-do attitude, he was one of the founding members of the post’s annual Wounded Warrior Golf Outing, which raised over $200,000 to help local veterans severely hurt from the War on Terror. LoSquadro knew all of the players, he handed out T-shirts to the golfers, counted raffle ticket money and spoke to all of the wounded armed forces members who were recognized by the organization. Even in his 90s, LoSquadro led an energetic life where he was overjoyed to participate in the many successful activities of Post 6249.

Several years ago, this decorated member of the Greatest Generation finally received his diploma from Rocky Point High School, with students, parents and staff giving him a rousing round of applause. At his wake, Post 6249 Commander Joe Cognitore and post members lined up at the funeral home to pay the ultimate respect to this noted veteran. With tears in his eyes, Cognitore expressed the final goodbyes to one of his best friends. Both of these men were inseparable, as they lobbied government leaders for local and national veteran’s affairs, attended the local summer concert series, marched and presented the colors at local schools during Veterans Day ceremonies and they often went to local restaurants and diners for lunch. 

As a member of this post that had worked closely with LoSquadro, it is my firmest belief that if you were friends with Dominick T. LoSquadro, his acquaintance surely made you into a finer person. Thank you to the unyielding efforts of this veteran to ensure the defense of the United States and his many wonderful contributions as a citizen, all who felt his presence during his time on Earth.

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

Allied troops in WWII fought through thick casualties the week of July 4, 1944

British Gen. Bernard Montgomery, right, with American generals George Patton and Omar Bradley July 7, 1944. Photo from Institute for Historical Review

By Rich Acritelli

As Americans enjoyed a beautiful Independence Day with the opportunity to watch ball games, barbecue, go swimming and enjoy fireworks, at this time of year and in the many years prior, our nation has always preserved freedom during times of peace and war. Today, American military forces are in every corner of the world serving in Afghanistan against the Taliban, at the Korean Demilitarized Zone and through an expanded naval and air power in the Persian Gulf to guard against potential Iranian aggression. But around this time, many decades ago, American soldiers spent their July 4 weeks overseas in active conflict.

These military actions were seen during the weeks that followed the D-Day landings at Normandy, France, on June 6, 1944. While the casualty estimates were far less than what was expected by Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower, he did not expect the terrible warfare that was waged against his forces as the Allies moved inland from the beaches. The Germans masterfully utilized the French terrain of the “hedgerows” to slow down the mostly American, British and Canadian forces. For a time, Hitler still expected the main assault to be led by the controversial, but powerful presence of Gen. George S. Patton’s tanks at Calais. At this moment, Hitler’s senior generals widely protested against his belief that Normandy was only a secondary assault. Hitler wasted precious time and committed serious military blunders by not adhering to their advice to wage a counterattack against the invading forces who were pushing out from Normandy. The German Wehrmacht had 19 divisions and 800 tanks that were waiting for an assault that never took place at Calais. This powerful force played no major role in attacking the earliest actions of Eisenhower during the opening stages of liberating France.

As the Allies pushed forward from the beaches, Hitler ordered the use of the V-1 and V-2 rockets that established a new “blitz” against London. Unlike the German bombers and fighters that reigned havoc on the city earlier in the war, there was little defense that could be conducted against these “buzz bombs” that terrorized the British civilians toward the end of the war. Again, Hitler’s senior generals stated that if these weapons were to be used, they should be deployed against the Allied ports in England that shipped over a tremendous amount of resources to aid their soldiers in France. However, Hitler believed that it was entirely possible for these “wonder weapons” to achieve a victory for Germany, even though the Allies were militarily established in France.

The German dictator refused to adhere to any military information from his generals who continued to tell Hitler that the situation was bleak. As Eisenhower had to deal with setbacks from the hedgerows, he knew that it was only a matter of time before his forces could break out against the Germans who were barely holding their own ground. Hitler refused to realize how desperate the situation in the west was. He decreed that every inch of this ground should be contested, that his soldiers should fight to the bitter end to cause horrific casualties against Eisenhower, which he hoped would move the Allies to withdraw back to England. Hitler’s once favorite leader, Field Marshall Erwin Rommel, observed that it was not possible for Germany to defeat the superior resources that Eisenhower had at his disposal. Rommel pleaded with Hitler to end the war on the Western Front to prevent utter defeat and destruction. Rommel understood that while the Allies were marred by the terrain, it was only a matter of time before Patton pushed eastward toward Paris. Hitler scolded Rommel, saw him as a defeatist, and refused to adhere to any talk of ending the war and making peace. 

