Veterans

Mary Ann Fox stands behind veteran Jack Grady, her proofreader and historical expert. Photo by Kyle Barr

It’s been little less than a year since Mary Ann Fox, of Leisure Glen in Ridge, finished her book of veterans in her own small community, titled “Proudly We Served.” 

There are a few hundred homes in the 55-and-older gated community of Leisure Glen,  and the stories of 63 veterans of that community lie within those pages, tales of both horror and heroism, of people who constantly and consistently told her they were proud to serve their country, hence the book’s title. 

The 63 veterans and their families from Leisure Glen in Ridge whose stories were published in a book by Mary Ann Fox.
Photo from Fox

In the time since the book was officially released last April, 325 copies have been printed, and Fox  has brought her books and those stories to local vets groups, schools, libraries and other civic-type groups.

But the time since her book’s release has also been heartbreaking. She has seen several of those men whose lives were memorialized in the pages of her book pass away.

On April 28, 2019, she held a ceremony in Leisure Glen that displayed her work to a packed room, including several elected officials. Just two months later, one of the vets, Andy Estrema, died. His story is one of the most harrowing described in the book. As a Marine during the Korean War, he fought in the Battle of Chosin Reservoir, where soldiers struggled against not only enemy machine guns but also a bitter cold that reached as low as -30 degrees Fahrenheit. He fought off waves of the enemy that struggled up the hill in the face of American machine gunners. He fought barefoot and lost all of his toes from frostbite. He was shot and injured during the battle in his lower back and only survived thanks to the men who fought alongside him.

Yet, Fox knew, this was the reason she wrote the book. The stories of those 63 veterans from Leisure Glen would, if not etched in stone, be forever contained in the glossy pages of her book. It would remain in the hands of the veterans’ families for as long as they could keep it.

“I felt very privileged,” she said. “They were sharing stories with me [that] some had not even shared with their family.”

She had been invited to Estrema’s military funeral, where she sat with the family as the ceremonial officers snapped the flag 13 times into a tight triangular fold. There, she said she could  not help but tear up knowing the honor she was witnessing for the first time, firsthand. 

Though it was the first military funeral she personally experienced, it wouldn’t be her last in the several months since her book was released.

That is the reality of the book she wrote, as she knows the stories contained within would outlast the men who told them. It has become a boon for the families whose loved ones have served, helping to prompt conversations about such events that they had rarely experienced before. Even during the writing process, Fox saw the effect that simply listening could have. 

“They were waiting for someone to say, ‘I know you served in World war II …’ [I say] you served your country, tell me what you did, tell me your story and let me weave it into a story of your service to the country,” she said. “I say ‘tell me what you want me to write.’”

The Writing Process

Fox never had it in mind to write a book such as this. Before retiring, she owned a travel agency in Middle Island. She retired and moved to North Carolina in 1998. After 12 years, when her husband passed, she decided to move back to Long Island to be closer to her daughter, picking a spot quite close to the center of Leisure Glen.

It was 2018, Memorial Day, and American Legion Post 352 held a meeting at the gated community that would etch the idea in Fox’s mind. 

“She heard our voices before our voices were stilled.”

— Jack Grady

The post commander said that one should get to know the stories of the veterans around them, because come Memorial Day next year, many would not be around any longer, their lives and stories taken by the march of time.

“He said, ‘Look at us, we get smaller in number every year, and we’re not going to be here forever.’” Fox recalled. “And then he finished by saying, ‘and you know what and nobody is going to know we were here.’”

It was the first time she had ever even thought about publishing a work such as that. 

Before writing the book, she said, like most people, she had no real idea just what it was to have gone through war. Listening to their stories, she said she could tell just what kind of person it requires to go through that experience. Some stories hit her hard, such as Estrema’s. He had written everything out himself, what ended up being five pages in her book. During their conversation, she had to excuse herself. 

“I went into the bathroom and I cried my heart out,” she said. “What they went through in this battle … he thoroughly believed that somewhere in battle, the blessed mother came to him — a very religious man, and he was until the day he died.”

