Veteran Stories

The LoRusso boys. Photo courtesy of Rich Acritelli

By Rich Acritelli

Monday, May 27, is Memorial Day, which remembers all of those service members who were lost for the defense of America. It was created after the Civil War as Decoration Day to honor the lost Americans from both sides of this terrible conflict. Whereas our citizens fought in additional wars, it was originally recognized on every May 30, but it was changed in 1971 for the last Monday of May. As Americans will surely enjoy the warmer weather, this is a moment to reflect on the true meaning of Memorial Day. 

Many of these memories are on display at the exhibit picture Wall of Honor at the VFW Post 6249 Suffolk County World War II and Military History Museum. There are a multitude of different pictures and military experiences from our local veterans. 

Frank Asselta

Rocky Point native Frank Asselta was taught by Joseph Edgar and enjoyed playing soccer, basketball and baseball. Graduating from Port Jefferson High School in 1963, Asselta attended Suffolk County Community College to earn his associates degree. In 1965, directly after graduation, he was drafted into the Army and attended basic training at Fort Dix, New Jersey. By 1966, he was deployed to South Vietnam as an infantry combat medic and he observed the massive escalation of this war to oppose the strength of the North Vietnamese Army and the Vietcong. Asselta was wounded in combat and he received the Bronze Star for his duel capacities of fighting the enemy and treating his own men under the duress of warfare.

Exposed to graphic warfare that resulted in fighting that never left him for the rest of his life, Asselta suffers from PTSD that he has managed for his entire adult life. This Sunday, May 26, Asselta is the driving force behind the annual VFW Post 6249 PTSD 5K Race at Rocky Point High School at 11 a.m. Asselta believes “all members of the Armed Forces who have been in combat need to be properly supported by our citizens. This run is a reminder to take care of all veterans who battle the difficulties of PTSD and I am proud of this mission to never forget about those veterans who are forced to deal with this condition.” The post’s Cmdr. Joe Cognitore marvels at the “immense energy” that Asselta displays on a daily basis to ensure the success of this race to care for our local veterans. 

Charles Pisano

Another infantry combat medic was a physical kid from Smithtown who was an extremely talented wrestler within Suffolk County and New York state. Charles Pisano was sent to South Vietnam and saw the powerful enemy buildup and their battlefield presence from 1968-69. He is one of the highest decorated medics to have served during the Vietnam War for the U.S. Army. Pisano for his immense time in the field was awarded the Combat Medic Badge, Army Commendation Medal with Valor, the Army Air Medal for 50 missions in the field, two Bronze Stars for Valor, the Silver Star and the Vietnamese Cross of Gallantry for continually saving wounded American soldiers.

During every Memorial Day, Pisano’s prayers are always for those comrades who were killed from the Vietnam War. His daughter Jamie, a social studies and special education teacher at Rocky Point High School, recalls that “from a young age, my dad always made sure I understood how important Memorial Day was to honor our soldiers who made the ultimate sacrifice for America.” This family has devotedly assisted guide dogs who help blind veterans and those that are suffering from PTSD.

Nicholas LoRusso

Graduating Rocky Point High School in 2003, Nicholas LoRusso was a captain of the lacrosse team and a talented wrestler. He is one of four brothers to have attended the U.S. Military Academy at West Point. In January, LoRusso, a military combat engineer, was promoted to the rank of lieutenant colonel, and he has been in the active army for 17 years. He is married to Tricia with two kids, Madison and Cole, and has moved eight times during his career. LoRusso served in Iraq and Afghanistan, and taught at West Point. 

During the height of the War on Terror, LoRusso vividly recalled his time in uniform, “I have classmates that were killed in combat within the first 12 to 18 months of service after we graduated. I served in units that have lost people. Ramp ceremonies on Bagram Airfield and memorials on combat outposts and forward operating bases in the mountains of Afghanistan are burned in my memory. I get to see, hug, laugh and share moments with my family and friends, and those we remember on Memorial Day are unable to do so. There are children, mothers, fathers and siblings missing a piece of them. Mine are not. These are things I think about on Memorial Day and it makes me cherish what I have. Those we remember on Memorial Day stood up, said ‘Send me,’ and unfortunately didn’t come back. I am honored to have served among these brave and selfless people and I hope the service I have continued in the military and the life I am living is worthy of the lives they gave up for our nation.”