Like Rommel, a disgruntled Field Marshal Gerd von Rundstedt understood that the hedgerow fighting would be overcome by the Allies and there was no chance of victory. After he was relieved by Hitler, he told his military peers, “Make peace you idiots,” before all is quickly lost. About two weeks after July 4, 1944, a small group of German military and civilian leaders carried out an assassination attempt of Hitler at his headquarters in East Prussia. Rommel was tied to this failed plan and he was given a choice by Hitler to stand trial or commit suicide. To protect his family, he took his own life under the fake deception that Rommel died from wounds that he received from an Allied aerial attack against his car.

Even as Eisenhower had the upper hand against Hitler, his forces endured terrible losses against the German defenses. It hurt the Americans and British that the poor weather, which had stymied Eisenhower’s D-Day decision about when to land at Normandy, carried over during this campaign. The Allies had a difficult time coordinating air support against enemy positions through heavy rain and clouds. During the early days of July, the American military had 27,000 casualties among its 413,000 soldiers. Resembling the warfare that Gen. Ulysses S. Grant saw against Robert E. Lee in the 1864 fighting in Virginia, the Germans used the thick natural growth of trees, bushes and terrain to their bloody advantage. In order to support these operations, Eisenhower needed to have a large harbor to collect the vital supplies that were used on a daily basis by his men. By July 1, 1944, the French port of Cherbourg was taken, which allowed Eisenhower to bring in an additional 1,566,000 soldiers, 333,000 vehicles and 1.6 million tons of food, equipment and ammunition.  

General Omar N. Bradley commanded all of the American ground forces and he was shocked at the extreme losses that his army sustained. “The G.I.’s General,” as Bradley was known by his men, believed that Allied movements progressed at a “snail’s pace” against the enemy. Both Bradley and Eisenhower relied on the aggressiveness of Patton’s efforts to push his armor inland to create weaknesses and chaos within the German lines. The brief hedgerow warfare frustrated the American desire to hit the enemy hard and use their advantages to coordinate air and land warfare. As Patton was disciplined by Eisenhower during the “slapping incident,” in Sicily, they desperately sought his armor tactics to end this stalemate and push the enemy back on their heels.

It was almost 75 years ago this week that American military forces moved slowly against the determined resolve of the German army to push forward beyond the Normandy landings. While the war would be over within a year and Hitler’s Third Reich would be completely destroyed, American soldiers endured high casualties within the first stages in liberating Western Europe of Nazi control. At a time when the German military had slowed down Allied advances, even their key military figures understood that they could not match the strength of Eisenhower and the war machine that was created to defeat them during July of 1944.  

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

Family members of the late WWII veteran Michael Colamonico and elected officials stand together at the corner of McKay Road and Beau Lane in Huntington Station. Photo by Sara-Megan Walsh

Town of Huntington officials and veterans organizations gathered to give thanks for the lifelong work of a late Huntington Station World War II veteran for his commitment to the community.

McKay Road in Huntington Station was officially dedicated as “SSGT USAF Michael J. Colamonico Way” at its intersection with Beau Lane behind Huntington High School in a Nov. 24 ceremony. The signpost stands on the corner near where Colamonico lived with his wife, Lorraine, through his death in December 2013.

McKay Road was dedicated as USAF SSGT Michael J. Colamonico Way Nov. 24. Photo by Sara-Megan Walsh

“Mr. Colamonico dedicated his life to his family and veterans affair issues for active military and veterans,” Supervisor Chad Lupinacci (R) said.

Colamonico was drafted to serve in the U.S. Air Force during World War II where he was assigned a position as a turret gunner on a B-17 bomber. On Dec. 31, 1943, Colamonico was on his first mission — a 13-hour bombing run — when his plane was shot down by a German fighter plane over southern France, according to his son, Michael Jr. He was held as a prisoner of war at the infamous Stalag 17 in Austria for 17 months before being liberated in 1945.

While a prisoner, he wrote poetry and drew illustrations in a bound book he titled, “A Wartime Log,” which his son said is now cherished as a family heirloom.

Upon returning to the U.S., Colamonico settled in Huntington and became a charter member of the town’s Veterans Advisory Board. Its current board members made the request that his home street be dedicated in his name, which was approved by a unanimous vote of the Town Board at its July 17 meeting.