With the massive number of interviews under her belt, with the piles and piles of notes on her desk, she quickly learned she needed somebody to help her unpack all the jargon and help her with grammar. That’s where Jack Grady came in, a 93-year-old World War II Army vet who also sees himself as an amateur military historian. Fox would drop off the pages to him, and then a day later he would call her back to give her the pages dotted with red pen marks and questions, asking her to go back and confirm some information with those fellow vets.

Before Fox, he said he had never been asked much about his own story. In his mind, it is mostly du to people’s desire to move on from such grave history.

“It was in the past,” Grady said. “The war was over, and of course we had Korea and, unfortunately, Vietnam, so World War II faded into [the] distance … it’s not that people were callous or anything, but they have their own concerns, and they don’t want to listen to these kinds of things unless somebody broaches the subject.” 

The elder veteran looks at the book now as a testament, a means to forever keep their stories alive.

“We’re gone, almost,” he said. “She heard our voices before our voices were stilled.”

If Fox couldn’t talk to the veterans themselves, such as several who had recently passed, she received their stories from their wives. She got to know the tales of so many vets, and in writing the book, many of those family members finally got to hear the story of their service. After doing the first stint of a two-day interview with Korean War veteran James Dragone, his daughter followed Fox outside, quickly wrapping her arms around her with tears in her eyes. Fox thought, at first, she must have done something wrong, asked the wrong question or said the wrong thing, but then the daughter started thanking her, saying it was the first time she heard that story of her father.

“Her contribution to her community has been very significant — it was a labor of love you rarely see.”

— Jane Bonner

Each of the stories tells not just of a man, but a man within a community. It speaks of their children and grandchildren, of men like Daniel Testa, a Korean War vet’s amazing homemade mozzarella. Dragone’s story says Leisure Glen members knew him as the Flag Man because “for 20 years he raised and lowered our flags daily.”

Why had they not talked about it before to their families? Fox said in many cases it was the past, and these men wanted to move on.

“The World War II men — they saw so much they wanted to put it behind them — they were still young men — and start their life,” Fox said. “The Korean War veterans — they, I think, pretty much felt the same … The Vietnam veterans, they came home wounded, mentally, physically, but mostly mentally.”

Of the three wars covered in the book, the Vietnam War section is the shortest. She thinks that was due to the war they fought, and the things they must have witnessed during the fighting, and most simply they were proud to serve.

“There’s a Vietnam veteran in there who has three Purple Hearts, and when I introduced him at the ceremony, the one thing he asked me to do was not mention that,” she said. “They’re not looking for any glory.”

Ceremony and Reaction

At last year’s ceremony, which finally displayed more than a year’s worth of effort, a packed crowd listened to the introduction of all service members included in the book. The ceremony was joined by Town of Brookhaven Supervisor Ed Romaine (R) and Councilwoman Jane Bonner (R-Rocky Point), Suffolk County Legislator Sarah Anker (D-Mount Sinai), state Sen. Ken LaValle (R-Port Jefferson) and a representative from U.S. Rep. Lee Zeldin’s (R-NY1) office. 

Little less than a year since then, Bonner said seeing all the work that went into such an event, and all the effort Fox put into the book, it was hard to come away not being dazzled by her efforts. 

“I was just so impressed by her passion to undertake something like this,” she said. “Her contribution to her community has been very significant — it was a labor of love you rarely see.”

The book is a coil-bound glossy print, with a cover designed by her daughter. The ceremony’s program cover was designed by Carl Schmidt, a 95-year-old World War II veteran who was Fox’s first interview.

The event was officiated by Monsignor Charles Fink, himself a Vietnam veteran and the author of the famous poem “Bury Me with Soldiers.” After all names were called, Fink was recognized for his service, and once Fox said the Catholic priest was a Purple Heart recipient, all men who could stand stood, and all applauded.

