Authors Posts by Rich Acritelli

Rich Acritelli

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Above, Lily Bonacasa, daughter of American war hero Louis Bonacasa, holding her father’s portrait. Photo courtesy Deborah Bonacasa

Deborah and Lily Bonacasa are a mother-and-daughter team who have distributed thousands of toys to needy children over the last three years during the Christmas season. 

When Lily was a second grader, she sat on Santa’s lap as he asked what she wanted for Christmas. She said she only wanted to help children who were less fortunate, those who couldn’t receive gifts. Knowing her story, Santa began to weep.

Deborah and Lily live in Sound Beach. But Deborah grew up in Lemoore, California. After graduating high school, she enlisted in the U.S. Air Force and was sent to a base in Utah. As an information manager, she provided networking and computer support to 75th Air Base Wing members. While in uniform, she met her future husband Louis.

Staff Sgt. Louis Bonacasa

Louis Bonacasa was a local kid. He graduated from Newfield High School in 2002. Deborah described Louis as someone “who demonstrated a boundless amount of energy toward playing baseball, being with his friends, hiking, shooting and demonstrating humor amongst his loved ones.”  

In high school, Louis watched the attacks of 9/11. It inspired a love of country and a commitment to serve, and he soon entered active duty in the Air Force. Louis quickly rose through the ranks, presented with accolades for his devoted duty to the nation. Louis soon reenlisted as a security forces member of the New York Air National Guard 106th Rescue Wing in Westhampton Beach. He then transferred to Stewart Air National Guard Base 105th Airlift Wing in Newburgh where he deployed to Afghanistan, Iraq and Qatar.  

Seven years ago, on Dec. 21, 2015, Louis was killed by a Taliban suicide bomber near Bagram Airfield in Afghanistan. Louis was working as a tactical security element truck commander, tasked with the dangerous job of gathering intelligence on the operations of the enemy outside of this major air base. His assignment was hazardous, as he was often the “eyes” of Bagram to protect it from the enemy. 

On patrol, Louis was approached by a suicide-bomber motorcyclist. To protect his men, Louis positioned himself between this adversary and his comrades, and he was killed with five of his soldiers.

Louis is honored with several sites by local and state governments to remember his ultimate military sacrifice. On Rocky Point Yaphank Road toward Middle Island, a major thoroughfare connecting the North and South shores was named in his honor. For travelers on the Long Island Expressway, they are reminded of the memory of Staff Sgt. Louis Bonacasa on the bridge that connects the northern and southern service roads on Yaphank Avenue. 

Above, members of Lily’s Toy House during a gift donation event in Rocky Point Saturday, Dec. 3. Photo by Raymond Janis

Lily’s Toy House

In 2016, Mark Baisch of Landmark Properties and Rocky Point VFW Post 6249 Cmdr. Joe Cognitore presented Deborah and Lily with a new $350,000 home in Sound Beach that was sold to the Bonacasa family for less than $200,000, according to CBS New York.

Deborah was thankful for the altruism shown to her family during that highly delicate moment. After Lily spoke to Santa Claus, Deborah believed it was time to pay it forward. 

Deborah spoke of her desire never to want to turn down families that are unable to purchase gifts. The Bonacasas have created two nonprofits, Lily’s Toy House and the SSgt Louis Bonacasa Memorial Fund. Working with Long Island Helping Hands, they target needy families.  

In 2020, Lily was interviewed by Savannah Guthrie on the “Today” show. Lily presented a brilliant smile and spoke to America about her goals in helping other children have a lovely Christmas.

The holiday demand has grown due to COVID-19 pressures and rising inflation. Three years ago, there were about 1,000 donated toys collected. Today Lily’s Toy House has distributed over 3,000. Deborah hopes to expand this program to accommodate families across this state and region, especially to military families. 

Lily is a sixth grader at Rocky Point Middle School, where she is a well-rounded student, determined to help others. As a young lady who lost her father, she can speak to others about handling adversity at an early age.  

Reactions from the community

Town of Brookhaven Councilwoman Jane Bonner (R-Rocky Point) has followed firsthand the efforts of the Bonacasa family. “Staff Sergeant Bonacasa gave his life for his country, so we can all live free,” Bonner said. “Deborah and Lily have honored his service so meaningfully with their annual toy drive.”

The councilwoman added, “Lily is a remarkable young girl, who faced a great loss, decided to follow in her father’s footsteps by helping others. The community appreciates all that Deborah and Lily do to bring joy to children in need.”

Suffolk County Sheriff Errol Toulon Jr. (D) said he is reminded of Louis every time he drives to the Riverhead Correctional Facility. The county sheriff appreciates Lily’s thoughtful spirit and compassion. 

Lily is an “inspiration to all of us, despite losing her father at a young age while he protected Americans in Afghanistan,” he said. “She was still able to think of others before herself, and her dedication to ensure that those most in need have a wonderful Christmas through Lily’s Toy House reminds all Suffolk residents of the true meaning of Christmas.”

Above, Lily Bonacasa. Photo courtesy Deborah Bonacasa

First Lt. John Fernandez, of Rocky Point, is in awe of the patriotic spirit that Lily inspires. “What does it mean to give?” he said. “Staff Sergeant Louis Bonacasa did not lose his life for our country. He gave it heroically for his family and nation. Despite his family’s unfathomable sacrifice, his wife, Deborah, and daughter, Lily, found the strength to continue to give by donating toys to children during the holidays and those who continue to serve today. This shows a depth of courage and love that should be emulated.”

Cognitore described the immense cost the family paid in defense of the nation, calling the support toward the family mortgage “not a handout, but rather a hand up.” He reflected on the positive work the family has done since. 

“It has been a wonderful experience to see Lily speak at veterans and charitable events,” the post commander said. “There is no price that could be attached to the valuable community initiatives that both mother and daughter perform for our citizens during the last several Christmas holidays.”   

