Authors Posts by Rich Acritelli

Rich Acritelli


Jesse Owens. Pixabay photo

“It’s not a question of whether you will hurt, or of how much you will hurt; it’s a question of what you will do, and how well you will do it, while pain has her wanton way with you.”    ― Daniel James Brown, The Boys in the Boat: Nine Americans and Their Epic Quest for Gold at the 1936 Berlin Olympics

Gazing over the tens of thousands of foreigners entering the arena that would be the 1936 Berlin Olympic games stood the presence of dictator Adolf Hitler. During the midst of the Great Depression, the tyrannical leader of Nazi Germany promised to rebuild his nation to its former glory.

In 1931, the International Olympic Committee permitted the summer games to be held in Berlin as a peaceful way of putting World War I behind the Europeans. Instead, the world saw the flying of Swastikas signaling the rise of Nazi Germany. The games began on Aug. 1, 1936, with Hitler present to watch his country prove its status as a restored national power.  

A rumored American boycott to oppose the fierce Nazi treatment of its minorities, loomed over, though President Franklin D. Roosevelt granted his country’s athletes to participate in these games. 

Watching the ignition of the Olympic flame, stood Jesse Owens or “Buckeye Bullet”. Owens a famed-athlete, grew up in an Alabama sharecropping family, where much of his childhood was riddled with racism. Despite his adversarial childhood, Owens went on to become a talented track and field athlete at Ohio State University. It soon became a goal of Owen’s to dispel the Nazi “Aryan” propaganda promoting others inability to defeat Hitler’s “Master Race” of athletes.  

Hitler’s much-publicized hatred did not shake the American resolve of Owens and the other African American participants. American runners went on to earn 11 gold medals in track and field; six by Black athletes, with Owens earning four gold medals and two impressive Olympic records. 

Later in the games, a fatigued Owens sought rest, with this, he offered the torch to American teammates, Marty Glickman and Sam Stoller suggesting they could compete in 4×100 race in his stead. Instead, Owens was directed to race and Glickman and Stoller, both of Jewish culture, were barred from participating. Concerns arose that American coaches were fearful of upstaging Hitler by using Jewish-American athletes to gain additional medals. 

An aspect of these games often overlooked is the athlete’s personal contention with the economic and social issues of the Great Depression. The economy was poor in Germany and its regime paid for the training and living expenses of its athletes. Many American athletes looked at sports in a secondary manner as they tried to gain essential items to survive. Americans had to contend with twenty-five percent unemployment and a struggling economy.

On Christmas Day, Hollywood released a heartwarming look at the tribulations of the Great Depression through the production of ‘The Boys in the Boat’, written by Brown and directed by George Clooney. Like ‘Cinderella Man’ and ‘Seabiscuit’, this film delves into the intersection of sports and the Depression. 

Even as the New Deal was established by Roosevelt, American people faced difficulties in finding work and buying food. ‘The Boys in the Boat’ is based on the Washington State Rowing Team’s quest to win the gold medal during the Berlin Olympics.  

This film, set on the outskirts of Seattle, chronicles the harsh extent of the Depression. It focused on Joe Rantz, who was abandoned by his family and forced to care for himself. Actor Callum Turner portrayed an engineering student facing the threat of removal from Washington State for being unable to pay his tuition. With holes in his shoes and making a home in an abandoned car, this student desperately sought a chance to improve his economic situation by trying out for his school’s rowing team. 

Joel Edgerton stars as Coach Al Ulbrickson, an uncompromising figure who demanded athletic and physical excellence. The film takes some artistic liberties depicting the triumphs of the team modifying the succession to highest levels of college and Olympic competition to one year as opposed to the three years presented in Brown’s book.  

As a director Clooney scores in the eyes of film, history, and sports fans. He portrays the determination of the team’s coach in utilizing a junior varsity team that would eventually become the best in the nation and would go on to win a gold medal. 

There are many moments that present Rantz’s competitive side. In the film, Rantz found a father figure in the team’s boat builder, a man who took a special interest in his athletic talents by constructing and maintaining their equipment. The builder provided sustinent advice on handling the complexities of life and listening to authority. This film identifies the American-will to persevere, showcasing a team pitted against highly-respected Ivy League crews. The film shares an outstanding story of American resilience to achieve greatness through the masterful stroke of Clooney’s direction.