He was always there for the people in the community, no one really realized the impact until he had passed,” his grandson Francis Fanzilli said. “We get so caught up in thinking of ourselves and the world, we forget the impact we can have on the people around us.”

Veterans gathered at the Nov. 24 dedication ceremony salute the flag during the national anthem. Photo by Sara-Megan Walsh

Colamonico volunteered at the Northport VA Medical Center helping and attending to injured veterans. He also was an active member of St. Patrick’s R.C. Church in Huntington, according to Father Michael Bissex.

“Michael loved the community he helped build, literally and figuratively,” Bissex said prior to blessing the sign.

Colamonico also served as a mentor to Huntington’s youth, in particular helping U.S. Army Capt. Michelle Mudge navigate her way through joining the armed services to become a pilot.

“He was a true mentor, he was one of the ones who believed in me from the time I was 15 years old,” she said. “ He pushed me through some dark times.”

Midge said she keeps a picture of Colamonico and his plane’s crew — that he once gave to her — on the mantle of her fireplace as a reminder. The captain believed her mentor would have been thrilled by the turnout at the dedication ceremony, and his wife agreed.

“I’m very honored and I know he would be, too,” she said. “I’m very happy to see him honored in this way.”

His wife spoke with family and friends with her arm stayed looped around the signpost long after the ceremony was over, as if holding onto a piece of her husband.

Kings Park veteran Ernie Lanzer, on right, with his daughter, Claire, wrapped in his Quilt of Valor. Photo by Sara-Megan Walsh

Nearly 70 years later, a Kings Park resident has been recognized for his service in World War II for the first time.

At roughly 12:05 p.m. Oct. 19, former Setauket residents Linda and Larry Heinz presented U.S. Navy vet
Ernie Lanzer with a Quilt of Valor to honor his service to his country. Now 91 years old, Lanzer recounted his time in the service as he was wrapped in the 80-inch by 60-inch handmade blanket in the colors of red, white and blue.

Ernie Lanzer dressed in his U.S. Navy uniform circa World War II. Photo from Claire Lanzer

“That was a lifetime ago, it’s ancient history,” he said humbly. “I was only a kid when I went in, 17, maybe 18.”

Lanzer said he registered under the draft and been called to serve near the end of World War II. He recalled fondly his assignment to the U.S.S. Antietam, an Essex-class aircraft carrier, as first-class seaman with the title of aviation machinist mate. His ship was stationed in waters off China and Japan during the period of occupation following the war.

“It really got my life started with aircraft; I went from fixing propellers to working on F-105, a real modern-day jet bomber,” Lanzer said.

Upon leaving the U.S. Navy, he worked on various planes for Farmingdale-based Republic Aviation. In 1961, he would continue to build a legacy of service by joining Engine Company #2 of the Kings Park Fire Department. Lanzer rose up the ranks of the firehouse, serving as fire commissioner from 2000 to 2006.

While recognized by the Kings Park Fire Department for more than 50 years of service in 2010, Lanzer said he doesn’t remember ever being thanked for serving his country before.

“We consider it a privilege to honor you,” his certificate from the Quilts of Valor Foundation reads. “Though we may never know the extent of your sacrifice and services to protect and defend the United States of America, as an expression of gratitude we award you this Quilt of Valor.”

Ernie Lanzer’s Quilt of Valor as boxed up and shipped from former Setauket resident Linda Heinz. Photo by Sara-Megan Walsh

Heinz said she requested a quilt be made to recognize Lanzer for his legacy both of service to his country and community after she joined with the Quilts of Valor Foundation, a nonprofit organization whose mission is to “cover” all service members and veterans who are physically or psychologically wounded. It started in November 2003 when a quilt was presented to a young soldier from Minnesota who had lost his leg serving in Iraq, according to its website.

“It’s to give them comfort,” she said. “A handmade quilt will always give you comfort no matter who you are.”

Heinz is a member of a volunteer group that calls itself The Myrtle Beach Shore Birds, a group of quilters that has taken up the mission of the Quilts of Valor Foundation. Together, they presented 33 quilts to veterans at the Myrtle Beach Air Force Base July 3 and have made more than 1,400 such gifts since 2010.

There is no charge for a quilt and the organization openly accepts requests at www.qovf.org. The website also provides information for those willing to volunteer their time to make the quilts by supplying patterns and guidance.