James Moeller, Lily’s middle school principal, said he is amazed by her fortitude. “Lily is a hardworking and quiet girl who is always willing to help her teachers and classmates,” he said. “On a regular basis, she is a positive young lady who always wears a big smile on her face. It’s no surprise that Lily is a driving force behind this wonderful toy drive that her family continually organizes.”

Through her charitable endeavors, Lily continues to follow in her father’s footsteps by sharing love and generosity toward others during Christmas. 

For adding light and joy into the lives of others and for honoring her dad’s legacy, TBR News Media recognizes Lily Bonacasa as a 2022 Person of the Year.

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

This week marks the 81st anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor, one of the darkest episodes in American history. Pixabay photo

“No matter how long it may take us to overcome this premeditated invasion, the American people in their righteous might will win through to absolute victory.” 

— President Franklin D. Roosevelt (D), Dec. 7, 1941

This week, 81 years ago, the United States was thrust into the global conflict of World War II.  

Isolationist tendencies had kept the country out of the war during its earliest years. Prominent Americans such as Charles Lindbergh and Joseph Kennedy Sr. widely considered the fight outside the United States’ strategic interests. 

It was an unsettling moment for the nation as Americans watched Britain and the Soviet Union on the brink of defeat from invading Nazi forces. Meanwhile, the Japanese moved against its neighbors from China to Indonesia, controlling significant parts of the Pacific and Asia. 

‘A date which will live in infamy’

Within the early morning of Dec. 7, 1941, American ships on patrol outside Hawaii discovered the periscopes of Japanese submarines. Five of these underwater vessels were stationed near Pearl Harbor, ready to pounce upon American ships attempting to flee the assault. At the same time, Japanese planes departed from aircraft carriers that were 275 miles north of Hawaii. 

The government and military never feared an attack by the Japanese against its army and naval bases in Hawaii. They feared a possible assault against the Philippines but never believed Pearl Harbor was a target.

Across this country, from the North Shore of Long Island to Hawaii, American citizens were awakened by the horrifying sounds of news reports of the assault. The Japanese rising sun logo was seen on high-level bombers and torpedo planes that swarmed over the morning skies of this island paradise.  

Within moments, a wave of 360 enemy fighter planes produced staggering losses on the American side: Five sunken battleships, three destroyers and almost 200 planes were hit from the air. As the Japanese pulled back after this assault, they understood their plans were not fully achieved. Three American aircraft carriers, untouched by the Japanese, would hold down the fort as America rebuilt its Pacific fleet.

Awakening a sleeping giant

American service members scrambled to survive the aerial onslaught. The attack killed 2,403 U.S. personnel, including 68 civilians. The government later discovered that 40 of these deaths were residents of New York. All of this was overwhelming for the stunned American people, stung by this attack and unprepared for this global war effort. 

A relieved British prime minister, Winston Churchill, stated that the American partnership in World War II was the ultimate factor in achieving a two-front victory. The Japanese surprise attack at Pearl Harbor would push 16 million Americans to enlist in the armed forces over the following four years, putting the world back on a path to peace.

In the months after the Pearl Harbor attack, Japan gained one of the largest territorial empires in world history. The island nation’s conquests stretched from the Alaskan Aleutian Islands, toward Australia, into China, through several Pacific island nations and to the doorstep of India. 

This empire would quickly unravel, thanks to American efforts in the ensuing years. A three-year “island hopping” campaign would eventually bring massive American military power onto Japan’s home islands.

From 1943-45, Japan absorbed constant blows from air, sea and land, pushing this military regime back into its own territory. The war ended after President Harry S. Truman (D) authorized the use of the atomic bomb, obliterating the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

Connecting past to present

For decades after Pearl Harbor, there were groups of veteran survivors of this surprise attack that once numbered 18,000 nationally and 70,000 around the world who could recall this tragic date. Today, fewer than 1,500 Pearl Harbor survivors remain.  

Moreover, less than 240,000 World War II veterans are still living. The “greatest generation” passes away at a rate of 234 people daily, according to the VA.

The United States has been pivotal in thwarting Russia’s attempts to overrun Ukraine. Vladimir Putin, the Russian president, had comprehensive plans to conquer Ukraine and then move against his neighbors. 

While the Ukrainians deserve credit for carrying out a reversal of fortune against Russian aggression, they have gained tremendous military, economic and political aid from the United States.  

As we reflect upon the moments after the attack on Pearl Harbor, we must remember that America has adversaries around the globe. The American response following Pearl Harbor should remind Putin never to underestimate the resolve of the American people, its leadership or its mission to combat tyranny around the globe.  

Friends and foes should always understand the historical examples of strength the United States illustrated during that dire moment in our national history. 

Remember to thank veterans for their services. Their contributions before and after Pearl Harbor have continually promoted the cause of freedom and security throughout the world.

Rich Acritelli is a history teacher at Rocky Point High School and adjunct professor at Suffolk County Community College. Written in conjunction with Manny Watkins, Matt Liselli, Jake Donovan, Evan Donovan, Colin Singh, Simone Carmody and members of the high school’s History Honor Society.

Turning 70, Vladimir Putin has little to celebrate. Within months, he has tarnished his legacy permanently, encouraged domestic opposition to his authority, and isolated Russia from the rest of the world. Pixabay photo

Vladimir Putin, president of Russia, turned 70 on Oct. 7. He was showered with presents and praise as his soldiers continued to fight an ill-fated and illegal war in Ukraine. The Belarusian leader got him a new tractor. The ruler of Turkmenistan gave him celebratory watermelons. Countries such as Cuba, Turkey, South Africa and Kazakhstan called to wish him a happy birthday. 

Yet, as Putin celebrated this milestone year, the septuagenarian dictator received reports that a strategic bridge connecting Russia to Crimea was severely damaged. 

This bad news came amid a string of military and strategic blunders, the declining morale of his army and signs of growing internal unrest in Russia. Putin retaliated with missile strikes on Ukrainian civilian targets.