By Rich Acritelli

During the 1980s, there were many Vietnam War veterans raising families among us. Many of these veterans rarely spoke of their combat experiences. Richard Kitson is a local leader who tirelessly advocates for all veterans.

A longtime resident of Port Jefferson Station, president of the Suffolk County Vietnam Veterans of America Chapter 11 and a Rocky Point VFW Post 6249 member, Kitson has always cared for veterans. Originally from Manhattan, he moved to Levittown in 1954 and lived among the massive veteran population that had used the Montgomery GI Bill for housing.

Coming from a large family, his father fought during the Battle of the Bulge, receiving the Purple Heart for his valor against the Germans during World War II.

Kitson enjoyed the bustling suburban community, where he swam at town pools, ran track, played basketball and was a talented baseball catcher who later coached his two sons.

After graduating high school in 1965, Kitson briefly attended St. Francis College in Brooklyn and moved back to Manhattan. Working and going to school full time, Kitson eventually joined the United States Marine Corps in 1966. He graduated from Parris Island, South Carolina, and was trained at the demolition and heavy equipment school.

After going to the Jungle Warfare Training Center at Camp Pendleton, California, Kitson was deployed to South Vietnam’s I Corps, stationed at Đông Hà Combat Base, located near the North and South Vietnamese Demilitarized Zone.

As a result of heavy casualties, Kitson’s job soon changed. He was ordered to be a mortarman to support the Marines fighting in the field. Quickly learning this new task, Kitson aimed to help American infantry “grunts” operate against the enemy.

This hotly contested area is remembered for its heavy American casualties. Years later, Kitson still vividly agonizes over the memory of lost comrades whom he considers close friends.

After completing his tour in South Vietnam, Kitson was ordered to Okinawa, Japan, to be stationed with his original company. Promoted to corporal, Kitson helped create many engineering products on the island. Arriving home in 1968, Kitson was sent to Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, and quickly returned to civilian life.

Kitson observed the political and social upheaval of the war, remembering the poor reception veterans received on their return home. These feelings hardened when his younger brother, John, joined the Marines and was later killed in Vietnam.

The war shaped Kitson’s feelings. He committed that no veteran, regardless of tour of duty, should ever be forgotten by the public or other veterans.

Life grew increasingly difficult as Kitson encountered the hardships of veterans who could not find quality jobs. His family continued facing tragedy when another brother, Joseph, died in a car accident.

Married in 1969, Kitson worked in the bar business for over 10 years and had three children. In 1980, he was hired by the United States Postal Service. He was happier as this job provided more stability and insurance for his family. Kitson later became supervisor and postmaster for the Babylon Post Office, overseeing five buildings, four ZIP codes and 300 postal workers.

Kitson advocated for building the Suffolk County Vietnam Veterans Memorial Park at Bald Hill in Farmingville. He and his “Green Jackets” members of the Vietnam Veterans county chapter helped raise the $1.3 million to create this memorial structure seen from the Long Island Sound, the Atlantic Ocean and Connecticut.

Eighteen years after America pulled out of South Vietnam, Kitson’s group and local, state and federal officials unveiled this special monument on Nov. 11, 1991.

VFW Post 6249 Cmdr. Joe Cognitore, who grew up some 4 miles from Kitson in Farmingdale, marvels at his contributions.

Kitson “is a great guy who continually strives to care for veterans and to represent our citizens who fought in Vietnam decades ago,” Cognitore, also a Vietnam War vet, said. “He is an asset to the drive of this VFW to fulfill the needs of veteran causes in this community and nation.”

Kitson’s organization on Memorial Day reads the names of Vietnam veterans killed during the war from Suffolk County. Always understanding the importance of history, the Suffolk County chapter of Vietnam Veterans has been involved in teaching this conflict through classes at Ward Melville High School and the former Veterans Day program at Rocky Point High School. The group is always at the Memorial Day and Veterans Day ceremonies held annually at Calverton National Cemetery.

Kitson, now 76, is the chief of community development and civic engagement at the Northport Veterans Affairs Medical Center. Helping veterans from World War II to the war on terror, he organizes transportation for vets to the hospital, offering guidance for tapping into government benefits.