Kevin LoRusso

The LoRussos represent the multitude of American families who have sent many family members abroad. Kevin LoRusso was an artillery officer who was deployed to Afghanistan in 2011, where he fought in Mazār-e Sharīf. Like his older brother, he reflects on friends that he served with and recognizes Memorial Day as “a time I remember West Point classmates that have paid the sheer sacrifice while protecting this nation. Recently, a good friend Steve Dwyer was my lacrosse teammate at the West Point Preparatory School. He was a helicopter pilot who was killed with his crew on a training mission, leaving behind his wife and three young boys. As I spend time with my friends and family, I will be fondly thinking about my military friends who are no longer with us today.”

Gregory Monz

An all-around good kid who graduated from Rocky Point in 2005, Gregory Monz was a tough kid who was the first All-County football player for this high school. Before shipping out, Monz could be seen carrying a full ruck sack of rocks to prepare for his training. He descends from a family that has supported the defense of America over the last several decades and continued this military tradition during the height of the War on Terror.

  A corrections officer, Monz is married with a growing family of his own. He believes “Memorial Day for myself is exactly what this day is supposed to be about — remembering. I want to instill the same respect for our fallen warriors to my sons as my parents have taught me. I take my four sons to Calverton National Cemetery to help place American flags at every headstone. As a veteran, Memorial Day is a quiet day for myself. Many thoughts replay a bit more about my brothers I served with, not only about those who paid the ultimate sacrifice, but also the ones who could not move on stateside. To this date I have lost more Marines to PTSD than overseas. We must do better and we also must remember them.”

Never forget

May this nation never forget about those lost veterans from all national defense conflicts and situations. Thank you to those current Armed Forces members who still operate in harm’s way that are determined to support this nation on Memorial Day. And may we always show appreciation to those current veterans who are out of uniform that have made our people proud of their services to support the citizens and ideals of this great country.

Councilwoman Jane Bonner, Supervisor Dan Panico, co-owner Eddie Spagnola and co-owner Carolyn DiBernardo Ingoglia celebrate the grand opening of the new Firehouse Restaurant and Bar. Photo courtesy Town of Brookhaven

By Sofia Febles

New York City firehouse. The space resembles the home of a firefighter — from the hook door handle when you first walk in, to the model fire trucks and family photos from first-time restaurant owner Joseph DiBernardo’s personal memorabilia. 

The building now occupied by the Firehouse has been home to a restaurant for many years. It was first called Boyle’s, then Shorty’s and for years it’s been known as the Hartlin Inn. For nearly three years, the local community has been left wondering what will take Hartlin Inn’s place. Now the DiBernardos have brought it back to life, in their late son FDNY Lt. Joseph P. DiBernardo’s honor. 

The owners of the restaurant, Joe and Barbara DiBernardo opened this restaurant in memory of their son, Joey, who came from a long line of firefighters, including his dad. 

When Joey was young, he would create and play with firefighter sets. Joey would help his dad in a Brooklyn firehouse, being part of his first real fire at the age of 10. When Joey turned 18 he became a fire alarm dispatcher on Long Island. 

Joey went on to work at the World Trade Center for nearly six months in the rescue and recovery operation. He was one of the people who founded the Town of Brookhaven Technical Rescue Task Force and was one of the first team leaders. 

In 2005, he was called to an apartment fire in the Bronx — a day known as Black Sunday, when three firefighters died including Joey. 

Trapped on the top floor in a backdraft, he was forced to jump out of the window five stories above the ground. From his plunge, Joey landed in a courtyard, breaking many of his bones from the waist down, and would eventually experience respiratory arrest and then a coma. 

On Nov. 22, 2011, Joey passed away as a result of injuries sustained from his heroic efforts on Black Sunday. He was awarded the IAFF Medal of Honor, the New York City Medal of Supreme Sacrifice and the FDNY Medal of Valor. 

In 2013 the “Joey D” foundation was created by the father and Joey’s friends in honor of the fallen firefighter. The foundation provides personal safety ropes to fire departments throughout the United States. It is run strictly by volunteers, mostly Joey’s friends. The foundation’s goal is that no firefighter dies because of lack of safety ropes. Joey’s father hopes that the foundation will continue even when he is gone.