An invasion gone awry

Widely considered a poorly planned military operation, the once-vaunted Russian military has consistently demonstrated tactical weakness in supply, logistics and communications. Putin is deploying his army with massive shortages in weapons and food after his men chaotically abandoned much of their equipment on the battlefield. 

Reports suggest that Putin has asked North Korea and China for military hardware to recover its loss of tanks and trucks, which have been destroyed, deserted or captured. 

While President Joe Biden (D) has pledged to keep American ground forces out of Ukraine, the United States has continually aided the Ukrainian army. So much American weaponry has been sent to Eastern Europe that America is entering new multibillion-dollar contracts with defense companies to replenish its own national arsenal. 

The American military has mentored the Ukrainian officer corps with special warfare and tactical training. The U.S. Department of Defense has given the Ukrainians sensitive intelligence, helping them locate enemy forces and target them through conventional or guerrilla operations. 

Currently, the Russian military is bleeding out. Part-time soldiers want no part in this war. Making matters worse for Putin, his call-up of 300,000 reservists has met stark opposition from the Russian populace.  

Putin has even lowered standards for recruitment, allowing the homeless, criminals, wounded soldiers and the middle-aged to enlist. The Russian military has become merely a debasement of the once-fierce Red Army, slowly reduced to second and third-rate personnel. 

Outfoxed by the Ukrainian president

In the face of overwhelming Ukrainian resistance, many of Putin’s citizen-soldiers have surrendered. Meanwhile, Russian conscripts, with little training, have gone into battle with obsolete weapons and limited food against a motivated enemy gaining momentum.  

At every turn, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has outwitted and outmaneuvered his Russian counterpart. Zelenskyy has sent online messages to the Russian soldiers, declaring they will be treated well in defeat. Some Russians were even offered to be sent to another nation, where they could save their lives by sitting out the war. 

Whereas the Ukrainians have proven themselves capable of deterring the Russians, Putin has employed desperate means. Given his nuclear options, we are now hearing about a possible escalation in a conflict that could get much worse. 

Domestic unrest

On the home front, the invasion of Ukraine is unpopular; its effects felt the worst by Putin’s own people. Prominent Western businesses pulled out of Russia months ago, initiated by a global economic boycott designed to cripple the Russian economy.  

In the name of wrecking Ukraine, Putin has incited demonstrations against his authority. He has tried to suppress these demonstrations and censor news of the conflict. Still, the stories of many Russian losses on every front are too difficult to hide.  

Russian citizens have followed the fighting in Ukraine, the heavy losses incurred by their fellow countrymen and the lack of supplies for their soldiers. In Russia, mass border crossings have taken place. Cars, many carrying young men, have been seen deserting conscription to the Russian army. 

It is estimated that almost 200,000 reservists have fled Russia. Putin needs soldiers but has not yet resorted to calling upon his massive citizen population for a full-scale draft.  

There is much fighting left and additional sacrifices to be made. The Ukrainians, however, have proven that there is no safe place for the Russian military within their territory. 

While Putin plays with his new tractor and enjoys his watermelons, he has little else to celebrate on his birthday. He has waged an unjust war against a sovereign nation. His actions have greatly diminished Russia’s power and legitimacy worldwide. 

If any of this forecasts a difficult road ahead, Putin’s 70th year will surely be a bad one for him.

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.

This Sunday, Sept. 11, marks 21 years since of one of the darkest episodes in U.S. history. Pixabay photo

“You can be sure that the American spirit will prevail over this tragedy.” — Colin Powell 

Those were the words of the former U.S. secretary of state who passed away last year. As a prominent military and political figure, Powell understood the terrible impact that the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, would have on the nation. 

Though the 9/11 attacks were 21 years ago, the American public was and remains forever changed. Yet Powell was confident that America could overcome this tragedy.

This year marks the first time that the U.S. has not had a major military force in Afghanistan since the weeks after 9/11. A year ago, President Joe Biden (D) ordered the final withdrawal of soldiers from this war-torn nation. After the withdrawal, Afghanistan was quickly overrun by the Taliban. 

The long-term fighting in Afghanistan contributed to the increase in post-traumatic stress disorder among American servicemen with many other soldiers who were severely wounded fighting in this conflict. For almost two decades, Americans tied yellow ribbons around their trees and kept stars in their windows to represent the military service of their loved ones who served in Afghanistan.  

On May 1, 2011, Americans learned during a New York Mets game against the Philadelphia Phillies that Osama bin Laden was finally killed. Flying from military bases in Afghanistan, members of SEAL Team 6 were transported by helicopters to Abbottabad, Pakistan, where they cornered bin Laden in his compound. Chants of “USA” were heard throughout Shea Stadium once baseball fans learned of the death of this al-Qaida leader. The demise of the coordinator of the terrorist plot on 9/11 provided a sense of justice to the victims on that day and their families.

Despite ongoing political polarization domestically, many can still recall the moments of national solidarity in the wake of the attacks. After 9/11, citizens put their political differences aside for the good of the nation, just as they had done after the attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941. Americans in 2001 rallied around the importance of helping local rescue workers and first responders who worked around the clock in Lower Manhattan.  

New Yorkers lined the streets with American flags and handed out food and water to the police officers, firefighters, demolition workers and medical personnel who heroically sifted through the debris at Ground Zero. A plume of smoke hung in the air, blocking visibility of downtown Manhattan. Yet within this cloud, rescue workers operated 24/7.

At Shea Stadium, the New York Mets organized supplies that were sent to the rescue workers. Prominent members of the New York Yankees — Derek Jeter, Bernie Williams and Tino Martinez — visited firehouses near the World Trade Center and thanked these public servants for their efforts. Both the New York Giants and Jets invited military and rescue workers to spread flags across their football fields. With tears in their eyes, football fans nationwide watched fighter planes soar through the skies above the stadiums. Rival fans who rooted against New York teams wore “NY” on their hats, showing support for the residents of the City.