Fox has taken her book nearly everywhere it has been requested, including Comsewogue and North Shore public libraries, the Tesla Science Center, the Long Island State Veterans Home and Albert G. Prodell Middle School for their annual Living History Day last May. She said she plans to attend this year’s event and hopes to bring with her a veteran from World War II, Korea and Vietnam. She also hopes she may be able to start a letter-writing campaign between the students and veterans.

Last year at the Rocky Point VFW Post 6249, she was also awarded a plaque for her work by the Town. 

“They were sharing stories with me [that] some had not even shared with their family.”

— Mary Ann Fox

Joe Cognitore, the Rocky Point VFW post commander, called Fox “a very dedicated woman.” She came to one of the VFW’s meetings last year with several of the vets described in her book, and a few even decided to become members of Post 6249. He had even seen her at the Long Island Veterans home, handing out ornaments to some of those living there.

“I couldn’t thank her enough for all her work of preserving veterans’ history, especially the World War II veterans,” Cognitore said. 

Before it was printed, two publishers were interested in the book, but the issue was it would have taken six to seven months for them to produce a finished product. For the veterans whose stories needed to be told, she knew she needed to print as soon as possible. Since April 2019, Estrema, Dragone and several other vets or their wives who provided the stories for the book have passed away. She knows she made the right choice, and she currently plans to keep it self-published with any additional printings.

Grady said Fox was one of the few people who could pull off a work like this, but of course, there are always more stories to tell.

“Most fellas don’t want to talk about those things, and it takes prodding to get the story done,” he said. “Mary Ann did 60, and I bet you she could do another 30 who didn’t answer the original ad.”

The VFW has asked if she could do a similar work for them, but she is still unsure since the men whom she wrote about in her book were from her own community, and it would be different venturing out to neighboring places. In Leisure Glen, newly arrived residents and others who did not originally respond to the first book requests have asked if they too could be included in later editions, and she said she is still trying to wrap her mind around what could be next. 

For now, she’s simply looking to spread the stories of the veterans, her friends, the members of her community. She hopes other people look to the veterans in their communities and look to learn their stories as well.

“To be honest, before the book, I didn’t really grasp the concept of what these men went through,” she said. “You have to sit across from them, you have to see it in their eyes, and it just comes pouring out.”

From left, Presiding Officer Robert Calarco, Suffolk County Council VFW Commander Dave Rogers, Dori Scofield, Legislator Sarah Anker, VFW Post 6431 Commander Sabrina Lacy, Legislator Susan Berland, Cathie Norton Doherty and Ina Casali announce the new Suffolk veterans resource guide. Photo from Anker's office

Long Island has one of the highest concentrations of veterans in the country, with Suffolk County as its heart, and with so many vets resources spread throughout the Island, Suffolk has looked to create a comprehensive guide to help navigate the breadth of supportive services.

County legislators, along with veterans and support groups, unveiled the new Suffolk County Veterans Resource Guide Feb. 11 that they say will make it easier for veterans and their families to search for available benefits and opportunities that may otherwise be missed. The Veterans Resource Guide is an informational book that supplies contact information to military veterans and their caregivers.

The guide was created as a result of legislation that Legislator Sarah Anker (D-Mount Sinai) introduced last year.

“We have an obligation to ensure that our veterans have quick and reliable access to the services on a moment’s notice, and that is what this resource guide accomplishes,” said Anker. 

Suffolk County Veterans Services Agency already has a wealth of resources, including benefit programs with information on disability compensation, pension, education, vocational rehabilitation, home loan guarantee, life insurance, legal assistance and state benefits that offer Vietnam veterans tuition, Persian Gulf veterans tuition and veterans tax exemptions.

The guide offers contacts for food assistance opportunities, health service, emotional services such as the Joseph P. Dwyer Veterans Peer Support group and even the number for every town tax assessor.

In addition, the county provides assistance with filing claims for benefits from federal and state agencies, filing DD-214 (discharge papers and separation papers) and in-home visits to assist the housebound veterans with claims.