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William K. Vanderbilt’s superyacht, the Alva, before World War II. File photo

William K. Vanderbilt II (1878–1944) spent years dreaming of and designing his 264-foot yacht Alva. The luxurious ship, named after his mother, Alva Vanderbilt Belmont, was custom built at the Krupp-Germaniawerft shipyard in Kiel, Germany, on a design by Cox & Stephens. It was powered by two diesel engines with an auxiliary electric motor. Top speed was 16 knots. 

 On Aug. 5, the Suffolk County Vanderbilt Museum marked the 75th anniversary of the yacht’s wartime service and recalled its tragic sinking on Aug. 5, 1943.

Aboard the Alva, steaming out of Kiel on March 5, 1931, William and Rosamond Vanderbilt began the ship’s inaugural voyage from Europe to Miami and then New York. The trip was preparation for their epic seven-month circumnavigation of the globe that began in July of that year. During the voyage, Vanderbilt collected marine life, invertebrates and cultural artifacts for his Centerport museum.

Ten years, later, just before the United States entered World War II, President Franklin D. Roosevelt asked yacht owners to donate their boats to the U.S. Navy. Vanderbilt answered the call.

The Alva after being converted to a Navy ship.
Photo from Vanderbilt Museum

On Nov. 4, 1941, a month before the attack on Pearl Harbor, he gave the Alva to the Navy, which converted it to a patrol gunboat. The ship was renamed the USS Plymouth (PG 57).

The Vanderbilt family had served in every major conflict since the War of 1812. In 1917, William Vanderbilt was commissioned as a lieutenant commander in the U.S. Naval Reserve. From May 9 to Oct. 1, 1917, he patrolled U.S. coastal waters in his ship Tarantula II.

The following details of the Alva’s life as the USS Plymouth are from the Vanderbilt Museum archives and from Uboat.net, a history website based in Iceland with contributing writers from Germany, the United States, Canada and Europe:

On April 20, 1942, the Plymouth was commissioned and based in Norfolk, Virginia. Assigned to the Inshore Patrol Squadron in the 5th Naval District, she made several convoy escort voyages between New York, Key West and Guantanamo, Cuba, during 1942-43.

On the evening of Aug. 5, 1943, the Plymouth was escorting a ship convoy 120 miles southeast of Cape Henry, Virginia. The ship’s sonar gear alerted the captain and crew of underwater movement in the vicinity. Moments later, the Plymouth was spotted in the periscope of U-566, a German submarine. The sub launched a torpedo at 9:37 p.m.

“The gunboat had made an underwater sound contact while escorting a coastal convoy,” the Uboat.net entry reported. “Just as the ship swung left to bear on the target, she was struck just abaft the bridge. The ship rolled first to starboard, then took a heavy list to port with the entire port side forward of amidships in flames and sank within two minutes.”

 Of the Plymouth’s 179 officers and men, only 84 survived. They were picked up in heavy seas by the U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Calypso and arrived in Norfolk on Aug. 6.

 The commander, Lt. Ormsby M. Mitchel Jr., was thrown violently against a bulkhead by the explosion. He sustained serious injuries, which later required amputation of his left leg. Despite his own condition, he directed abandon-ship operations and remained at his post until the ship went down. Mitchel was awarded the Navy Cross for extraordinary heroism.

Learn more about the Alva and William K. Vanderbilt’s other yachts by visiting the mansion’s Ship Model Room at the Suffolk County Vanderbilt Museum, 180 Little Neck Road in Centerport. Fall hours through Nov. 4 are Friday, Saturday, Sunday and Tuesday from noon to 5 p.m. For more information, call 631-854-5579.

Randall, Merwin and Marten Woodard will be laid to rest in Port Jefferson July 14. Photo from the Woodard family

By Alex Petroski

Three Port Jefferson natives and U.S. Navy veterans from World War II will be laid to rest in Port Jeff next week, and their families have extended an invitation to the community to share memories.

The Woodard boys — Randall, Merwin and Marten — will be buried at the Randall family plot at Cedar Hill Cemetery in Port Jefferson July 14 at 11:30am.

They were raised in Port Jefferson by loving parents, Madeline and Grover Woodard, and they will be honored by all three families.

Arrangements were entrusted to the Bryant Funeral Home of Setauket.

Clarence Beavers was the last surviving original member of the first all African-American parachute unit

A secluded Kings Park trail was dedicated to honor a Huntington veteran, who is remembered as “humble” and yet “a trailblazer” by his family and friends.