Here on Long Island, locals need not look far to see patriotism that stirred from that day of infamy. Countless memorials depict the importance of this date. Pieces of steel that were collected by the NY/NJ Port Authority was given to towns across Brookhaven and Suffolk County that were placed at post offices, schools, libraries, and police and fire stations. 

This past spring, the Rocky Point VFW organized the first annual 5K race to support War on Terror veterans as they work to better handle post-traumatic stress disorder.

And so 21 years ago, politics was put aside for the good of the nation. Americans from every corner of this country sent rescue, salvage and fire crews to help the search, and later recovery efforts at Ground Zero.  

In a moment of profound despair, our nation came together. Through shared tragedy, people from diverse economic, social and ethnic backgrounds illustrated the meaning of national unity. 

America today is a deeply divided nation. In the face of unlikely odds, the American people should never doubt their power to resolve their differences and overcome adversity. 

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

French patriots line Avenue des Champs-Élysées as Free French forces reenter Paris in August 1944. Photo from the Library of Congress

By Rich Acritelli

“Make peace, you fools!” — Field Marshal Gerd von Rundstedt

These were the words of one of Hitler’s most capable field marshals once he determined the Allies would win World War II. 

The summer of 1944 was an extremely difficult phase of the war for Nazi Germany, marking the beginning of the end of the Third Reich. On June 6, 1944, D-Day, over 156,000 Allied soldiers stormed the beaches of Normandy, beginning their eastward assault through the European continent. 

Some 78 years ago, Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower was on the cusp of major victories against the once-vaunted German army. The German generals who in 1940 had conquered France watched their armies retreat from the Allied forces. Their only chance for victory required pushing the massive and growing Allied invasion force back into the English Channel, but overwhelming reinforcements continued to land ashore, and the Wehrmacht armed forces began their eastward retreat.

Despite the German army reeling from the establishment of an Allied bridgehead at Normandy, the loss of Carentan and the taking of the port of Cherbourg, the Nazis were still determined to fight. To slow down the Allied advance, the Germans used the brutal hedgerow terrain to limit the Allied movement and this strategy increased Allied casualties. Whereas the Germans halted Allied gains at this stage of the fighting in France, Eisenhower was determined that his forces’ gains should be swifter against the enemy.

Eisenhower decided that he must achieve a quick, dramatic conquest over Nazi-occupied territories. While toppling German strongholds was essential to the war effort, the Allies required a symbolic victory on French soil. For these military and political reasons, Eisenhower set his sights on the “City of Light.” By July of ‘44, American, British, Canadian and Free French forces were determined to liberate Paris.

En route to Paris

There was immense pressure on Eisenhower to take firm control of the ground war. Because of this, he opted to deploy the powerful but controversial Gen. George S. Patton and his Third Army. Patton was expected to push his army through the opening of the German lines, softening these defenses and exploiting any weaknesses. Beginning July 25, 1944, and over the course of two days, American bombers blew a massive hole within the lines of the German military. 

As the resistance weakened, German forces were gradually pushed back toward Paris. Then Patton, who waited several months to gain another command after the “slapping incidents” in Sicily, fought the enemy with an immense fury. Patton never seemed to be concerned about his own flanks, and it appeared that he constantly ordered his officers to stay on the offensive. The Third Army’s unstoppable forward movement helped to rapidly destroy any remaining German presence in Western France. 

By the first week of August, the Allies had emerged as the dominant force in Western Europe, which would hold true until the end of the war. As Patton pushed onward, the German high command realized that Paris would be the next target of the Allied invasion. Paris had always been the heart of France — culturally, politically and militarily. Four years earlier, French citizens openly wept at the sight of the German occupation of their beloved capital. Now they wept tears of joy at the sight of its liberation. 

On Aug. 25, the historic city of Paris was liberated from Nazi occupation. The freeing of the Parisians marked a sense of relief and optimism, pointing to a favorable outcome of the war. For once, the world began to see Nazi tyranny for what it was: temporary.

Hitler ordered the commander of his forces, Gen. Dietrich von Choltitz, to destroy this city and its historic landmarks. However, the German officer refused the orders and surrendered the city on Aug. 26. 

In one of the most moving scenes throughout the war, Gen. Charles de Gaulle led his French troops through the streets of Paris and down Avenue des Champs-Élysées. As American soldiers looked east, they were greeted with kisses from young ladies and grateful handshakes from Parisians who hoped for the day when German forces would be decisively driven from their city. 

The fall of Paris marked the start of a progression of major military setbacks that expedited the end of Hitler’s rule. In eight months’ time, he would be destroyed for good. This summer, we can reflect upon the sacrifices of American soldiers. During this time period in 1944, they freed the French people from Hitler’s tyrannical rule. 

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

This Fourth of July, Long Islanders continue to grapple with the legacy of Thomas Jefferson, the author of the Declaration of Independence. Pixabay photo

Independence Day is upon us. 

As we prepare for Fourth of July festivities, it is important that we keep in mind what this day celebrates: The signing of the Declaration of Independence, primarily authored by Thomas Jefferson, whose legacy continually evolves. 

Jefferson was born April 13, 1743, in Shadwell in the Colony of Virginia into a privileged family supported by the labor of slaves. 

His father was a planter and a surveyor. Jefferson later inherited his father’s land and slaves and began a lifelong project to construct his well-known estate, Monticello. But Jefferson was destined for a higher calling and was thrust into public life, where he would shape the course of American history.

The American revolutionary penman 

Jefferson was a tall young man, but also awkward and reserved. He demonstrated, however, an early penchant for writing, a skill that served him well as he climbed the ranks of the Virginia House of Burgesses and later the Continental Congress. 

Colonial leaders quickly grasped Jefferson’s compositional brilliance, but also observed he said very little. John Adams, who had worked closely with Jefferson in the Continental Congress, once said, “During the whole time I sat with him in Congress, I never heard him utter three sentences together.” Jefferson was a man of the written — not spoken — word.