“This is a very important program, so many veterans get out and don’t know where to go — not just for benefits or county programs, but also for unique programs that offer help to women veterans, LGBTQ Veterans, and those with special needs,” said Dave Rogers, Commander of the Suffolk County Council VFW.

The guide is available online as well as printed. People looking for the guide can contact Suffolk County Veterans Services Agency by calling 631-853-VETS (8387) or going to www.suffolkcountyny.gov/veterans for Suffolk County veterans services.

For online access to the Veterans Resource Guide go to www.suffolkcountyny.gov/Portals/4/docs/SuffolkCountyVetGuide.pdf.

Sen. Chuck Schumer with Jerry Chiano's family surround a photo at the Long Island Veteran's home in Stony Brook Dec. 20.

Before Vietnam vet Jerry Chiano of Valley Stream died in 2017 after battling a rare form of bile duct cancer, he fought to raise awareness by urging Vietnam vets to get tested for liver fluke exposure. The tiny worm, found in Southeast Asia, can be transmitted to humans after they eat raw or uncooked fish. The parasite lives in the biliary system and is the known cause of bile duct cancer. 

“It’s such a crazy disease,” said Chiano’s daughter, Jennifer Paglino. “My father wanted other people to know about it, so they’d get the treatment and benefits they deserve.” 

Chiano’s awareness campaign garnered the support of researchers at the Northport VA Medical Center, who concluded that same year in a pilot study that one in four local Vietnam vets who ate raw or uncooked fish while deployed were exposed to the parasite. 

U.S. Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) sounded alarms in late December, stating the study remains largely unused. He’s urging the VA to look seriously at the issue and Northport VA’s work, noting that benefit claims for the disease have increased sixfold since 2003, while 80 percent of the claims submitted in 2015 have been denied.

The VA is conducting the Vietnam Era Veterans Mortality Study, a national effort that will look at data from everyone who served in the military during the Vietnam era, from Feb. 28, 1961 through May 7, 1975, and compare mortality rates for all ailments, including bile duct cancer. Results for that study are pending. 

The agency did not say if that study would dictate whether or not bile duct cancer is considered a service-related disease. 

Representative Lee Zeldin (R-NY-1) said he hopes the VA’s new large-scale research mission “will pave the way for infected veterans to receive the treatment they have earned.”

Schumer is demanding that the Northport research be used. 

He noted that the situation raises questions about the VA process for acknowledging service-related illnesses and how its researchers use the statistically based science of epidemiology, which links exposure to disease. 

The VA website clearly states that liver fluke exposure can cause bile duct cancer. Yet, a VA spokesperson said in an email that the Northport research is flawed, while discounting the risks. 

“The VA is not aware of any studies that show that bile duct cancer occurs more often in U.S. Vietnam veterans than in any other group of people,” he stated. 

Schumer pointed out how the VA initially found in 2009 limited evidence to suggest that exposure to Agent Orange and other herbicides during the Vietnam War caused Parkinson’s disease. Months later, it reversed its decision and added the disease to the list of covered conditions connected to exposure to herbicide agents. 

Schumer and the entire Long Island congressional delegation — Zeldin, Tom Suozzi (D-NY-3), Peter King (R-NY-2) and Kathleen Rice (D-NY-4) — have urged the VA to study the issue. 

“Local vets, some of whom are already sick, need reassurance that these studies lead to answers on service-related health claims, while others have passed away while fighting for awareness and VA testing,” Schumer stated. 

As the VA embarks on another large-scale research mission on toxins and environmental exposure, Schumer underscores the importance of using the Northport data. 

“We have samples, antigen markers and more; there’s good stuff here from this smaller study, but it is largely sitting on a shelf, as we are here today to say: use what’s useful,” he said. 

However, the VA bluntly states: “No future VA studies will utilize data from the Northport VA Medical Center’s pilot Liver Fluke study …” 

In an email, the VA spokesperson explained that the Northport VA liver fluke study relied on a test used in Asia, where the disease is prevalent, which is not FDA approved. It also noted, among other things, that the Northport VA study lacked control groups. Plus, he said, none of the patients who tested positive for liver fluke exposure actually suffer from bile duct cancer. 