The state Department of Environmental Conservation unveiled a plaque April 20 dedicating the walking path of the Kings Park Unique Area off Meadow Road to Sgt. Clarence Beavers. He was the last surviving original member of the first class of African-American paratroopers from the 555th Parachute Infantry Battalion, known better as the Triple Nickles. He died Dec. 4, 2017. “This is a long overdue honor to someone who obviously was a great American and a hometown hero here in Suffolk County,” said Peter Scully, the county’s deputy executive.

During World War II, Beavers and his fellow paratroopers worked jointly with the U.S. military and United States Department of Agriculture’s Forest Service on Operation Firefly in 1945. Their mission, as smokejumpers, was to respond to any threat or fires caused by the Japanese incendiary bomb attacks on the nation’s western forests.

“My father would be honored, very honored. It was very important to him that the 555th [battalion] and what they did be remembered.”
– Charlotta Beavers

In the summer of 1945, the Triple Nickle paratroopers responded to 36 fires and made more than 1,200 jumps, according to Deidra McGee, the U.S. Forest Services’ liaison for the Triple Nickles. McGee said the unit also led the way in the racial desegregation of the military starting in 1948.

“As people come and enjoy this beautiful trail, they can think of Sgt. Beavers and what he worked so hard to protect for all of us, the beautiful forests of the United States, particularly the west coast,” said state Assemblyman Michael Fitzpatrick (R-St. James). “It’s an appropriate tribute.”

The Kings Park Unique Area is a 69-acre green space where residents can hike, bow hunt and go wildlife watching. The 0.3-mile trail dedicated to Beavers is handicapped accessible and features an interpretive kiosk that tells the story of the Triple Nickles. The site was chosen because it’s the closest state-owned woodlands to his home, according to DEC spokesman Bill Fonda.

“My father would be honored, very honored,” his daughter Charlotta Beavers said. “It was very important to him that the 555th [battalion] and what they did be remembered.”

Lelena Beavers said she and her husband, Clarence, moved to Huntington in the late 1980s, after he finished his military service, to raise their five daughters and son. He continued to work for the federal government in the Department of Veterans Affairs and Department of Defense working as a computer systems analyst and programmer.

“He was a man of faith, a man of courage, and a true leader in his community.”
– Rev. James Rea, Jr.

“Wherever he went, he would always get involved in the community,” his daughter Charlotta Beavers said.

Rev. James Rea,Jr., of Bethany Presbyterian Church in Huntington Station, recalled how Beavers played a pivotal role in helping the church after fire approximately 25 years ago when it was without a pastor.

“Clarence Beavers stepped up out of the ashes, not afraid of the fire or the smoke, and had the leadership that was necessary to have the church restored,” the pastor said. “He was a man of faith, a man of courage, and a true leader in his community.”

Beavers was also a member of the American Legion Greenlawn Post 1244, involved in the Wyandanch Reserve Officers’ Training Corps., and helped found the 555th Parachute Infantry Association, Inc. and traveled nationally speaking about the unit.

“We owe a great deal of gratitude to Mr. Beavers that those who served in a secret war, jumping into fires in near impossible conditions while fighting racism at every turn,” said Smithtown Councilwoman Lisa Inzerillo (R). “Everyone here tell his story, tell their story to everyone you meet, and let it be known that courage has no color

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Then 12-year-old Randall Woodard, Gilbert Kinner and New York Gov. Franklin Roosevelt in Port Jeff in 1932. Photo from Warren Woodard

By Alex Petroski

Randall E. Woodard died Dec. 25, Christmas morning, at 8:10 a.m. He had pneumonia for two weeks and died at the hospital in Riverhead. He was 97 years old.

Woodard sat for an interview with TBR News Media in December to share a story about the time he met former President Franklin Delano Roosevelt in Port Jefferson in 1932 and was photographed at just 11 years old on a sailboat in Port Jefferson Harbor with the soon-to-be president. Woodard gave other biographical details about his life.

He was born Sept 3, 1920, at 104 Prospect St. in Port Jefferson opposite the First Baptist Church, where later he would become the bell ringer.

Woodard and his family owned several sailboats and fishing boats through the years. In 1936, Randall and his older brothers, twins Martin and Merwin, finished tied for first among 2,000 other competitors worldwide for the Snipe Class International championship. Through the decades he often competed in races and experienced more-than-modest levels of success.

After graduating from Port Jefferson High School in 1938, Woodard attended The Citadel military college in South Carolina.