The opening of the Firehouse Restaurant & Bar for the DiBernardos was an important event in celebration of their son. “I want my customers to know and understand Joey’s story, and I want Joey to live on in perpetuity through this restaurant,” Joe said. “This restaurant is like a family, surrounded with the best people.”

On the menu is a variety of sandwiches, wraps, flatbreads, burgers and “firehouse favorites.” “The ‘big pretzel’ and meatball appetizers are guest favorites,” Joe said.

“I went for lunch with my husband two weeks ago, we found everything great,” said Ruth McDowell of Port Jefferson Station. “He had the fish and chips, I had French onion soup and a BLT. Perfect balance of everything. Even the coffee was delicious. We will be back.” 

The bar section has been refurbished beautifully and is often filled with locals who enjoy happy hour and beyond.

Scenes from the May 4 Pancake Breakfast. Photo courtesy Nicole LaMacchia NYS Senate Regional Director

On Saturday, May 4, several elected officials hosted a pancake breakfast to honor the service of local veterans. The first annual pancake breakfast took place at the VFW Post 3054.

The program began with an opening prayer by Chaplin Michael Russell, who was followed by Chaplin David Mann, singing a beautiful rendition of the national anthem. 

The highlight of the gathering was the moment Sen. Anthony Palumbo (R-New Suffolk), Assemblyman Ed Flood (R,C-Port Jefferson) and Leg. Nick Caracappa (C-Selden) presented staff Sgt. Michael E. Russell with a state proclamation acknowledging his service and dedication to his community.

Michael Russell was born in Brooklyn and grew up in Toms River, New Jersey. He was enlisted in the United Air Force from 1966-1970 and served in Vietnam from 1968-1969. Upon his return to the United States, Russell was employed with the Federal Aviation Administration from 1970-1981 until he left there and spent the remainder of his career as Managing Director and Senior Vice President of merged Wall Street firms. 

For his service, Russell received two bronze stars and a purple heart.

Throughout his life in the private sector, Russell continued to serve his fellow man. He was a member of the NYS small business administration and the MTA Capital Review Board. 

He was commissioner of New York State Cable TV Commission, special assistant to NYS Senate Majority Leader Ralph Marino, a trustee on the SUNY Board of Trustees, the chair of the Committee of SUNY Hospitals and the Nassau-Suffolk Hospital Council. 

Russell also served as a member of the Committee of SUNY Community Colleges, the Committee of Finance and Investments, Committee of Athletics and Four-Year Schools, Committee on Charter Schools, and a member of the Board of Trustees at John T. Mather Memorial Hospital. 

Russell is a founding member of Jefferson’s Ferry Continuous Care Facility and was chair of the Transition Team for Suffolk County District Attorney James M. Catterson and a member of the  Transition Team for Suffolk County Executive Robert Gaffney.

Russell is married to his wife Barbara Russell and they have three children and six grandchildren.

Veterans gather at the Long Island State Veterans Home at Stony Brook University on March 29. Photos by Rich Acritelli

By Rich Acritelli

On March 29, 51 years after the last American troops were withdrawn from South Vietnam and the acknowledged prisoners of war were released by Hanoi, the war officially ended. 

The Long Island State Veterans Home at Stony Brook University held a symbolic Remembrance Day for Vietnam War residents, family members and local veteran organizations. After a special invocation by Rabbi Joseph Topek and the presentation of the colors by Rocky Point VFW Post 6249, the packed audience remained on their feet for The Star-Spangled Banner and the Pledge of Allegiance. 

Patriotism was personified by longtime Executive Director Fred Sganga who has cared for many veterans since 9/11 as he presented a hearty “Welcome Home.”

In 1975, two years after American troops pulled out, South Vietnam was finally defeated by the communist regime in North Vietnam. Today there are an estimated 610,000 living Vietnam War veterans who arrived home originally to open hostility toward their military efforts. This generation of veterans faced over 58,000 killed and there are over 1,500 missing in action from this war. 

On May 28, 2012, during a Memorial Day ceremony, President Barack Obama (D) mandated the National Vietnam War Veterans Day and in 2017 President Donald Trump (R) signed it into a federally recognized moment to fully honor Vietnam veterans. 

Many local Vietnam veterans were in attendance to help honor their comrades. 