While serving in Congress in 1776, Jefferson captured the spirit of his era and produced the Declaration of Independence, a radical pronouncement of America’s uniqueness from the rest of the world, justifying why it was necessary for the 13 American colonies to break off from Great Britain. 

Jefferson wrote, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” 

Millennia of human conflict and conquest had emphasized man’s separateness in the eyes of his fellow man. America is the only society in history predicated on the notion of human equality, the only place on Earth that had the audacity to proclaim that humans can harmoniously coexist regardless of their religion or race or ethnic background or any other criterion.

While Jefferson presented Americans this challenge, it is worth noting that he did not embody the ideals of the Declaration in his own life. Jefferson was a slaveholder, his place in society secured by the labor of slaves. 

As we reflect upon the Declaration, it is questionable whether its author even believed in its principles. Despite the conflict between his head and his heart, Jefferson’s words impact us to this day.

Inspiring generations on Long Island

Jefferson’s patriotic fervor was felt undoubtedly here on Long Island. Most notably, the great Long Island patriot William Floyd had joined the revolutionary cause, becoming the only Suffolk County resident to sign the Declaration of Independence. Floyd served in the Suffolk County Militia and was a representative to the Continental Congress. He risked his life and property to resist British authority. 

Setauket native Maj. Benjamin Tallmadge is another local hero of the American Revolution. Tallmadge is best known for his reconnaissance efforts, collecting information from the Setauket Culper Spy Ring. 

During a daring raid in 1780, Tallmadge landed near Cedar Beach in Mount Sinai with a contingent of American soldiers. Undetected, they marched to Smith’s Point, attacked, and took this British supply base at Carmans River and the Great South Bay. Under orders from Gen. George Washington, Tallmadge destroyed large quantities of hay that was stored in Coram.

Floyd and Tallmadge are just two of the many local examples of service and sacrifice that occurred on Long Island during the revolutionary period. These figures fought to form a new nation, a nation that was first articulated by Jefferson.

Tour of Long Island

The first administration of the United States was headquartered in New York City, not far from Long Island. For this reason Jefferson, Washington and James Madison all visited the local area, a place that had sacrificed much and contributed greatly to the independence movement.

Jefferson and Madison traveled extensively throughout New York state and New England, eager to meet their new countrymen. Both leaders stayed in Center Moriches, where they met with Floyd near his estate. All his life, Jefferson had an unquenchable thirst for knowledge. Intrigued by the various Native American dialects and cultures, he met with several tribes in eastern Long Island. 

Jefferson notably encountered the Unkechaug [Patchogue] Indian Nation. Because most of this tribe spoke English, Jefferson successfully transcribed many parts of their language. His research has helped keep alive cultural studies into one of the two remaining Native American groups here on Long Island today.

From Drowned Meadow to Port Jefferson

Jefferson’s influence can also be felt through the history of Port Jefferson, formerly known as Drowned Meadow. This now-bustling village was first settled in 1682, located within the heart of Suffolk County and the Town of Brookhaven. In 1836, the people of Drowned Meadow renamed their community in Jefferson’s honor.

During his address to Congress in 1806, Jefferson highlighted the importance of connecting the United States through infrastructure programs. He said that “new channels of communication will be opened between the States; the lines of separation will disappear, their interests will be identified, and their union cemented by new and indissoluble ties.” 

Port Jefferson has always been known for the industriousness of its people, as a productive and forward-looking community. Look no further than its shipbuilding history or The Bridgeport & Port Jefferson Ferry to see how infrastructure investments from the past keep us connected to this day. 

Port Jefferson is one of 30 towns and counties across the United States that have been named in Jefferson’s honor. Jefferson surely appreciated Long Island — its natural beauty, its indigenous cultures and the local patriots who provided necessary intelligence to gain tactical advantages over the British forces. 

This Fourth of July, as residents and visitors enjoy fireworks shooting above Port Jefferson Harbor, they should remember their own place in history and the figure in history whose name their community bears today. 

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

The world watches as Vladimir Putin’s legacy and reputation unravel. Pixabay photo

By Rich Acritelli

“On the day of victory over Nazism, we are fighting for a new victory.” — Volodymyr Zelensky

These were the words of the Ukrainian president, who reflected recently upon the moment when the Allied forces defeated Hitler’s Third Reich, May 9, 1945.  

Since Feb. 24, Ukraine has engaged in a bitter struggle against the overwhelming strength of the Russian army, which has decimated the now-fallen city of Mariupol, and is widely suspected of targeting civilians in towns such as Bucha. 

The Ukrainian resistance has defended its homeland valiantly. Current estimates project that over 25% of the original invading forces have been either killed, wounded or captured. At the start of the invasion, many Russian soldiers were unaware that they would even fight their neighbor. Some fighters have notified their families that they were misled by upper command, that the true intent of the invasion was never disclosed to them. With rising casualties, the absence of a just cause and declining morale, it seems this invasion has become a disaster for Russia.

Since President Vladimir Putin took over in 2000, he has attempted to project a new brand of Russian power around the world. For some time, tensions have been brewing between Russia and the West as Putin has tried to exert greater authority and reestablish his country as a global superpower. However, Russian credibility has greatly diminished. 

The present occupation of Ukraine is now a public relations nightmare for Putin. The military campaign is humiliating, showcasing his ineptitude as a military commander. Despite its multitude of tactical advantages, Russia so far has been unable to defeat a clearly weaker nation.  

At the outset of the invasion, foreign policy experts estimated Kyiv would fall within a few days. Instead, the Ukrainian capital has become the epicenter of the resistance movement, a symbol of the triumph of freedom and democracy against tyranny and oppression. 

Zelensky has rallied nations around the world to send weapons and aid. He has persuaded friendly governments to impose sanctions that are crippling the Russian economy. The Ukrainians have the Russians in retreat as Putin pulls troops out of Kharkiv, with his major offensive in the Donbas region stalling as well.