Randall Woodard and his wife Barbara aboard the family sailboat. Photo from Warren Woodard

He graduated from The Citadel with a degree in civil engineering, and then went on to serve as a Seabee officer — a lieutenant in the U.S. Naval Construction Battalion. The Seabees, as they were called — a play on “CB” for Construction Battalion — were deployed to Pearl Harbor in the aftermath of the Japanese attack to reconstruct damaged bulkheads, dredge the ocean floor to allow ships passage and assemble barges and causeways in preparation for an amphibious attack, according to Woodard. During his training prior to deployment while stationed in Rhode Island, Woodard was aboard the world’s largest sea tow, which was an experimental floating airfield slated for assembly in Alaska. The airfield was ultimately not needed, and broken-up pieces were used during the Normandy Invasion on D-Day.

He was part of a mission that headed to a series of islands in the Pacific near Japan in May 1944, weeks before the beaches were stormed in Normandy. Nine days after D-Day, aboard a craft carrying four barges, Woodard was responsible for overseeing the U.S. Marine Corps invading Saipan, a Japanese-held island. Woodard and the Seabees contributed to the mission by using the barges to unload ammunition, gasoline and other supplies.

After the victory over Japan, he spent six months at Navy Department Bureau of Yards and Docks in Washington D.C., where he met Barbara Brown, whom he later married. Woodard was in the Navy reserves for about 15 years.

When he returned home, Woodard worked for years as a civil engineer. In the 1950s he was the resident engineer overseeing a series of contracts to construct the Northern State and Sunken Meadow parkways, and said he was responsible for the construction of all of the parkway overpasses in Nassau and Suffolk counties.

He is survived by his wife Barbara Woodard, of Port Jefferson; daughter Tracy Woodard Wyncoop of Lebanon, New Hampshire; sons Terry Randall Woodard of Port Jeff and Warren Woodard of Calverton; his grandsons Eric Randall Michaels and David Randall Woodard; and three great grandchildren.

The Woodard family has decided to have a service in the spring or summer at Cedar Hill Cemetery in Port Jeff. The date and time will be announced in the near future. Services will be entrusted to Bryant Funeral Home of East Setauket.

Randall Woodard, 97, reflects on meeting Roosevelt, a life and roots in the village, military service

Then 12-year-old Randall Woodard, Gilbert Kinner and New York Gov. Franklin Roosevelt in Port Jeff in 1932. Photo from Warren Woodard

They say a picture is worth a thousand words, but in one case, a picture is worth almost 100 years of history.

On Dec. 8, 1941, 76 years ago to the day, then president of the United States, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, delivered his “day which will live in infamy” speech during a joint session of Congress in response to Japan’s attack on the U.S. naval base at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii Dec. 7. The address served as the precursor to the U.S. finally joining World War II and taking up the fight against the Axis powers. He went on to serve as president until his death in 1945, preventing him from completing his fourth term in office, a feat in itself, as no other American president has served more than two terms.

In the summer of 1932 just before his first presidential campaign, Roosevelt, an avid sailor, made a recreational stop in Port Jefferson Harbor.

Woodard and son Warren during a recent trip to Washington, D.C. Photo from Warren Woodard

At the time, Roosevelt was the governor of New York and the Democratic Party nominee for the general presidential election that fall. He defeated incumbent President Herbert Hoover to win the highest office in the land in November 1932. During the visit, Roosevelt took a photo aboard a sailboat with two youngsters from Port Jeff, one of whom is still alive residing in the village.

Randall Woodard was born Sept. 3, 1920, in his home on Prospect Street. His family has deep roots in Port Jefferson, though his ancestors can be traced back even further to Southold in 1664.

“I wasn’t there that day,” Woodard quipped during a November visit to the Times Beacon Record News Media office in Setauket, accompanied by his youngest son, Warren, and Richard Olson, a longtime Port Jefferson School District history teacher who has since retired.

Woodard’s father Grover was the school district manager in Port Jeff, and actually hired Earl L. Vandermeulen, who the high school was eventually named after. His wife Barbara worked in the elementary school under Edna Louise Spear, the eventual namesake of the same school. Though he said he didn’t meet any other presidents in his life, Woodard met Albert Einstein once, and his grandmother heard Abraham Lincoln give a speech in New York. Woodard went on to have two sons and a daughter, who were all raised in Port Jeff in a house on the corner of High Street and Myrtle Avenue.

The photo of Woodard, his childhood friend Gilbert Kinner and the soon-to-be president of the United States is a cherished possession of the Woodard family. Warren joked there’s a framed copy hanging in every room of his house.