Suffolk County Legislator Nick Caracappa (C-Selden) from the 4th Legislative District spoke about the military experiences of his family in numerous conflicts. As a chairman of the Suffolk County Veterans Committee, he identified the devotion of these local veterans who served in Vietnam and their generous efforts to support veterans’ causes. 

Since 9/11, groups like VFW Post 6249 in Rocky Point and the Suffolk County Chapter of Vietnam Veterans have aided War on Terror veterans at home and overseas. They have organized Wounded Warrior golf outings, PTSD 5K runs, provided their posts for family military reunions, speaking at schools and have created patriotic memorials. 

As Suffolk contains the largest number of veterans in New York state and the second largest in the United States, their goal is to provide significant support toward our many local armed forces members.

A Marine Corps major who is a decorated Purple Heart recipient and a current reservist is 6th District county Legislator Chad Lennon (R-Rocky Point). He echoed the feelings of Caracappa and fully recognized the sacrifices in South Vietnam. Lennon identified the shameful treatment of these veterans and said, “This generation of veterans, not only fought battles in Vietnam but also at home. They were spat on and discarded as less than other Americans. However, they took those experiences and made changes that allowed future generations to be properly welcomed home.”

A resident of Port Jefferson Station, and now Bayport, military advocate Richard Kitson spoke about the two wars that Vietnam veterans faced overseas and at home. After this Marine Corps mortarman returned home to Levittown, his younger brother John at 19 years old enlisted into the Marines and was killed in action in South Vietnam. 

Understanding the early national, local and family heartache that is still felt by many of these veterans, Kitson spoke about the Vietnam veterans who served 240 days in the field, one out of 10 were casualties, and 97% received honorable discharges. He told an astonished crowd that many of these veterans who were from low-income families earned high school and college diplomas. 

Kitson described these southeastern Asia veterans as trailblazers who have fought for the expanded rights of veterans. From his earliest adult years, Kitson has always helped other veterans, spearheaded the Vietnam War memorial at Bald Hill, is a senior figure at Northport VA Medical Center and continues to help those men and women who have become afflicted with Agent Orange. 

Speaking on behalf of VFW Post 6249, “Lieutenant” Dan Guida was an armor commander during the heavy fighting in Vietnam. A daily volunteer at this veteran’s home, Guida addressed his “comrades” about the hardships that Americans absorbed against the enemy and at home. Like most of the veterans in this program, Guida observed that only family members and friends understood the early challenges of Vietnam veterans. Armed with a big smile, Guida constantly supports this facility with an unyielding friendship to care for residents with PTSD. Directly after Guida spoke, all the residents had their names called out, where they received applause and praise for their time in Vietnam.

On March 22, Guida helped Cmdr. Joe Cognitore of VFW Post 6249 create the first-ever veterans affairs workshop. 

Agencies from all over Long Island spoke to veterans about key services and programs that are provided to them and their families. A Vietnam veteran and a platoon sergeant who fought in Cambodia in 1970, Cognitore has been one of the most vocal local, state and veterans advocates over the last several decades. Since the First Gulf War, Cognitore has been a vital pillar of support and a source of information to help aid veterans of all ages. 

At the end of this ceremony, VFW Post 6249 retired the colors at this endearing program to “Welcome Home” our Vietnam veterans some 51 years after the last Americans pulled out of South Vietnam.

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.  

By Aramis Khorso

Six years ago, Navy veteran Fred Acosta created a children’s card game called Red Light Green Light. His invention would, in the following years, go on to sell on an international scale. 

The 76-year-old game inventor claimed that the secret to creating successful children’s games is “to have a good sense of humor.” He has been inventing all sorts of innovations for roughly 40 years with his brother, Nick Acosta. Both of the brothers were born in Brooklyn where they were raised. They eventually both served in the U.S. Army in the Vietnam War — Fred in the Navy and his brother in the Marines. 

Fred Acosta shared how tight-knit he and his brother are. Acosta explained how he and his brother are “partners” in almost everything. 

It seems that being an inventor runs through Fred Acosta’s blood. His father and both his brothers all share the common passion of innovating creations. According to Acosta, this familial talent hadn’t manifested itself until after he and his brother served in the Vietnam War. “When you’re an inventor, you’re an inventor 24/7,” Acosta said. “You’re always looking for something to improve upon.” 

