Rocky Point

Rocky Point VFW thanks Jerry McGrath for his service. Photo courtesy Rich Acritelli

By Rich Acritelli

On March 29, the federal government will honor the military service of our American citizens through the National Vietnam War Veterans day. 

On Saturday, March 16, VFW Post 6249 Suffolk County World War II and Military History Museum thanked Wading River resident Jerry McGrath for his devotion to fighting for the United States during this conflict. A young man who was in the United States Army in South Vietnam, McGrath was an artillery sergeant in the field during the height of the fighting. 

After his enlistment ended, McGrath became a long time teacher at the Wading River Elementary School. Over his teaching career, McGrath was a beloved figure for the younger generations of students from this North Shore community. 

The affection for this teacher was recently seen as a picture of McGrath and his Vietnam War picture that has been placed in this local museum was placed on Facebook. Students from all decades responded to the kindness that McGrath presented to the boys and girls who he taught at this elementary school. 

As a fifth grader, Eric Strovink was in McGrath’s class in 1981, and affectionately recalled the life-long lessons that he learned from this iconic figure. A physical education teacher at a Mount Sinai Elementary School, Strovink was a talented baseball player and wrestler who later followed in the same career as McGrath.

Speaking in front of members of the VFW Post 6249, Strovink asked McGrath questions about his time in Vietnam, as an educator, and his love of fishing. In 1985, McGrath began instructing courses on recreational fishing. 

The positive character of McGrath and his expertise increased the class sizes through different educational and professional development workshops that were taught at local libraries and for the Suffolk County Parks Department. McGrath’s influence spread to Ward Melville, as one of his students, organized a fishing class at this high school. 

Thank you to Jerry McGrath for his patriotic sacrifices during the Vietnam War.  This disabled veteran from Wading River serves as an important reminder of local and national service that some teachers have experienced during their lifetime.  

Photos by Greg Catalano


Rocky Point VFW rally for veteran funding on Feb. 1. Photo courtesy Office of Senator Anthony Palumbo

By Nasrin Zahed

State Sens. Anthony Palumbo (R-New Suffolk) and Mario Mattera (R-St. James), alongside state Assemblymembers Jodi Giglio (R-Riverhead) and Ed Flood (R-Port Jefferson), joined forces Thursday, Feb. 1, with local veteran groups to demand the prompt distribution of over $1 million in taxpayer donations destined for veteran organizations. 

The urgency of this allocation is underscored by the critical need to support veterans, particularly those requiring continuous care, through funds earmarked for state veterans homes.

The press conference, held at the Rocky Point Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 6249, served as a platform to amplify the voices advocating for the dissemination of these funds. In addition to the elected officials in attendance were Bob Smith, chairman of the Long Island State Veterans Home Advisory Board, and Joe Cognitore, commander of VFW Post 6249 and a member of the LISVH Advisory Board, along with other local veterans and groups.

At the heart of the matter lies the delay in distributing approximately $410,000 allocated for state veterans homes, essential for providing round-the-clock care to veterans in need. Palumbo, recognizing the urgency of the situation, had previously taken action by issuing a formal letter to Amanda Hiller, acting tax commissioner and general counsel of the New York State Department of Taxation and Finance, urging for the expedited allocation of these donations.

During the press conference, Palumbo emphasized the moral obligation to allocate these funds, stating, “Our veterans have sacrificed so much for our country, and it is our duty to ensure they receive the care and support they need without delay.” His sentiments were echoed by Giglio and Flood, who reaffirmed their commitment to advocating for the timely distribution of these crucial resources.

Smith continued the conversation, emphasizing the tangible impact of these funds on the lives of veterans, noting that every moment of delay translates to missed opportunities to provide essential care and services.

Cognitore expressed his gratitude, saying, “It was unbelievable, they went above and beyond their duty and our cause in representing us.”


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.

Kevin Mann Photo courtesy Mann

By Nasrin Zahed

Kevin Mann, president of the Rocky Point Rotary Club, stands at the forefront of a noble mission — to promote peace and unity within communities both at the local and global scale.

Notably, he is involved in the installation of Peace Poles, tangible symbols echoing the universal desire for a harmonious world.

A dedicated community leader, Mann has been actively engaged in various initiatives that aim to make a positive impact on both community and society. As the president of the Rocky Point Rotary, he has demonstrated a commitment to the principles of service, community betterment and international cooperation; or as they say in Rotary, putting “service above self.”

At the heart of Mann’s involvement is the Peace Pole Project — an endeavor that brings communities together through art and a shared vision for global peace. Peace Poles, adorned with the message, “May Peace Prevail on Earth” in multiple languages, symbolize the diversity of humanity and the collective aspiration for a more peaceful world.