Reports indicate some Russian soldiers have refused to fight. Witnessing the carnage to their own force, these soldiers see their probability of death increase the longer they stay in Ukraine. Between seven and 12 generals have already been killed in attempts to push their soldiers forward. 

Before the world, Putin and senior Russian officials have demonstrated a lack of military skill and an inability to command an army. If the Russians continue to be undisciplined, their casualty count will only rise even further. 

Putin’s leadership questioned

Over the last three months, one disaster after another has sent shockwaves through the Russian military. These blunders have shaken confidence in Putin’s leadership both at home and abroad. The world watched as Ukrainians assaulted the guided-missile cruiser Moskva. This flagship, an emblem of Russian naval might in the Black Sea, was destroyed by Ukrainian forces. On the ground, it is estimated Russia has lost more than 650 tanks and about 3,000 armored personnel carriers. American officers are now studying the glowing deficiencies in logistics, supplies and communications that have hampered Putin’s ability to continue the assault on Ukraine. For all of his past bluster and bravado, Putin and his forces have failed miserably at waging war in the face of growing resolve in Ukraine.

On the international front, Putin has proven unable to thwart American and allied supply lines into Ukraine. American Javelin and British anti-tank missiles have made it costly and dangerous for Russian armor to operate within Ukraine. Over 200 Russian aircraft have been destroyed by American weapons, according to some estimates. Western military support, coupled with the determination of Zelensky’s forces, have contributed to this great Russian quagmire. 

With growing evidence that Putin has no exit strategy and no foreseeable chance of success, the once-vaunted Russian army is on the brink of a possible historic and humiliating defeat. At home, his efforts to sell this conflict to the public have lacked success. Thousands have been arrested and jailed for protesting their government. Parents across Russia have received messages from this government that their loved ones have been killed in combat. All the while Putin has attempted to prevent foreign agencies from covering the conflict. 

Unlike during the Cold War between 1947 and 1991, people today are fully aware of the injustice of this invasion. Through his belligerence, Putin has strengthened the alliance of the Western democracies, and the NATO force is only getting stronger. Countries neighboring Russia are not waiting around for Russian aggression along their borders. Finland and Sweden, two nations that have always maintained a policy of neutrality, have just formally applied for NATO membership. 

Looking at this conflict from afar, China, which has for decades shown aggressive political and military actions toward Taiwan, must wonder if an attack against this island-nation neighbor will be worth the cost. Today, Russia is a pariah state within the global community, its economy is declining and the country is a target for American intelligence. China is an economic superpower which has yet to conduct any modern military operations of its own. Unlike the U.S., which took over and occupied Iraq and Afghanistan through fighting in the last two decades, China is a major power that has not fought any significant battles since the Korean War in 1950-53.  

It is very possible that history will repeat itself if China invades Taiwan. On a daily basis, Chinese officials should watch the military and political blunders taking place in Ukraine. The Russians are failing on all fronts, and its massive costs are only adding up. 

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

Photograph of an American tank during the Battle of the Bulge, above. File photo from Getty Images

“The same day I saw my first horror camp. It was near the town of Gotha [in Germany]. I have never felt able to describe my emotional reactions when I first came face to face with indisputable evidence of Nazi brutality and ruthless disregard of every shred of decency. Up to that time I had known about it only generally or through secondary sources. I am certain, however, that I have never at any other time experienced an equal sense of shock.” — Supreme Allied Cmdr. Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower

At that moment almost 78 years ago, Hitler’s Third Reich was rapidly crumbling away.

This was in large part due to the massive strength of Eisenhower’s armies, which were determined to finish the war in Europe. With the end in sight, Allied soldiers entered German soil with the hope of receiving a speedy surrender. During this advance, American soldiers quickly noticed that the enemy had some notable similarities to their own countrymen. 

The German population was similar in size to the American middle class, and lived in heated homes surrounded by picturesque natural beauty from the German and Austrian landscapes. As Allied forces continued their eastward push, however, any feelings of closeness with the enemy quickly evaporated, as they had come to learn of Hitler’s “final solution.” American soldiers, many from neighborhoods along Long Island’s North Shore, had discovered and liberated the German death camps. 

For the men who witnessed this shocking brutality, these experiences would never be forgotten. Although hardened by the Battle of the Bulge and other combats against a fanatical resistance unwilling to surrender its losing cause, Americans were utterly unprepared for the scenes at these camps. Some had heard of the cruel treatment inflicted by the Nazis, but they were horrified after entering these camps. At once, the medics distributed food, water and medical treatment to save as many lives as they could. 

After visiting the Ohrdruf concentration camp on April 12, 1945, a sickened Eisenhower said, “We are told the American soldier does not know what he is fighting for. Now, at least, we know what he is fighting against.” Renowned journalist and radio broadcaster Edward R. Murrow accompanied the American 6th Armored Division into the Buchenwald concentration camp. Laying witness to the atrocities, he reported, “I pray you to believe what I have said about Buchenwald. I have reported what I saw, but only part of it. For most of it I have no words. … If I’ve offended you by this rather mild account of Buchenwald, I’m not in the least sorry. I was there.”  

“The inmates liberated by our forces were skeletons. … It was enough to make strong men weep — and some American officers did so unabashedly.”

— Robert Murphy

Diplomat Robert Murphy was also present to see the conditions of these camps. He recalled: “The inmates liberated by our forces were skeletons. … It was enough to make strong men weep — and some American officers did so unabashedly.” Many American soldiers were ordered to see these camps for themselves, as Eisenhower wished to prevent any future deniers of the Holocaust.