Gerald Wiggins a Vietnam vet from Port Jefferson Station took part in the Northport VA liver fluke study and was one of 12 veterans found to have been exposed to the parasite. He does not have bile duct cancer, but he said he had two bile duct cysts removed in September 2017 at Sloan Kettering. 

The disease, he said, is a ticking time bomb. He can’t understand why the government isn’t supporting veterans. At 71 years old, he said it’s late for him. But he believes every veteran who served in Southeast Asia and areas prone to the parasite should be tested. 

“Ten people came down with Zika virus in Florida and within two weeks the federal government gave $600 million to fight it,” he said. “As a vet, I laid my life on the line and got nothing.” 

He submitted a VA claim, which he said was denied. His other insurance picked up the tab.

George Psvedos, an infectious disease specialist and a Northport VA physician, conducted the study. The Northport VA was unsuccessful in gaining clearance for an interview from the VA. But, as noted in his research conclusion statement, his study was the first to show evidence of exposure to liver fluke in U.S. soldiers deployed in Vietnam. He called for more research to examine the link between a Vietnam exposure and the likelihood of veterans developing bile duct cancer.  

Currently, no validated test for liver fluke infection is available for clinical use in the United States, according to the VA website. And the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is not recommending serological testing for exposure, the VA said. 

The Northport VA said that if veterans express concerns or symptoms of bile duct cancer, the VA screens them right away. 

Meanwhile, the prognosis for bile duct cancer is poor, with a 30 percent five-year survival rate, according to the American Cancer Society.

Jerry Chiano stands in front of an American flag dangling his dog tags.

As for Chiano, he ultimately died of an esophageal bleed, his daughter said, caused by throat cancer induced by exposure to Agent Orange.

“He thought he was going to die of bile duct cancer,” said Paglino. “We thought [his dying of Agent Orange exposure] was his way of making sure that my mother received VA benefits after he died.”

Survival benefits for veteran’s families are extended when a veteran’s disease is considered service related. Veterans enrolled in VA health care are eligible for VA-provided cancer care, the agency said. 

“VA encourages all veterans who feel their military service has affected their health to submit a claim, which will be adjudicated using the latest scientific and medical evidence available,” said VA spokesperson Susan Carter.

Suozzi is also still following the issue.

“At minimum, we owe Vietnam veterans answers on whether they were exposed to cancer-causing parasites while serving, and the Northport VA’s study nearly two years ago was an important step in confirming that,” he said. “This data could prove instrumental in ensuring affected veterans are taken care of nationwide. I strongly urge the Veterans Administration to include this important study in their future research or, at least explain in detail why they will not.” 

Photos from Jennifer Paglino

Nonprofit Accepts Grant Funds for Postage Costs

Sheriff Errol Toulon Jr. (D) talks with Rocky Point VFW Post 6249 Commander Joe Cognitore while Greg Thompson, right, and Corrections Officer Robert Sorrentino, back, work to pack boxes for Operation Veronica. Photo by Kyle Barr

Suffolk County Corrections Officer Robert Sorrentino watched with awe last week as women older than he worked like machines on an assembly line and prepared care packages for troops as part of a volunteer group called Operation Veronica that works out of St. Anthony of Padua R.C. Church in Rocky Point. 

Corrections Officer Robert Sorrentino helps pack boxes at Operation Veronica. Photo by Kyle Barr

Sorrentino serves in the Air National Guard as a technical sergeant out of the Francis S. Gabreski Air National Guard Base in Westhampton and has routinely flown military aircraft in state and federal missions, supported space shuttle launches, flown in rescue missions with hurricanes Irma and Maria and was sent to Djibouti, Africa, during Operation Enduring Freedom in 2010. Still, he couldn’t help but be impressed by the group’s energy.