When Acosta returned home from the war, he got married, had a family and in 1981 moved to Port Jefferson. Acosta didn’t start making games officially until he was 36. “When you’ve got a family, you have to support them,” he said. Acosta outlined the various struggles he faced in pursuit of his passion: “An inventor can’t make money unless he sells an idea — it’s very hard, you’d be surprised.”

In respect to his game Red Light Green Light, Acosta admitted that he thought the key to the success of his game was because of its design carefully catered toward children. “It’s very popular because it’s extremely simple,” he said. “It’s also quick, so kids don’t get bored playing it.” The inspiration for the impressively rated game “just came” to Acosta who explained his spark of inspiration by saying “I’m a natural inventor.” Red Light Green Light has stunning reviews on Amazon and can be found at Kohl’s and Walmart. 

While making a nice profit, it seems the success of Acosta’s creation carries a more sentimental reward for him. After many years of inventing games and dealing with the struggles a profession such as his brings, success is something heavy with importance for him. 

“We’re in our 70s and we’re selling card games, you know?” said Acosta, referring to his brother and himself. “You’re never too old to create something successful.” Acosta is not only a game creator but he has also invented all sorts of different gadgets, some artwork and even done graphic designing. 

Now, Acosta lives with his large family of three children and nine grandchildren in Port Jefferson. Even after his big success, Acosta is pursuing his passion and intends on creating more games in the future. He said he still previews his game inventions with his grandchildren before the games are sent out into the market. 

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.

Eric Waxman, Jr. honored as the Veteran of the Game at the September 24th, 2023 NY Yankees Game in the Bronx. Pictured with Eric is his grandson, U.S. Army Major Eric Waxman IV.

By Rita J. Egan

This year, receiving special recognition for his military service came earlier than Nov. 11 for one local veteran. The New York Yankees honored Eric Waxman Jr., of East Setauket, during their Veteran of the Game ceremony on Sept. 24. The occasion coincided with his 96th birthday.

The Korean War veteran has been a fan of the Yankees since 1934. He said his first baseball game was with his dad, and on Sept. 24, he was escorted on the field by his grandson Army Major Eric Waxman IV.

Waxman is a familiar face in the community due to his past and current community service with St. James R.C. Church, the Knights of Columbus and the Three Village Historical Society.

Active duty

U.S. Army 1st Lieutenant Eric Waxman, Jr.

While studying at Fordham University, he was enrolled in the Reserve Officers’ Training Corps program. He had served in the Army earlier, from 1945 to 1946, which qualified him to be advanced in the ROTC program. After completing his training, he was called to active duty in the U. S. Army in September 1951.

During the war, the then New Hyde Park resident was stationed in Germany and was part of the Cold War force. The era marked a time filled with tension between the former Soviet Union and the United States.

“They told us we were the only army that was between the communist Russians and the North Sea,” he said.

Waxman served as a 1st Lieutenant with the 14th Armored Field Artillery Battalion, 2nd Armored Division as a forward observer. In the case of combat, he said, it would mean that he would stand at the shoulder of an infantry lieutenant at the front line or a soldier in a tank. His job would be to adjust the fire on the target.

“It was a little bit frightening to know that you were adjusting artillery fire on a simulated target but it was live ammunition,” he said. “That was exciting and I’d say exhilarating to be adjusting real live ammunition.”

Between his earlier service and his time spent in Germany, he served a total of 39 months. He was placed in a reserve unit in September of 1953 for a short time and soon after was retired from the military.

Life and service after the Army

After serving in the military, Waxman entered the education field. For most of his career, he was a high school principal. His first stint in the position was in Mountain Lakes, New Jersey, for 10 years. He would then go on to be principal at Harborfields High School for three years and William Floyd School District for eight. When he retired from being a principal, he was an assistant dean at Touro Law School for 14 years.

He and his wife, Anne, moved to the Three Village area 46 years ago and raised seven children. Today, their family has grown to include 34 grandchildren and 17 great-grandchildren, with three more on the way.

Through the decades, Waxman has balanced community service with career and family. He was involved in the Three Village Historical Society for 20 years, serving on the board for seven of those years and helping out with the society’s various tours.

His love for history began when he taught the subject in a junior high school before becoming a principal.

“I have a deep appreciation for the importance of the study of the past,” he said.