During this holiday season, Kitson has already distributed hams and turkeys to feed needy veterans. A big, burly man with a voice reminiscent of actor Jack Nicholson’s, when one sees Kitson, one also receives a hearty hello, a big handshake and the question, “What can I do to help?”

For his valuable contributions through the Suffolk County chapter of Vietnam Veterans “Green Jackets” and his altruism and charity for local veterans, TBR News Media recognizes Richard Kitson as a 2023 Person of the Year.

The USS Shaw explodes during the Japanese assault on Pearl Harbor Dec. 7, 1941. Public domain photo

By Rich Acritelli

“We thought they were U.S. planes until we saw the big red sun on the wings, and they began to bomb and strafe, and there was that big red sun on their wings, and it was war.”

 — William Harvey, USS Sacramento, 1941

Eighty-two years ago on Dec. 7, the Empire of Japan struck the United States Armed Forces stationed at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii.

In the early morning hours, a massive Japanese naval and air presence was just 200 miles off the coast of these islands as military personnel and civilians awaited a leisurely Sunday. In an attack that lasted a little over two hours, an American population was thrust into a global conflict.

The surprise attack stunned government and military officials alike. Many Americans were shocked by this news, deluded by the inaccurate perception that the Japanese were not capable of hitting Hawaii with any robust force.

Instead, airmen, army forces and naval ships were reeling from continual aerial assaults by the Japanese Zero fighter aircraft that openly strafed American targets. From Japanese aircraft carriers, 40 torpedo planes, 103 level bombers, 131 dive bombers and 79 fighters opened up the war against American targets.

Once the smoke cleared, 2,403 American service members were killed, more than 1,000 injured and 19 American ships were crippled or destroyed.

The United States was fortunate that its three aircraft carriers were at sea. Adm. Isoroku Yamamoto initially stressed caution against this attack. He openly believed that if the American carriers were not hit, he could “run wild” for a year before the “sleeping giant awoke.”

Yamamoto, who traveled extensively around the United States, fully understood America’s economic and military potential, worrying that Japan would lose any long war against this country. The next day, President Franklin D. Roosevelt (D) rallied a shaken nation, announcing that a “state of war” existed between the U.S. and Japan.

Americans from all walks of life entered the U.S. Armed Forces to avenge this national tragedy and oppose the rise of fascism. The Japanese and Germans faced limited military achievements, but they underestimated the American resolve to mobilize every facet of its government, economy and population. 

By 1945, America and its allies had achieved “complete” and “utter” victory first against Germany and then Japan.

A way to remember

Dec. 7, 1941, is a national day of remembrance of service for many past, present and future veterans. Recently, Thomas Semkow, a lifetime member of Rocky Point VFW Post 6249, died of cancer on Nov. 13, at 78. A soft-spoken man who was born in Manhattan and enjoyed every aspect of the Rocky Point VFW, Thomas was a Vietnam veteran. He was sent to Vietnam during the height of the fighting. Thomas had the unique experience of being a member of the Green Berets as a medic who worked closely with American and South Vietnamese forces who directly fought the Vietcong and the North Vietnamese Army.

Never one to speak about his experiences during the war, Thomas’ military achievements are on display at the VFW 6249 Suffolk County World War II and Military History Museum, opening Thursday, Dec. 7.

His death is a continual reminder of the older World War II, Korean and Vietnam war veterans who are dying on a daily basis. They sacrificed greatly to defend this nation. Let us remember now their valor during the Japanese attack.

Rich Acritelli is a history teacher at Rocky Point High School, adjunct professor at Suffolk County Community College and curator of the VFW 6249 Suffolk County World War II and Military History Museum.

Senior captains of the 2023 Rocky Point High School football team. From left, Ryan Meyers, Jeremy Graham and A.J. Aschettino. Photo courtesy Rich Acritelli

The 2023 Rocky Point High School football team hopes for a promising season behind their main senior players, even after an indifferent 0-3 start.

A.J. Aschettino, a team captain, is also one of the finest baseball prospects on Long Island, who will be playing for Northeastern University after graduating from Rocky Point in June 2024.

He will be leading the football team as a safety, running back and possibly even quarterback. Always a quiet team leader, Aschettino leads by example on and off the field.