Woodard said on the day he met Roosevelt that he and Kinner were sailing his family’s 12-foot mahogany vessel around Port Jefferson Harbor on a warm summer morning in June or July.

At about 10 a.m., two or three seaplanes landed in the harbor and taxied over to the beach near the east end of the waterfront near the famous Bayles Dock. Woodard, who was 12 years old at the time, said he and Kinner noticed a large crowd gathering near the dock, so they decided to sail over and see what the commotion was all about.

“I think I could take you.”

— Randall Woodard

They approached the black yawl sailing craft tied to the dock with a man wearing a white sun hat seated in the cockpit. Woodard said he still remembers noticing the metal braces on Roosevelt’s legs and a pack of cigarettes on the seat next to him.

“The whole waterfront of Port Jeff was people,” Woodard said. Roosevelt was waiting for his four sons, who were running late, to arrive to begin a vacation cruise.

The Democratic National Convention had just selected him as the party’s nominee for the presidential election that fall, and it was too early to begin campaigning. While he waited for his sons to arrive, Roosevelt and the reporters milling in the vicinity suggested the candidate should be in a photo with the two boys. Woodard and Kinner boarded, and “Vote for Roosevelt” hats were placed on their heads to wear in the photo. Woodard recalled that Kinner took the hat off, tossed it in the cockpit and calmly said, “My father is a Republican.”

Woodard said there was an even more memorable interaction from the meeting when Roosevelt asked him, “How does the boat sail?” Young Randall responded, “I think I could take you.”

He referred to the then-governor’s vessel as “badly designed,” with a laugh during the interview. He said eventually Roosevelt and the others took off sailing in the Long Island Sound. Woodard and his friend tried to keep up with Roosevelt for as long as they could until the soon-to-be president was out of sight.

“We kids went to the movies for a week straight just to see ourselves on the Pathé News movies,” Woodard wrote in a 2004 account of the day.

Woodard and his son Warren shared a story about seeing by chance a clip of 12-year-old Randall dancing on Roosevelt’s boat in a documentary about past presidents decades later. Warren said they purchased multiple copies of the documentary on DVD.

“We kids went to the movies for a week straight just to see ourselves on the Pathé News movies.”

— Randall Woodard

Woodard’s life and interests would intersect with Roosevelt’s in other ways later in life. His daughter Tracy was diagnosed with polio in 1949, which also famously afflicted Roosevelt. Woodard’s affinity for boating only grew after 1932, and he eventually went on to serve in the U.S. Navy, where Roosevelt had previously served as the assistant secretary prior to his years as governor.

The Woodards owned several sailboats and fishing boats through the years. In 1936, Randall and his older brothers, twins Martin and Merwin, finished tied for first among 2,000 other competitors worldwide for the Snipe Class International championship. Through the years he often competed in races and experienced more-than-modest levels of success.

After graduating from Port Jefferson High School in 1938, Woodard attended The Citadel military college in South Carolina.

“The war was on the horizon in Europe and a military college made sense at that time,” he wrote in 2004. He joked he and a high school friend went to Citadel because their grades were not good enough to attend the U.S. Naval or Coast Guard academies.

“I was not a hero,” Woodard said. “If we didn’t have a Marine Corps we’d still be over there. I was in enough tight spots to know.”

After graduating from The Citadel with a degree in civil engineering, he became a Seabee officer in the U.S. Naval Construction Battalions. The Seabees, as they were called — a play on “CB” for Construction Battalion — were deployed to Pearl Harbor in the aftermath of the Japanese attack to reconstruct damaged bulkheads, dredge the ocean floor to allow ships passage and assemble barges and causeways in preparation for an amphibious attack, according to Woodard. During his training prior to deployment while stationed in Rhode Island, Woodard was aboard the world’s largest sea tow, which was an experimental floating airfield slated for assembly in Alaska. The airfield was not needed, and broken-up pieces were used during the Normandy Invasion on D-Day.

“The war was on the horizon in Europe and a military college made sense at that time.”

— Randall Woodard

He was part of a mission headed to a series of islands in the Pacific near Japan in May 1944, weeks before the beaches were stormed in Normandy. Nine days after D-Day, aboard a craft carrying four barges Woodard was responsible for overseeing, the U.S. Marine Corps invaded Saipan, a Japanese-held island. Woodard and the Seabees contributed to the mission by using the barges to unload ammunition, gasoline and other supplies.