Mann’s pivotal role in spearheading the installation of Peace Poles becomes evident in instances such as at the dedication ceremony of a pole erected by the Sound Beach Property Owners Association at the East Beach entrance on Shore Drive, overlooking the Long Island Sound. This dedication exemplifies the Rocky Point Rotary Club’s unwavering dedication to fostering peace and understanding within the community.

Under Mann’s guidance, the Peace Poles serve as visual reminders of a shared commitment to peace, contributing significantly to the broader mission of building peaceful communities worldwide.

The Peace Pole Project seamlessly aligns with the visionary goals of the International Cities of Peace movement, reflecting Mann’s global perspective. This movement, established in 2009, encourages cities to engage in peace building at the grassroots level actively. 

The Peace Poles, with their multilingual inscriptions, become ambassadors of Long Island’s mission for peace. By aspiring to have Long Island recognized as an International City of Peace, Mann envisions an Island actively contributing to the Rotary’s global efforts.

Mann not only leads the Peace Pole Project locally but is also a co-founder and current president of the Hope Children’s Fund. This showcases Mann’s commitment to global impact and plays a vital role in supporting the Jerusha Mwiraria Hope Children’s Home in Meru, Kenya — an orphanage that Mann helped establish with the late Larry Hohler.

Under Mann’s guidance, the Hope Children’s Fund provides education for orphans at the Kenyan children’s home. From its start in 2005 with 18 children, the home now supports 92, with some graduates becoming lawyers, doctors and entrepreneurs — a testament to Mann’s and Hohler’s transformative vision.

What sets Mann apart is not only his impactful initiatives but also his humility. Mann, in his tireless efforts, remains incredibly humble, never failing to acknowledge and include everyone who helps make these dreams possible.

He recognizes that positive change is a collective effort, and his inclusive approach fosters a sense of community and shared responsibility with no personal gain behind his actions. Mann states that he is “paid in smiles and thank yous, something people give you from their hearts and souls.”

In addition to his current endeavors, Mann envisions establishing what is known as the Corridor of Peace on Long Island, running along Route 25A and covering four local school districts in Rocky Point, Shoreham-Wading River, Miller Place and Longwood. This ambitious project aims to create a geographic and cultural corridor dedicated to promoting peace, understanding and cooperation within these communities.

The Corridor of Peace becomes a testament to Mann’s commitment to fostering harmony not only globally but also within the fabric of Long Island.

Mann’s involvement in the Peace Pole Project exemplifies his unwavering commitment to fostering peace and unity within communities. Through his leadership in the Rocky Point Rotary Club and participation in initiatives like the Hope Children’s Fund, Mann continues to be a beacon of positive change.

As Mann dedicates his time and energy to these noble causes, he not only inspires local communities but beckons others to join the journey toward a brighter, more peaceful future on a global scale. In the interconnected world he envisions, Long Island becomes not just a local community but a shining example of peace at work, with the Jerusha Mwiraria Hope Children’s Home standing as an emblem of the transformative power of compassion and education across continents.

For his continued efforts with the Peace Pole Project, establishing a Corridor of Peace and supporting a more peaceful Long Island, TBR News Media recognizes Kevin Mann as a 2023 Person of the Year. Because as Mann simply and resoundingly states, “Peace starts at home.”

Rocky Point school district Athletic Director Jonathon Rufa, left, and coach Tom Walsh. Photo courtesy RPSD

Rocky Point Middle School boys soccer team and coach Tom Walsh were honored with the Suffolk County Soccer Officials Association Sportsmanship Award. Coach Walsh attended the awards ceremony at the Rock Hill Golf and Country Club on Dec. 11.

After each contest, officials are tasked with rating student-athletes and coaches sportsmanship for each school. These ratings are tallied up throughout the season to determine the Sportsmanship Award winners.

Community members gaze upon the military wall of honor during the grand opening of the Suffolk County World War II and Military History Museum in Rocky Point on Thursday, Dec. 7. Photos by Raymond Janis

The Rocky Point community ushered in history Thursday, Dec. 7, welcoming hundreds to the hamlet to launch the Suffolk County World War II and Military History Museum at the former Rocky Point train station.

In a grand opening ceremony featuring speeches from Rocky Point VFW Post 6249 members, musical performances by local students and even a military flyover, the event formally opened the highly anticipated regional veterans museum to the public.

Attending the event included various public officials, such as Town of Brookhaven Councilwoman Jane Bonner (R-Rocky Point), Suffolk County Legislator Nick Caracappa (C-Selden) and a representative of Congressman Nick LaLota (R-NY1).