Last year, Aschettino played well against Islip, scoring a touchdown and rushing for 120 yards on the ground. Against East Hampton, he had four tackles and an interception to help his team to victory.

As the league’s most valuable player for baseball last season, batting an impressive .522, Aschettino will also establish a solid example of hard work and discipline for the younger players on the roster. Longtime head coach Anthony DiLorenzo indicated that Aschettino has “great football knowledge, with speed and agility.”

Jeremy Graham is a senior captain who has played varsity football for the last three seasons. He will be active on the field, leading the team as quarterback while playing cornerback on defense.

Graham had shown flashes of brilliance last season. Against East Hampton, he scored three touchdowns, passed for 60 yards and ran for another 130 yards on the ground. On the defensive side, he had four tackles in last year’s matchup against Eastport-South Manor.

DiLorenzo believes Graham is a “gritty and gutsy” player who fights for every yard. Like Aschettino, he is an exceptional baseball player, having hit .400 in the playoffs last season. He will be on the Hudson Valley Vikings squad after he graduates.

Another excellent football player is senior captain Ryan Meyers. One of the hardest hitting linebackers in the county, Meyers will make his presence felt on the defensive end of the field as well. He will show his versatility in running the ball, where he wants to help the offense gain points against the opposition.

DiLorenzo marvels at Meyers’ physicality, describing the senior linebacker as having the ability “to run through a wall” to help his team win. Last year against Eastport-South Manor, he had five tackles and two sacks to showcase his defensive prowess. After he graduates from Rocky Point, Meyers will play lacrosse at Binghamton University.

DiLorenzo believes that these three senior athletes will help the team attain its goal of establishing “an uncommon effort, with positive energy and a unit that always has support and love for each other.”

J. Robert Oppenheimer, right, and Albert Einstein in a posed photograph at the Institute for Advanced Study. Public domain photo

‘Now I am become death, the destroyer of worlds.’

— J. Robert Oppenheimer

J. Robert Oppenheimer was born in 1904 in New York City. During childhood, he studied minerals, physics, chemistry, Greek, Latin, French and German. After graduating high school as valedictorian, Oppenheimer fell seriously ill with dysentery. His family sent him westward to treat this medical condition in New Mexico, where he loved riding horses in the open terrain.

After graduating from Harvard University in three years with a degree in chemistry, he studied physics at Cambridge University in England. Earning his doctorate and studying with other specialists and Nobel Peace Prize recipients, Oppenheimer built relationships with some of the foremost physicists of the time. While in Germany, he observed widespread antisemitism fostered by Adolph Hitler’s Nazi regime. Many scientists in Germany were Jewish and later fled the Holocaust by immigrating to the United States. There, they used their talents to help defeat the Nazis.

During the Great Depression, Oppenheimer was an ardent critic of Spanish general, Francisco Franco, supporting the Spanish Republican government and opposing the fascists. While never formerly a member, Oppenheimer openly accepted the views of the American Communist Party.  

During that time, the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation watched over his activities and those of his friends. He never hid his political beliefs. Oppenheimer was also deeply flawed, a womanizer who had an affair and a child with another man’s wife.

Manhattan Project

Before the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, Oppenheimer conducted extensive scientific research on possible military theories that piqued the government’s interest. Gen. Leslie Groves, an abrasive army officer who led the construction of the Pentagon, was touted for building complex government structures. The son of a Presbyterian Army chaplain, his superiors saw him as a motivated figure who succeeded at resolving challenging problems.  

By 1942, the United States mobilized its citizens to fight, and its scientists to keep pace with the Germans to construct a nuclear bomb. Groves understood that Oppenheimer knew the rival German scientists, as he had worked alongside many of them during the 1930s.  

Groves chose Oppenheimer to lead a group of America’s leading scientists, concentrating most of them at Los Alamos, New Mexico, in what was known as the Manhattan Project. Groves relied heavily upon Oppenheimer to mold these contrasting personalities, further pressured by an impending timetable, and create the most destructive weapon known to man — all before the Germans could do so themselves.

Under a cloud of secrecy, over the next two-and-a-half years, Groves prioritized resources, money and manpower for this endeavor. He spent some $2 billion to create this weapon.