During his time with the historical society, he said he enjoyed discussing Colonial and Revolutionary times with those who attended events such as the society’s Spirits Tour and Village Green Walking Tours.

Three Village Historical Society historian Beverly C. Tyler said Waxman always made himself available to help at society events.

“He was one of those people who we could really rely on to always be there,” Tyler said.

The historian said when leading tours, Waxman had a knack for covering what was needed for participants to understand. At the same time, he knew to avoid getting too complex about the history.

“He’s very knowledgeable, and he has an incredible depth of information,” Tyler said. “People enjoy listening to him.”

While Waxman no longer volunteers for the historical society events, he remains an active member of St. James church’s parish and its Knights of Columbus.

Father Robert Kuznik has been with the church for more than two years and said getting to know Waxman “has been a highlight.”

“He’s a humble but a constant presence,” Kuznik said. “You know that if something is happening in our faith community, he is there.”

Kuznik said Waxman is part of several groups in the parish that provide help to the community in addition to his involvement in the Knights of Columbus, where he participates in the food and blood drives. He also works with fellow parishioners to help organizations such as the Life Center of Long Island, which helps pregnant women in need and young women with children.

“Mr. Waxman is a man of great wisdom,” he said. “He brings his experience and knowledge together and uses them well. It is such a great privilege, such a blessing to be so often in the presence of this wonderful man.”

Kuznik said Waxman frequently reads the Scriptures during Sunday Mass and other services, and he also comes once a month to help and pray at a Mass for young people with disabilities.

“At heart, he is an educator, an incredible communicator,” the priest said. “Listening to him making an announcement in his booming voice, his style, repetition, you know instantly that whoever was in there will walk out well informed.” 

Reflecting on his military service

Waxman said he feels there is a lot to gain from serving in the military.

“Learning to discipline yourself and to be task-oriented is helpful no matter what you do with your life, and you get the training that you need to learn the importance of discipline and obedience in the basic training of the armed forces,” he said.

At the same time, he is concerned for service members, especially his grandson Eric, who has been deployed to Afghanistan three times.

“We’re so proud that he’s going to serve,” Waxman said. “I think that’s the main thing, finding men and women who are willing to serve their country in time of need.”

Waxman described war as “the last resort to solve a disagreement.”

“I’m proud to be an American and to have had the opportunity to serve,” he said.”I hope that we’re able to make our way in the world as a nation, and I hope that we live in more peaceful times in the future.”

On July 25, Legislator Stephanie Bontempi (R – 18th L.D.) recognized Trisha Northover, pictured with her son Tristan, as this year’s Women Veterans Appreciation Day honoree for the 18th District. Photo from Leg. Bontempi's office

By Rita J. Egan

One local veteran has come a long way since she left Afghanistan, and she credits the United States Department of Veterans Affairs, the local American Legion Post and her nursing career for her success.

U.S. Army veteran Trisha Northover spent her younger years traveling between her dad’s home in Kingston, Jamaica, and her mom’s in Greenlawn after her parents’ divorce. She said in her early 20s, a friend’s father, a firefighter, died on Sept. 11, and the effect that his passing had on her friend helped Northover find her passion.

Photo from Trisha Northover

“I saw the impact that it had in her life,” the veteran said. “She became a totally different person after she lost her dad, and I wanted to do something.”

At 24, she joined the army. Interested in a medical career, Northover said she learned everything she needed to know about medicine in the military. Initially, she studied basic EMT skills and then nursing. After 18 months of training, she became a licensed practical nurse.

She spent nine years and nine months in the army, primarily stationed at West Point, where she had her son Tristan, now 16. Working at the academy’s hospital and clinic, she cared for the cadets. 

Northover was deployed to Afghanistan for 10 months as a combat medic during Operation Enduring Freedom, and she said she witnessed back-to-back traumas during her deployment. For her service, she has received a Global War on Terrorism Service Medal, NATO Medal and Army Commendation Medal. For her unit’s service in Afghanistan, they received a Meritorious Unit Commendation award.

​American Legion

When she returned to Greenlawn, Northover said she learned firsthand how helpful American Legion Post 1244 members are. Struggling with post-traumatic stress disorder, Northover said it took some time to find a full-time job.

“I didn’t have a lot of support financially,” the veteran said. “I was still figuring it out.”