Two local heroes

Among these soldiers was the late John D’Aquila, resident of Belle Terre. A member of the 11th Armored Division, he served under Gen. George S. Patton’s famed Third Army. D’Aquila was a native of Middletown, Connecticut, who landed in France during the Battle of the Bulge. As a medic, he was ordered toward the strategic Belgian town of Bastogne which was surrounded by German forces. During one of the worst winters in recorded history, D’Aquila treated wounded soldiers as they turned back this German offensive. For his valiance and unceasing treatment of wounded servicemen, D’Aquila received a Purple Heart after being wounded during this battle.

Like many other soldiers at the end of this war, D’Aquila wondered if he would survive. On May 5, 1945, the 11th Armored Division entered the Mauthausen concentration camp in Austria. By the end of the war, those camps in Central Europe had considerably higher death rates as they were the last to be captured by Allied forces. D’Aquila remembered the inability of the local Austrian citizens to accept responsibility for the savagery committed there, despite the stench of death that hung in the air, the piles of bodies stacked up “like cordwood.”  

After the war, D’Aquila attended college and later earned a degree in law, where he defended the interests of insurance companies. Locally in Port Jefferson, he was on the board of directors of Theatre Three, and a play was later created by Jeffrey Sanzel, “From the Fires: Voices of the Holocaust.” Until his death, D’Aquila openly addressed his wartime experiences because he wanted to ensure that citizens, especially the youth, did not forget the severity of the Holocaust.

In 2008, D’Aquila described his experience of liberating Mauthausen during a Veterans Day program at Rocky Point High School. As though it had just occurred, D’Aquila spoke of his duty to medically care for the survivors of the concentration camp as they were finally being liberated. At another program at the high school, D’Aquila joined Werner Reich, who had survived Theresienstadt, Auschwitz and Mauthausen, and was liberated by the 11th Armored Division.  

Reich was a 17-year-old young man who weighed only 64 pounds at the time of his liberation. In this condition, he was not expected to survive. At RPHS, he looked at the audience and vividly stated that if it had not been for Americans like D’Aquila, then he would have surely perished from starvation. Although from different backgrounds, both men were inextricably tied to one another through their shared experience of “man’s inhumanity to man.” For years, Reich has spoken to high schools across the North Shore to ensure that good people do not stand by when innocent people suffer from such atrocities. 

Even though World War II ended long ago, the world now watches history repeat itself through the images of fighting in the Ukraine. Americans are again learning of the massive losses of Ukrainian civilians suspected of being killed by Russian forces. People such as D’Aquila and Reich made it their mission in life to alert people that history will repeat itself if good people do nothing. We must learn from the examples of the past, we must always act, protect and preserve the rights and freedoms of people everywhere.  

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

Alexandra Kelly

By Rich Acritelli

In praise of Old Nassau we sing,

Hurrah! Hurrah! Hurrah!

Our hearts will give, while we shall live,

Three cheers for Old Nassau.

These hallowed words represent the proud alma mater of Princeton University, which has gained the academic and athletic talents of current Rocky Point student Alexandra Kelly and 2016 graduate Kyle Strovink. Both individuals will no doubt shine bright at the prestigious university. 

Graduating this year, Kelly is a humble, soft-spoken lady and dynamic soccer forward who helped the Eagles to a distinguished season. This all-county athlete was seen hustling up and down the field for her team, which scored many goals. 

Kyle Strovink

Once soccer ended, Kelly concentrated on her winter track season, where she’s been one of the leading triple jumpers and long jumpers on Long Island and in New York state. She placed fifth as a 10th grader in the state, but was unable to compete during her junior year due to COVID-19.

On March 5, this determined competitor took first place in the triple jump with a leap of 39-06.00 at the 2022 NYSPHSAA Indoor Track and Field Championships held at Ocean Breeze Athletic Complex, Staten Island. She continued to do well at the New Balance Nationals, where she placed fifth at this New York City Armory event. 

Though recruited by Dartmouth, the U.S. Naval Academy and Stanford University, Kelly chose to attend Princeton this coming fall. 

Strovink is now in uniform as volunteer assistant baseball coach at Princeton, working with catchers and hitters. A graduate of Limestone University in South Carolina, this All-American high school baseball player and college standout now has the experience of working with ex-New York Yankee Scott Bradley. The former Major League ballplayer has been instrumental in mentoring the Rocky Point native who has coached his team in games against strong southern colleges.  

Strovink comes from a prominent North Shore athletic family. Older brother Brennan was an excellent athlete who now teaches physical education and is coaching baseball and wrestling at Patchogue-Medford High School. Father Eric was a baseball phenom at Shoreham-Wading River High School. This feared hitter played at Louisiana State University, C.W. Post and briefly for the Texas Rangers.  

Like his family, Kyle is interested in coaching baseball at the college level and making it his career. He has been connecting well with Ivy League ballplayers who have seen little time on the field over the last two years due to the pandemic. And while his team has a losing record this season, 2-13, the Tigers recently won a doubleheader against Towson, scoring 39 runs.

Strovink is looking forward to opening his team’s conference play against rivals such as Brown, Cornell, Columbia, Dartmouth, Harvard and Yale. 

The sky is the limit for these former Rocky Point Eagles who are now proud Princeton Tigers.

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

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Rocky Point High School students helped create this mural of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Photo from Seth Meier

“The battles that count aren’t the ones for gold medals. The struggles within yourself — the invisible, inevitable battles inside all of us — that’s where it’s at.” — Jesse Owens

After years of training and dedication, American athletes have been competing on the world stage in Beijing, China, through the Winter Olympics in front of a communist regime that is openly competing with the United States — not only in athletics, but for social, economic, political and military prowess — to be the top superpower. 

Eighty-six years ago, during the beginning of German aggression in Europe, Jesse Owens, an African American track-and-field standout athlete competed in the 1936 Berlin Olympics. In front of fascist powers that were bent on expanding their national power, this Alabama native was a highly regarded runner for the United States. In front of Adolf Hitler, Owen received cheers and along the way he shattered the myth of the Aryan race and the racial superiority of the Nazi regime.