Destroyer of worlds

After the death of President Franklin D. Roosevelt, Secretary of War Henry Stimson briefed President Harry S. Truman on April 24, 1945, about the status of the Manhattan Project.

After the Nazi surrender, Groves put pressure on Oppenheimer to ensure that America could use the weapon against the Japanese. During the Potsdam Conference, where the three leading Allies — the Soviets, the British and the Americans — met to plan the postwar peace, Truman learned of the successful Trinity Test on July 16, 1945.

American military leadership suspected the Japanese would fight to the last soldier. And so, 78 years ago this month, the United States dropped two atomic bombs on the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. At first, Oppenheimer was pleased with his creation, though he later feared a future arms race would precipitate and that nuclear Armageddon could lead to the annihilation of humanity.


And as the Cold War began, Americans at home were concerned about the spread of communism. Oppenheimer led the effort to create the atomic bomb, but his communist sympathies were again scrutinized during the Red Scare.

The Soviet Union quickly attained the atomic bomb. These were dangerous times for the United States. 

In 1954, the Department of Energy revoked Oppenheimer’s security clearance due to fears that he could not be trusted with classified information.  

Oppenheimer, a complex historical figure harboring beliefs that often ran contrary to those held by the government and most Americans, helped the Allies win World War II. He symbolized American scientific superiority, though he was a casualty of domestic Cold War stigma.

A scientist who created the worst weapon ever used in warfare, he also sought peaceful measures to ensure that an arms race and nuclear conflict would not recur.

Oppenheimer died on Feb. 18, 1967, at age 62.

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

Photo by Capturing Life as it happens from Pixabay

In recent years, much has been said of the state of division in the United States. But as the nation celebrates its 247th birthday, Americans should remember the many struggles they have overcome.

After the fall of Fort Sumter in April 1861, President Abraham Lincoln believed the Confederate South would never peaceably re-enter the Union. The country was engaged in the defining conflict of its history and the deadliest war its citizens had ever fought. 

Yet Lincoln helped the nation carry on, ensuring that Americans would reunite under one flag. In a speech to Congress on July 4, 1861, he asserted the cause of the Union as that of the American Revolution. The Civil War, Lincoln affirmed, would prove to the world the viability of self-rule.

“It is now for [Americans] to demonstrate to the world that those who can fairly carry an election can also suppress a rebellion,” Lincoln said, “that ballots are the rightful and peaceful successors of bullets, and that when ballots have fairly and constitutionally decided there can be no successful appeal back to bullets.”

And the nation endured.

In 1914, President Woodrow Wilson nervously watched as European powers marched toward World War I — the “powder keg” ignited after the heir of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, Archduke Franz Ferdinand, was assassinated. 

“Nobody outside of America believed when it was uttered that we could make good our independence,” Wilson told a beleaguered nation. “Now nobody anywhere would dare to doubt that we are independent and can maintain our independence.” 

After his re-election in 1916, Wilson declared war against Germany in April 1917 to make the “world safe for democracy.” As it had during the Civil War, the nation again endured.

In early July 1945, the United States was nearing the end of World War II. With Nazi Germany defeated, America was one month away from dropping the atomic bomb against the Japanese. On July 4 of that year, President Harry S. Truman tied the war effort to the cause of American freedom. 

“This year, the men and women of our armed forces, and many civilians as well, are celebrating the anniversary of American independence in other countries throughout the world,” he said. “Citizens of these other lands will understand what we celebrate and why, for freedom is dear to the hearts of all men everywhere.”

The war would end the following month, and the nation endured once more.

President John F. Kennedy presided over the federal government at a volatile moment. After the failed Bay of Pigs invasion in April 1961 and only months away from the Cuban Missile Crisis in October 1962, Kennedy reminded his fellow citizens of the cause of independence on July 4, 1962.

“For that Declaration unleashed not merely a revolution against the British, but a revolution in human affairs,” Kennedy noted. “Its authors were highly conscious of its worldwide implications.”

Despite the tumult of the 1960s, the nation still endured.

Near the end of the Cold War, President Ronald Reagan was determined to ensure American victory over the Soviet Union in this global conflict. With tensions mounting between these two superpowers, Reagan reminded citizens of the resolve of America’s founders.