“It’s really efficient,” Sorrentino said. “I’ve been on the receiving end of getting care packages, and it’s awesome — its greatly appreciated.”

Multiple members of the Suffolk County Sheriff’s Office, including Sheriff Errol Toulon Jr (D), visited Operation Veronica during its regular Friday meeting a few days after Veterans Day. Members of the department helped put together boxes of care packages, which can include snacks, toiletries or other personalized items that can give a little bit of comfort to men and women stationed overseas.

Nearly every Friday since 2005, close to 20 women spend several hours putting together care packages to send to troops stationed overseas. 

Janet Godfrey, a Wading River resident and founder of the group, explained to their visitors how they pack boxes under a certain weight to avoid excess postage fees. Volunteers also showed the sheriff’s department staff how they create survival bracelets out of 550 paracord, the same rope used for paratroopers during World War II, and polar fleece sweaters for soldiers out in deserts that may become freezing at night. 

Greg Thompson, a deputy sheriff who is currently a reservist machinery technician for the U.S. Coast Guard, was also impressed at the skill and attentiveness of the women at Operation Veronica.

“I think this is amazing, absolutely fantastic,” he said.

Toulon called the group extremely efficient in, “not only just the assembly line, but the coordination of the organization, and really it’s just the effort — to say to these vets we’re thinking about them, we’re caring for them and we’re praying for them.”

Sheriff Errol Toulon assists pack boxes at Operation Veronica. Photo by Kyle Barr

He expects the sheriff’s department to collaborate with Operation Veronica in the near future, by either donating goods or assisting in getting the boxes shipped abroad. 

In 2018 TBR News Media recognized Operation Veronica as one the newspaper’s People of the Year. Since then, Godfrey said the group has picked up steam and is still managing to send out hundreds of items week after week.

“We are busier than ever,” Godfrey said.

Funding is always difficult, especially in the shipping department, though the women of Operation Veronica often donate their time and buy their own goods to go in the boxes, as shipping can be upward of $70 for a heavier box.

“The women in this room come in to work, they do everything out of their own pockets,” she said. “They have passed the hat to pay postage at the end of the day.”

Godfrey had some good news, though. She said the Port Jefferson-based Richard & Mary Morrison Foundation has agreed to pay for the costs of shipping, which the Operation Veronica founder said can be as high as $10,000 to $12,000 a year. 

“They have promised to pay our postage however high it goes,” she added. 

For more information about Operation Veronica, visit www.operationveronica.org/.

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Rocky Point natives Gerard and Diane Hahn are honored along with three other siblings for service in the armed forces. Fifty other veterans were honored on the high school Veterans Wall of Honor. Photo by Kyle Barr

In Rocky Point, it’s hard to find a family without at least one armed service veteran as a family member.

As the Rocky Point High School band played out military tunes during a Nov. 15 assembly honoring vets, Rocky Point VFW Post 6249 Commander Joe Cognitore read off each branch of the armed service based on the music playing. Veterans and their families stood up, but it wasn’t just the visitors, students stood up as well. For both the men in service caps to the kids in T-shirts and jeans, service to country runs deep.

People take pictures and point to names of family members on Rocky Point HS Wall of Honor. Photo by Kyle Barr

It’s a testament to the number of veterans and veteran families in Rocky Point that this year the district added 50 additional names to the high school’s Wall of Honor, which was constructed last year with just under 60 names of veterans who were from Rocky Point or graduated from the district.

Social studies teacher Rich Acritelli was the major driving force between the wall and its update. He sunk considerable time and resources into fundraising and getting the updated plaques on the wall, working alongside fellow teachers, administrators and the school’s Varsity Club.

“In less than two years, the entire main hallway of the social studies wing will be full of people from the armed forces who sat in the same chairs, played in the same gym and fields, performed in school plays, band and chorus as you do,” Acritelli said to the assembled students. “These are people who played on the same blocks as you did.”