Northover added post members brought her and her son Thanksgiving dinner the first year she returned from Afghanistan. She soon became a post member, and recently, the 42-year-old was named post commander.

Being involved in a post and talking to fellow veterans who have had similar experiences is vital, Northover said. She described it as “a camaraderie like no other.” 

Photo from Trisha Northover

“We’re all being pulled in a million directions, but spending time in the company of the members of my posts, working for them, doing different things, it gives me a sense of purpose, and it honors my service if that makes sense,” she said. “It gives me an outlet for my service because a lot of times when you come back, you feel like you’re not a part of a team anymore, and being in the American Legion absolutely gives me the feeling of being a member of a team and working toward a mission.”

With her membership in the American Legion post and her job as a licensed practical nurse at the Long Island State Veterans Home at Stony Brook University, Northover has the opportunity to meet older vets. She said she always does her best to take photos and converse with them. She always thanks them for their service, especially World War II vets.

“These men are living history,” she said. “We study the war in the history books, and so much in the world literally changed because of that war, and to be with the men who were fighting — they’re leaving us. They’re not going to be here forever.”

While she still experiences tremendous anxiety, which made working at other jobs difficult at times, she said the veterans home has been a supportive place to work as they understand her PTSD.

Getting help

In addition to being able to talk with fellow vets at the American Legion and at her job, Northover credits Veterans Affairs for helping her manage her disorder with different types of therapy, from talk therapy to acupuncture. The disorder, she said, is a result of her time in Afghanistan.

“It was something that I’ve had to really work on to be able to not only talk about, but to not feel a certain way when I even talk about it,” Northover said.

She added the post-traumatic growth she has gone through has made her more resilient. “I know that I survived that so there’s not much that I can’t overcome,” the vet said.

Northover said the VA has realized traditional treatments aren’t for everybody, and patients can receive treatment outside of the VA hospital, including equine therapy and working with service animals.

“I don’t think a lot of people realize that they can change the quality of their life,” she said. “We can’t necessarily not have PTSD or not have insomnia or the trauma, but you can get to a point in your life where you can live a life that’s still full and purposeful if you really just accept the help that is offered.”

Validation

At the end of July, Northover was among fellow women veterans recognized at the Suffolk County Legislature’s General Meeting in Hauppauge. She said she was honored and humbled.

Trisha Northover and Leg. Stephanie Bontempi

“These women have done so many wonderful things not only in their personal and military lives but for their community, so it was really great to be honored,” she said. 

Northover discovered she was chosen when a member of Suffolk County Legislator Stephanie Bontempi’s (R-Centerport) staff emailed her. Northover was nominated by Mary Flatley, a fellow American Legion Post 1244 member and a former recipient of the same county honor. 

Flatley described Northover as a fantastic person with many great ideas for the post. “She’s a very grounded person and selfless,” she said. “I’m happy she’s our commander.”

She added, “I think Trisha is going to prove herself as an outstanding leader.”

In a statement, Leg. Bontempi said, “When I learned about Trisha’s accomplishments as a soldier and her dedication to helping her fellow veterans, I knew she had to be this year’s honoree. Trisha served our country with distinction, and to this day she is making a difference in many lives.”

Northover said it’s an honor when people thank her for her service, and the recognition from the county made her feel that her service was validated even further. 

“I had to reconcile a lot of things, and if it was worth it, within my own self, to go through what I went through in terms of the war,” the veteran said. “Having moments like this have really reinforced to me that people are really grateful and thankful that I did what I did because I fought for freedom and America.”

By Rita J. Egan

Setauket and Stony Brook residents know if they want to learn about local history, they can turn to Carlton Edwards, known by many as Hub. However, Edwards, 93, is more than a local history lover — he was also a part of history. A veteran of the Korean War, he served during the early years of desegregation in the armed forces.

Segregation in the armed forces was banned in 1948; however, it took a few years before the military was integrated. Edwards’ outfit was one of the first to be desegregated, he said, and the veteran trained and served with people from different backgrounds and nationalities including Filipino, Korean, Chinese and American Samoa. He said everyone got along well.

His brother-in-law, who served in 1950, was with an all-Black unit. When Edwards, who is also part Native American, sent him a letter including a photo of himself and his fellow soldiers, his brother-in-law asked him, “What army are you in?”