“Their courage created a nation built on a universal claim to human dignity — on the proposition that every man, woman and child had a right to a future of freedom,” Reagan said in his July 4, 1986 speech, likening the cause of independence to the triumph over communism.

The U.S. won the Cold War, and the nation endured.

Today, as Americans enjoy outdoor barbecues and spend time with loved ones, they should remember that the legacy of independence still flourishes. In the face of brewing tensions abroad, Americans must remember that we have experienced such challenges before and will do so again.

And the nation will endure.

Rich Acritelli is a history teacher at Rocky Point High School and adjunct professor at Suffolk County Community College.

Crew members on the USS Durham desperately bring Vietnamese refugees onboard. Photo from the U.S. National Archives and Records Administration

“Today, America can regain the sense of pride that existed before Vietnam. But it cannot be achieved by refighting a war that is finished as far as America is concerned.”

— President Gerald Ford (R), April 23, 1975, on the collapse of South Vietnam

In one of the most unsettling moments in American history, April 30, 1975, marked the day when the South Vietnamese capital of Saigon fell to the North Vietnamese Army, effectively ending the Vietnam War. 

The fall

In 1973, President Richard Nixon (R) made peace with North Vietnam, withdrawing a once-massive military force and leaving behind about 5,000 staff, support and military security members to protect American expatriates still in the region.

It was a dangerous time to be an American. By 1975, the Communist regime in Hanoi understood the U.S. would not recommit forces to South Vietnam, an ill-fated government without American support. 

The North Vietnamese and Viet Cong armies moved swiftly, penetrating South Vietnam’s cities and villages. Americans watched in disbelief as South Vietnamese cities fell, one after another. 

While Nixon had warned that the U.S. would oppose any breach of the peace, Ford refused to redeploy soldiers and resources to South Vietnam. With over 58,000 Americans killed in Vietnam, he believed his nation had had enough.

From the end of World War II to 1975, America was tied to this Southeast Asian state both militarily and diplomatically. Now, all was lost.

Over 7,000 people were flown out of Saigon before it collapsed. Under enemy fire, helicopters quickly ferried out American personnel and refugees. The last helicopters containing the staff members of the U.S. Embassy watched as North Vietnamese convoys entered Saigon.

Heroes forgotten

It was a painful time for this country. Torn apart by years of strife, political unrest, economic instability and Watergate, the fall of Vietnam was the final stroke. Vietnam War veterans — to this day — endure the pain of heavy scrutiny for their efforts. 

Ridiculed, mocked and belittled at the time for their participation in the war, they are determined to ensure that American service members who have fought since are treated with dignity and respect. 

Joe Cognitore witnessed these final stages of fighting, recalling the fall of Saigon as a “dark” chapter. He served in Vietnam from 1970-71 as a platoon sergeant, leading other air cavalrymen through the jungles of Vietnam and Cambodia. 

With the presence of the Viet Cong always near, he guided his soldiers through “search and destroy” missions against an enemy that lurked in underground tunnels, exercised frequent jungle ambushes and persisted through massive bombing raids.

Despite the traumas of war, in some ways it was even worse when the soldiers came home. The nation showed little appreciation for their sacrifices.

Paying tribute

For years, Cognitore hustled as a representative for Coca-Cola, then raised a family in Rocky Point. It was only during the First Gulf War of 1990-91 that he became involved in the Veterans of Foreign Wars, offering support to veterans returning from war.

Today, Cognitore serves as commander of Rocky Point VFW Post 6249, advocating for the over 200,000 Vietnam War vets across New York state. He represents a class of veterans continually working to aid those who have fought in past and present conflicts.

These individuals work untiringly, helping to honor the veterans who fought the Global War on Terror in Iraq and Afghanistan by organizing care packages, welcoming ceremonies and golf outings to support U.S. veterans and their families. Such devoted people do what they can to carry on the tradition of honoring veterans.

This past Memorial Day, Monday, community members were able to emulate this compassionate example.

Rich Acritelli is a history teacher at Rocky Point High School and adjunct professor at Suffolk County Community College.

A year ago, Vladimir Putin waged an unprovoked war against Ukraine. Today, he leads an army that is poorly trained, ill-equipped and increasingly resentful of his command. Pixabay photo

The Russo-Ukrainian War has become the largest European conflict since World War II, which ended in 1945. 