Some families had more than one person in the armed services. The Hahn family, all Rocky Point natives, had five siblings whose pictures now hang up on the wall. Gerard and Diane Hahn flew back home to their roots to accept the honor on behalf of their family.

“Our reason for entering the armed forces was different for each of us,” Gerard Hahn said, who after high school had joined the Air Force as a munitions specialist. 

“For various reasons and in different branches of the service, we wanted to serve our country,” he said. “Regardless of which branch, we were all proud of our service and our combined over 40 years in the military.”

Diane Hahn, Gerard’s sister joined the Army after she graduated in 1982. She said she joined the military, already having an interest in computers, spending five years in active duty and six as a reservist in data. She now works as a government contractor with her own IT company in Washington, D.C.

The brother of Gregory Brons, a veteran who graduated Rocky Point in 1996 and studied physics from Syracuse University, said his brother joined the U.S. Army in the signal corps both at home and overseas. He moved to southern California to work in defense research and has become an activist for the LGBTQ community.

Greg Hotzoglou honors his brother Taylor, a veteran who died trying to stop an armed robbery. Photo by Kyle Barr

“He is a champion for the freedoms we live under,” he said.

This year’s updated wall also included the names of faculty, some who served and some whose families had been in the armed forces. Jerry Luglio, athletic trainer, came to the podium to calls of “Jerry,” by students. He served in the U.S. Submarine Corps during the Cold War. Anthony Szymanski, a business teacher at the high school, died in 2014 but was remembered for his service to both the school and U.S. Army.

Many veterans whose pictures hang on the wall in Rocky Point High School have given much, but some have made the ultimate sacrifice.

Taylor Hotzoglou was honored by his brother, Greg, who said the young man joined up and served in the 101st Airborne Division in 2007 and had been fearless in his wanting to protect his fellow soldiers, often volunteering for the gunner’s seat in Humvees, known to be the most targeted and dangerous position a soldier could take in a vehicle. Hotzoglou died when he returned to the U.S., as he tried to stop an armed robbery while outside of Fort Campbell Army Base in Tennessee.

“His attitude was, if it’s not me, then somebody else is going to have to go over there and suffer,” Greg Hotzoglou said. “He said, you know what, it should be me, I should go.”

Dennis Sullivan blows a bugle at the 2011 Veterans Day Ceremony at the Centereach VFW post. File photo by Brittany Wait

Veterans Day events across Long Island have inspired children to sing, bands to play, politicians to speak and servicemen to march in parades.

Many Long Islanders came out to exhibit unwavering support for veterans on this national holiday. But with so many veterans facing hardships, such as food insecurities, joblessness, homelessness and health issues — some service-related — more needs to be done each and every day.

There are many ways our readers can help the men and women of the armed forces long after Veterans Day is over. Long Island organizations are always looking for help, year-round, whether it’s donating time, money, clothing or gently used items.

Here are a few groups, where you might lend a hand: 

• Long Island Cares Inc. — The Harry Chapin Food Bank: This Hauppauge-based center has been helping veterans, military personnel and their families since 2010. According to the nonprofit, more than 1,200 veterans per month typically receive support from its regional food bank through many of their programs. Long Island Cares will provide 500 veterans with holiday meals this year. The food bank is able to do this in part thanks to an $11,000 donation expected from Steven Castleton, civilian aide to the Secretary of the Army. Long Island Cares also offers the Veterans Mobile Outreach Unit, the VetsWork program and Military Appreciation Tuesdays where all Long Islanders can help by donating food items or money.

• United Veterans Beacon House: Headquartered in Bay Shore, this organization provides housing throughout Long Island for veterans. According to its website, on any given day more than 255 men, women and children throughout the tristate area have received services ranging from help with homelessness to treating PTSD, addiction and more. The organization can always use coats, gently used clothing and furniture.

• Long Island State Veterans Home at Stony Brook University: Located on SBU’s west campus, interested people can help out by assisting the home’s residents during their recreation programs and trips, or simply by sitting and talking with the men and women.