Known as the Buckeye Bullet from his competitive days running at Ohio State, Owens won four gold medals and gained the respect of the global community that was on the brink of World War II. During the games, a fatigued Owens was told with Ralph Metcalfe to replace Marty Glickman and Sam Stoller in the 400-meter relay race.  

At first, Owens was reluctant to run, he was tired, and believed that these men had the ability to win this race for America. While he continued to succeed at these games, he believed in the ability of these runners that had faced anti-Semitism at home and during these games. The American track-and-field athletes won 11 gold medals, six of them were earned by African American athletes.  

Owens confidently represented the character and pride of the United States in front of the Germans, whose government sponsored racism and hatred toward minority groups. But when he arrived home, through the long-standing policy of segregation he was unable to gain the same rights as white citizens until the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and Voting Rights Act of 1965 were passed. 

Rosa Parks

Another native of Alabama that changed the scope of civil rights was Rosa Parks. While she was traveling home by bus in 1955 from her job at the Montgomery Fair Department Store, several Black people were told to leave their seats to make enough room for white riders. Parks refused to stand with the other Blacks, where she defiantly remained seated to oppose the unfairness of segregation. Like other Black citizens who lived in Alabama, she observed the fire department use of hoses to push back civil rights demonstrators, the police using German Shepherd dogs to assault crowds of protesters, and the use of force to physically carry away Blacks who were engaged in sit-ins that were waged at segregated areas such as restaurants, park benches and local businesses.  

By refusing to leave her seat, Parks broke the Jim Crow segregationist laws, was photographed as she was arrested, fingerprinted and sent to jail. Her name has become synonymous for people of all backgrounds to oppose widespread civil rights abuses that have been seen within the United States. 

In 2012, at the Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn, Michigan, President Barack Obama (D) sat in the original bus seat and reflected on the strength of this little woman who was a giant toward the cause of civil rights.

Thurgood Marshall

In 1908, Thurgood Marshall was born in Baltimore, Maryland, to a mother who was a teacher and a father who was a railroad porter. At an early age, his father took him to local courtrooms to observe the legal procedures for the defense and the prosecution of local cases.    

As he grew older, Marshall was concerned about the high death rate of African Americans within the streets of Baltimore and how Blacks were defended in the court of law. He was an outstanding student in high school and attended the African American equivalent to Princeton University at Lincoln University near Oxford, Pennsylvania. 

While he was a brilliant student, Marshall enjoyed his social life and saw some trouble through a hazing incident within his fraternity. He realized the necessity of being more dedicated to his studies, as he joined the debate club and began to see law as his future calling. 

During his college years Marshall lived through the tribulations of segregation, where he helped desegregate a local movie theater. Once he graduated, he began his pursuit of attending law school, but he was denied his first choice of University of Maryland Law School.  

Through the unjust racial policies of this prominent school, he was refused admission to attain this degree, since he was Black. As a married student, Marshall graduated as a valedictorian at Howard University School of Law in Washington, D.C., and later turned down the chance of attending Harvard University to begin his own law office in East Baltimore. 

This emerging legal icon was interested in gaining positive changes to the civil rights laws that prevented the growth of rights for African Americans. Marshall was known for his devotion to fight against police brutality, unfair practices of landlords, and he also supported labor organizations and businesses. 

Always with an eye toward helping others, he had two key cases that saw him fight for the rights of Blacks against segregation. First, he opposed the unfair “separate but equal” parts of the GI Bill that limited the rights African American veterans that served within every component of the Armed Forces at home and overseas during World War II. 

In 1952, he fought against the government to overturn the segregationist policies that were established within the American educational system. 

After excelling within many government legal positions, in 1967 President Lyndon Johnson (D) nominated Marshall to become the first African American associate justice on the U.S. Supreme Court. He was a legal pioneer who always looked forward to change, through the positive beliefs that all Americans were able to get ahead in the United States, where they should receive all of the rights of the constitution.

Aretha Franklin

All I’m askin’ is for a little respect when you come home (just a little bit)

The legendary lyrics of “Respect” were sung by trailblazer Aretha Franklin in 1967. Born on March 25, 1942, in Memphis, Tennessee, her father the Rev. C.L. Franklin was a famous Baptist minister and her mom Barbara was a gospel singer.  

By the time Aretha was 14 years old, she had already recorded her first gospel single, in Detroit. In 1960, she was scouted for Columbia Records by New York’s John Hammond, who also signed Billie Holiday, Bob Dylan and Bruce Springsteen to professional contracts. But it would take a few years before Franklin hit fame in the late 1960s through her association with Atlantic Records and its music savvy heads, Ahmet Ertegun and Jerry Wexler.  

This was the beginning of her pursuit to consistently earn top 10 hits and gold records. Along the way, as the Queen of Soul, she sold millions of records such as with “I Never Loved A Man (The Way I Love You)” and “Respect,” a No. 1 hit. Her music was adored by people of all races, as her records made it through the tumultuous moments of the 1960s. Franklin’s success was felt during this trying decade that saw major Vietnam anti-war and civil rights protests. After the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated on April 4, 1968, ironically in her birthplace of Memphis, Franklin sang at his service in honor of this noted leader.  

Many fans noticed the soulful feeling of sincerity when listening to the words of Franklin that always struck a chord with people that enjoyed music. Into the early 1970s, she gained big hits with “Bridge Over Troubled Water” and “Spanish Harlem” but at this moment soul music tastes began to change with disco and hip-hop. 

Her popularity never wavered on the national level as she performed at the inaugurations of Presidents Bill Clinton (D) and Obama, and she was given the Presidential Medal of Honor by George W. Bush (R) in 2005.  

The musical grace and strength of Franklin was also recognized in 1987 when she was the first woman to be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. In 1994, she was honored at the Kennedy Center and was given the National Medal of Arts in 1999. 

Franklin represents the countless examples of African American accomplishments that added to the national character and pride of the United States during all periods of time.

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