Hub wrote back, “I’m in the United States Army. The same as you.” 

The road to Korea

Born in Stony Brook, Edwards was only a few years old when his family moved to Chicken Hill, a neighborhood in Setauket. He was known in the area for his athleticism as a baseball player, pitching for the school’s varsity baseball team in 8th grade. In 11th grade, he continued pitching for the school and a local semi-pro team.

In 1951, at the age of 21, he received two draft notices — one from the United States Armed Forces and the other from the Brooklyn Dodgers after the team heard of his three no-hitters. The baseball milestones occurred while playing for his high school team, the Setauket Suffolk Giants and Setauket Athletic Club.

Despite the stroke of luck potentially to play professional baseball, Edwards had no choice but to join the army during draft time.

“Uncle Sam took first precedent,” he said.

Edwards added he wasn’t alone in the community. “Most of the young men that I went to school with all ended up in the service.”

Before joining the army, all he knew was the Three Village area. After stops in Camp Kilmer, New Jersey, and Camp Stoneman, California, he was put on a boat to Honolulu, Hawaii, where he trained.

The veteran, who served from 1951 to 1953, said the Schofield Barracks they slept in while training in Hawaii were nice but still had bullet holes from the Pearl Harbor attack in 1941. After training in Hawaii, his unit headed to Busan, Korea. He said it was a different world than what he knew. His unit worked with injured soldiers, helping them get to hospitals in Japan, or even home.

“That’s why I never talk about it because I saw a lot of wounded,” the veteran said.

Growing up and attending Bethel AME Church in Setauket regularly when he was younger helped Edwards keep his faith when he served. He still wears the cross he had in the army. “Even with the dog tags, I kept it on,” he said.

Despite what he experienced in Korea, Edwards feels the military provides much-needed discipline for young people.

“If you’ve been in the service, you learn how to take orders,” he said.

Being raised by a strict mother and grandmother, Edwards said he already possessed discipline when he joined the army. Edwards said he missed his family while away from Setauket and looked forward to receiving letters from his mother and grandmother as well as family members, friends and a girl he was dating at the time. “In fact, I still have some of those letters,” he said.

Life after Korea

After his time in the army, where he began as a private first class and ended his service as a corporal, Edwards returned to Chicken Hill. He carried the memories from his service, and while teaching Sunday School at Bethel AME Church for 20 years, Edward said he tried “to teach peace for your fellow man.” 

Soon after his return home, he met and married Nellie Sands. The couple bought a house in West Setauket and had two sons.

Edwards, a retired custodian for the Three Village Central School District, where he worked for 40 years, has been an active member of the Three Village Historical Society. Before the pandemic, he would greet guests at the society’s Chicken Hill: A Community Lost to Time exhibit every Sunday to answer visitors’ questions. 

Edwards has also been a member of the American Legion Irving Hart Post 1766 since 1953. For decades, he has participated in parades, memorial services and other veteran events locally as well as in Washington, D.C., Rochester, Buffalo and all over Long Island to represent his post. He said being a member has allowed him the opportunity to meet veterans who fought in different wars through the decades. 

In the early days, some members had fought in World War I and World War II. Edward said Nelson Combs, an early member of the post who was Black, had to fight in the French army during World War I because he was unable to sign up for the armed forces in the United States. Combs went on to receive the Croix de Guerre, which is comparable to the U.S. Bronze or Silver Star.

Joe Bova, who has volunteered with Edwards at the Three Village Historical Society and conducted research with him for the Chicken Hill exhibit, is currently working with the veteran on the renovation of the Irving Hart Post. Bova said his friend developed a lot of empathy while serving.

“He really felt strongly about what his commitment to people should be and that just transferred over to the community that he belongs to,” Bova said. He also credits Edwards with being actively involved with the Irving Hart post since he returned from Korea, recruiting members and playing a major part in the current renovations and plans for the post’s future.

Recognition

Edwards isn’t sure if he will be able to attend Setauket’s Memorial Day Parade this year, but he said it’s always touching when veterans are acknowledged.

“Every veteran appreciates it when people recognize that you have served your country,” he said. “It makes you feel good that people appreciate what you did.”

As for his athletic accomplishments, those haven’t been forgotten either. On May 18, he was inducted into the Suffolk Sports Hall of Fame for those three no-hitters in his pre-war days.