The museum showcases various exhibits spotlighting the stories of local veterans. Uniforms, combat gear and memorabilia are out on display. The centerpiece, situated just outside the complex, is a military wall of honor with hundreds of names of local vets.

Joe Cognitore, commander of VFW Post 6249, declared that Thursday’s event was the realization of years of planning. “This is a vision we had many, many years ago, and this vision finally came true today,” he said.

Cognitore thanked the museum’s curator, post member and history teacher Rich Acritelli, for his considerable effort in preparing the museum for launch. “This museum is unbelievable,” the post commander explained. “It’s amazing what he did inside with such little time and little space.”

In his remarks, Acritelli outlined the objectives of the museum. “This story represents the countless Long Island people that have had numerous family members that have served within the Armed Forces and supported America within every military conflict,” he said.

Chronicling the vast contributions that went into the museum’s rollout, the curator added how the facility represents a moment of community building for Greater Rocky Point and beyond. “While there is a small percentage of the population who actually enter the military, the Armed Forces are embedded within every American family,” he noted. “Working on this veterans project, you watch how almost every person said they had a cousin, brother, father, aunt, close friend, mom, who was in uniform and wanted to recognize them for their patriotic efforts and sacrifices.”

Now, their stories are on display for the public. The museum is located at 7 Prince Road, Rocky Point.

Rocky Point forward Max Wignall shoots in a non-league matchup against Shoreham-Wading River. Photo by Bill Landon

With an injury-riddled starting lineup, the Shoreham-Wading River Wildcats had their hands full in a road game against Rocky Point where the Eagles defense was able to hold the Wildcats at bay. The Eagles offense pressed for all 32 minutes to win the nonleague matchup 55-40, Monday night Dec. 11.

Rocky Point guard Casmere Morrow topped the scoring chart for the Eagles with 17 points and forward Max Wignall added 13.

Shoreham-Wading River senior Gordon Votruba led the way for the Wildcats netting 11 points.

The win lifts the Eagles to 2-0.

The loss drops the Wildcats to 1-4. They will desperately need their bench to get healthy and will have to be at full song to make a postseason bid.

Rocky Point Middle School students present the school musical, ‘The Wizard of Oz: Youth Edition.’ Photo courtesy RPSD

Rocky Point Middle School followed the yellow brick road and presented its successful school musical, “The Wizard of Oz: Youth Edition,” on Nov. 17 and 18.

The annual production brought together 112 students, 13 teachers and countless family and community members for a successful and joyful collaboration of theater and joyful music making.

“The students and staff involved in this production worked incredibly hard this year,” said Amy Schecher, Rocky Point’s secondary music department chairperson. “We are fortunate to have such talented students and dedicated faculty here in Rocky Point. A production of this magnitude also could not be possible without the continual encouragement of the parents of the cast and crew.”

VFW Post 6249 in Rocky Point hosts its annual Veterans Day service on Saturday, Nov. 11. Photo courtesy Joe Cognitore

By Aidan Johnson

As Veterans Day once again arrived on Nov. 11, members of the Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 6249 in Rocky Point took the time to pay their respects to all those who have served in the military.

“As a veteran, I stand before you with a profound sense of pride, humility and gratitude,” said Joe Cognitore, commander of Post 6249, in a speech to those in attendance. “I’ve been where many of you and our fellow service members have been, serving our great country with unwavering dedication, yet facing the many challenges that come with it.”

Cognitore made it a point to focus on the importance of Veterans Day not only from the perspective of being a veteran and VFW post member but also from “the collective duty we as U.S. citizens share in honoring our veterans and ensuring the truth and essence of this day is not forgotten.”

“Veterans Day isn’t really about acknowledging our service or expressing gratitude,” he continued. “It is about making Veterans Day a touchstone for understanding, education and appreciation for our Americans.”

“And I believe it’s our job as veterans to help ensure the true significance of this day isn’t lost in the noise of the [store] sales or everyday life,” he added.

Suffolk County Legislator Nick Caracappa (C-Selden) spoke at the event and expressed appreciation for the national holiday and the local veterans community.

“If you think about it, what these guys do, especially at this post, they are out in our communities every single day making a difference, as are many other posts,” he said in an interview. “All veterans continue to serve our communities and our country, so it’s only fitting that we recognize them and appreciate them and realize that they are out there on a daily basis.”

Cognitore mentioned upcoming events at the post, including the opening of the Suffolk County World War II and Military History Museum on Dec. 7 located at the former Rocky Point train station across the street from the VFW post, and a Christmas party on Dec. 9.