A year after the Russian invasion, and with his nation fighting for its survival, Ukraine’s leader President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has told the world his forces would continue their efforts.

The year of bloodshed

At first, the international community believed the Ukrainian capital of Kyiv had no chance of holding out against a well-coordinated Russian assault. Yet the capital city remains in Ukrainian hands.

Some cities in Ukraine now resemble the World War II-ruined cities of Berlin, Dresden and Warsaw, buried in rubble.

At some points in the war, Zelenskyy has warned against the potential collapse of his lines as Russian assaults have been levied against his army. The president of Russia, Vladimir Putin, has relied on the costly strategy of attrition against the Ukrainians, even as his army has endured as many as 200,000 casualties. 

During this year of fighting, Ukraine, with a smaller army, has relied on Cold War-era planes, helicopters, guns and tanks yet has thwarted Russian movement.

With European allies like Germany deploying Leopard tanks, the key to Ukrainian survival has rested in the constant supply of weapons from the coalition that the United States has created. 

The war has demonstrated the might of American weaponry, which has stymied the Russians. Through the proximity of American bases in Poland and Germany, American forces have also trained Ukrainian noncommissioned officers to lead their soldiers better.

This expertise has also aided Ukrainian military officials, who have learned to mobilize Patriot air defense systems, Abrams tanks and artillery guns. Although the Biden administration has continually downplayed the deployment of fighter planes for the Ukrainians, reports indicate that training has already commenced for some of their pilots.  

A disconnected dictator

Putin, meanwhile, continually targets civilian populations of Ukraine’s major cities and towns, causing death and destruction with hypersonic missiles that are almost impossible to shoot down. 

On the world stage, the Russian army has no clear path to victory. Some of Putin’s soldiers have even sent videos to their families and the press, revealing how poorly equipped and trained they are to meet the Ukrainians on the battlefield.  

Some Russians have openly criticized the government for mishandling the invasion effort. Putin’s government has lost much credibility along the way. 

During the early days of the war, the Russian dictator said his goal was to rid Ukraine of its “Nazi” elements that influenced the government in Kyiv. During a recent G20 Summit in New Delhi, Russian foreign minister Sergey Lavrov was met with laughter when he said, “The war, which we are trying to stop, which was launched against us using Ukrainian people.” 

These confused comments suggest an increasingly disconnected Putin regime, a Kremlin that has lost the global public relations battle to justify the war.

Resentment against the regime

Domestic instability has been a primary concern when looking at the Russian regime under Putin. The dictator is in constant fear over his own security, increasingly suspicious that he will be deposed.  

The Wagner Group, a Russian paramilitary organization that has spearheaded much of the fighting, has had several public differences in how this war was being carried out under Putin’s directives. Some believe that Putin views the Wagner Group as a threat to his own rule.  

It is estimated that the Wagner Group has lost over 30,000 mercenaries, with about 9,000 fighters killed in action, U.S. officials said last month. Putin’s forces quickly surpassed the 15,000 Russians killed during the Soviet War in Afghanistan from 1979-89.

There is rising distress within the Russian population over the many soldiers who will not return alive. It has not helped Putin’s cause that his armies receive little training before being shipped off to the Ukrainian front against a battle-hardened foe. 

Through the startling number of casualties, deficiencies in Russian hardware and a total lack of leadership, Putin has repeatedly stated that nuclear weapons remain on the table.

All signs point to a defeated and embarrassed former world power. At every turn, Putin has refused to believe the Ukrainians could mount a capable resistance. One year later, Ukraine continues to push for victory.

Rich Acritelli is a history teacher at Rocky Point High School and adjunct professor at Suffolk County Community College. Written in conjunction with members of the high school’s History Honor Society.

Graphic from NYSPHSAA website

Rocky Point High School sophomore Ava Capogna and junior Alexandra Viera made history during the inaugural NYSPHSAA Girls Invitational Wrestling Tournament in Syracuse Jan. 27. 

In the first-ever New York State championship featuring over 200 female wrestlers, Capogna achieved a fourth-place finish at 120 pounds and Viera won first place at 126 pounds.