One day a Japanese Zero aircraft flew low and attacked his flat steel barge with little options in the way of hiding places. He said he pulled out his handgun and fired two rounds at the aircraft, which eventually went down.

“I probably missed, but the plane crashed into the side of a freighter,” he wrote in 2004. He said his barges survived for five weeks until the island was secure. After the victory over Japan, he spent six months at Navy Department Bureau of Yards and Docks in Washington, D.C., where he met Barbara Brown, whom he later married. Woodard said he remained in the Navy reserves for about 15 years.

When he returned home, Woodard worked for years as a civil engineer. In the 1950s he was the resident engineer overseeing a series of contracts to construct the Northern State and Sunken Meadow parkways, and said he was responsible for the construction of all of the parkway overpasses in Nassau and Suffolk counties.

This post was updated Dec. 8 to correct the date of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s 1941 speech.

Former Presidents Ulysses S. Grant and Dwight Eisenhower. Photo on left from National Endowment for the Humanities website, photo on right from American Legion website

By Rich Acritelli

“The mission of this Allied Force was fulfilled at 0241, local time, May 7, 1945.”

It was at this moment 72 years ago that General Dwight Eisenhower flashed the victory sign to the free people of the world to signal the end of World War II against the Nazis in Europe. During the war, he was often criticized by other American generals as being too “pro-British,” or by the English as not having enough experience to run the war effort. But it was Eisenhower who was credited for seeing the big picture of the war effort to put aside the military differences of the British and Americans to achieve victory.

Some 152 years ago, General Ulysses S. Grant proudly watched his army completely defeat the Confederacy. Almost a year after President Abraham Lincoln made him the commanding general of all Union armies, he was at the cusp of a monumental victory. Grant was often criticized as a “butcher” who accepted extreme losses under his command, but he wrote a letter to Robert E. Lee expressing the need for his army to surrender. Grant told his adversary that all was lost and that peace must be restored to the divided nation. At Appomattox Court House, Grant offered Lee generous terms to prevent any further loss of life, to the surprise of the enemy. When northern artillery guns opened fire to celebrate the victory, Grant ordered them to stop because the Confederates were countrymen of the Union.

There are many similarities between Eisenhower and Grant. Both men were born in the Midwest — Eisenhower was from Kansas and Grant from Ohio. They both utilized West Point to leave a small town. Eisenhower was an outstanding football and baseball player. Grant was a superior horseman, who made one of the highest jumps ever recorded at the academy. They were both well-liked by their peers, as Eisenhower flashed a well-known grin and it was said at West Point, if you had a problem, Grant was seen as the fairest cadet to find a solution.

By the start of their respective wars, both men had not reached their professional goals. Grant earlier resigned his commission and he was later forced to work at his family store as a clerk in Galena, Illinois amid speculation about issues with alcohol. His first job for the Civil War was mustering soldiers into service for the Illinois government. Eisenhower always believed that he was cursed for not serving in France during World War I and he expected to retire as a colonel. But their senior officers and government officials found that these men could be counted on to carry out their military responsibilities.

These two officers were different politically than their commanders in chief. Grant voted as a Democrat before the war, but he openly wept at Lincoln’s funeral. Eisenhower was a Republican who did not support the New Deal. Perhaps due to the immense expectations that were placed on them, Eisenhower smoked five packs of cigarettes a day and Grant was believed to puff on thousands of cigars from 1861 to 1865.

Both men were known for their calm demeanors. During the Wilderness Campaign in 1864, Grant told his officers to stop thinking about the exploits of Lee and for them to create plans to hurt the southerners. At the height of Hitler’s failed attempt to overcome the Allies during the Battle of the Bulge, Eisenhower reorganized his armies and told his commanding generals that he expected to see only positive faces. He understood that the enemy had come out of their fortifications and they were now in the open where they could be destroyed. 

At the end of the war, Grant was concerned that Lee would move his army into the Appalachian Mountains where his men would conduct guerilla operations. Eisenhower had no interest in attacking Berlin. He refused to take a city that would have to be partially given back to the Soviet Union. Instead, he pushed his army southeast towards Austria, Czechoslovakia, and the Alps. Like Grant, he did not want any German forces prolonging the war in the mountains. Eisenhower and Grant were both from regular backgrounds. They evolved into two epic military figures in American history, and they were only interested in successfully carrying out their duties for the nation.

Rich Acritelli is a social studies teacher at Rocky Point High School and an adjunct professor of American history at Suffolk County Community College. Research for this story was contributed by the Rocky Point High School History Honor Society.