Longtime varsity wrestling coach Darren Goldstein has coached some of the finest athletes on Long Island. Over the last several years, he has coached many female wrestlers. 

Goldstein recalled recent developments within Rocky Point’s female wrestling program. “Gianna Amendola, a 2022 graduate of Rocky Point and a current wrestler at East Stroudsburg University of Pennsylvania, was a pioneer as a woman in this sport,” he said. “She had a decorated career on the mats and set the stage for Capogna and Viera to excel within the difficulties of wrestling.”

Ava Capogna

‘This is an incredible achievement for these two amazing people and teammates.’

— Aidan Donohue

Since she was 7 years old, Capogna has enjoyed wrestling. Her father had experience in wrestling and Brazilian jiu-jitsu, and he wanted his daughter to be involved in Rocky Point’s wrestling program. 

Beginning in third grade, Capogna began wrestling in tournaments in Long Island, New Jersey and upstate New York.

She was the first female on Long Island to be classified for the varsity team. As a seasoned veteran, her most effective moves are the double-leg takedown, headlocks, throws and drags.

This Rocky Point Eagle has already earned 40 wins against boys and is one of the captains of her wrestling squad. Capogna’s future is bright and she has already competed in the nation’s largest female tournament at Fargo, North Dakota.

Next year, Capogna is motivated to return to Syracuse again to gain a higher placement in the state competition. 

Alexandra Viera

Viera always wears a big smile with a can-do attitude. Her path to excellence began several years ago as a young girl wrestling in a Brentwood youth club. The only girl in this organization, Viera recalled her earliest moments in this sport with delight. 

Consistently a top-rated wrestler, she has perfected her single- and double-leg takedowns and throws against opponents. After wrestling for Connetquot, Viera quickly emerged as a notable competitor for Rocky Point.

She appreciates her teammates for helping her transition into a new school. She credits her mom and stepfather, who were instrumental in mentally and physically preparing her for the rigors of the sport. She would also like to thank wrestling classmates Nick LaMorte, Jeron’Taye Coffey and Kyle Moore for their continual support.

As a rising senior, she hopes to continue wrestling at the collegiate level.


Coaches and teammates alike are in awe of these two trendsetters who have opened up doors and broken barriers for female athletes locally. Athletic director Jonathon Rufa summarized their achievements. 

Capogna and Viera are “blazing a trail for girls along the North Shore of Long Island to participate in wrestling,” he said. “We look forward to their continued achievements and honor their recent accomplishments.”

Junior Aidan Donohue remarked on the important contributions of his two classmates. “This is an incredible achievement for these two amazing people and teammates,” he said.

Trevor Green, dual-sport student-athlete at Rocky Point High School. Photo courtesy Rich Acritelli

Rocky Point ninth grader Trevor Green is a dual-threat swimmer and cross-country runner, and is among the promising athletes on the North Shore. On Saturday, Feb. 11, Green competed at Stony Brook University for the Suffolk County swimming championships.

His swim training regimen is a daunting, year-long commitment. He spends many hours daily in the pool.  

The disciplined Green understands that achievement is earned through the accumulation of consistent effort. Always armed with a can-do attitude, he placed among the elite swimmers in Saturday’s county competition.

This season, Green has attained state qualifying times for the 500-meter freestyle, 200 individual medley, 100 butterfly and 100 backstroke. The counties would be no different, with Green placing near the top in the butterfly and backstroke events. During his races, the athlete had a strong show of support from his parents, grandparents, sister and friends.

As Green prepares for the state swimming championships in Utica, he treads upon familiar ground. 

In November, Green qualified as an individual for Rocky Point’s cross country team. At Sunken Meadow during the Section XI state qualifier, Green placed seventh overall and ran a 5K of 17 minutes, 41 seconds. A week later, he ran just outside Utica at Vernon-Verona-Sherrill Senior High School for the state championships. One of the youngest runners in that meet, Green ran in borrowed spikes on a saturated course but placed a creditable 17th. 

Competing against the very best runners and swimmers of New York state, Green has proven himself a force. He looks optimistically toward the future, continually seeking ways to improve his times.

Green continues his pursuit of perfection in two of the most strenuous and physically taxing sports in athletics, representing his school and community well.