• Northport VA Medical Center: The VA presents opportunities where community members can volunteer or donate their time or money. A cash donation can be used by the VA to buy items for patients including hygiene products and refreshment supplies. The hospital also collects items such as magazines, coffee, and new or gently used clothing.

Some veterans are doing well, but sometimes they could use a little company. Many people at the senior centers and retirement homes would welcome a visit, so they can share a story, or have someone even record it for future generations.

Long Island has the highest concentration of vets in New York state. These men and women are our neighbors. Make some time to find a vet in your community.

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Rocky Point hosts a Veterans Day Event Nov. 11. Photo by Kyle Barr
Rocky Point hosts a Veterans Day Event Nov. 11. Photo by Kyle Barr

Following nearly a month of going to different schools in the area prior to Veterans Day, the Rocky Point VFW Post 6249 held its annual ceremony Nov. 11 honoring those who’ve served, both those that are here and those no longer with us. They were joined by Rocky Point Boy Scout Troop 244.

“Veterans Day means much more than a federal holiday,” said post Commander Joe Cognitore. “It’s to make sure the men and women receive what they need.”

Greenlawn Memorial Park will host a Veterans Day Ceremony on Nov. 11.

November 11 marks the annual observance of Veterans Day, a day on which we honor the millions of brave men and women who have served in the Armed Forces. The following towns on the North Shore will pay their respects:

 

Greenlawn

Join the American Legion Post 1244 for a Veterans Day Ceremony at Greenlawn Memorial Park, 107 Broadway, Greenlawn on Monday, Nov. 11 at 11 a.m. The ceremony will be attended by many veterans, government officials and members of the public. Call 516-458-7881.

Huntington

The public is invited to join Town of Huntington officials, the Veterans Advisory Board and local officials for a Veterans Day Ceremony on Sunday, Nov. 10 at 11 a.m. on Veterans Plaza in front of Huntington Town Hall, 100 Main St., Huntington. Call 631-351-3012.

Kings Park

A Veterans Day Parade will be held in Kings Park on Monday, Nov. 11. Kick off is at RJO Intermediated School, 99 Old Dock Road, Kings Park at 10:15 a.m. and ends at Veterans Plaza in front of the Kings Park Library and 1 Church St. Hosted by VFW Post 5796. Call 631-663-3092 for more information.

Mount Sinai

Heritage Park, 633 Mount Sinai-Coram Road, Mount Sinai invites the community to walk down the Parade of American Flags along the Avenue of the Americas on Monday, Nov. 11 from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. 100 National, state, territory and local flags will be displayed exhibiting the growth of our nation. Walking between these flags and reading about our history will lift your spirits, promote pride in our country and remember those who have served our nation. Free. Inclement weather cancels. Call 631-509-0882.

Rocky Point

VFW Post 6249, 109 King Road, Rocky Point invites the community to a Veterans Day Ceremony on Monday, Nov. 11 at 11 a.m. Light refreshments will be served. Call 631-744-9106 for further details.

Setauket

VFW Post 3054 holds a Veterans Day Ceremony at Setauket Veterans Memorial Park, Route 25A, Setauket (next to Se-Port Deli) on Monday, Nov. 11 at 11 a.m. All are welcome. Call 631-751-5541.

Sound Beach

The Sound Beach Civic Association invites all to its annual Veterans Day services at the Sound Beach Veterans Memorial Park on New York Avenue (across from the Sound Beach post office) in Sound Beach on Monday, Nov. 11 at 11 a.m. For further information, call 631-922-3773.

Pictured from left, Chris Graf, Michael Bernstein and Gloria Rocchio (holding original sketch of Memorial Rock) and Judy Greiman

In 1946 Ward Melville designated a plot of land on Main Street, right beyond the Stony Brook Village Center, to honor veterans of foreign wars.  

Michael Bernstein, Interim President, Stony Brook University; Judy Greiman, senior VP, government and community relations/chief deputy to the president at Stony Brook University; Gloria Rocchio, president of The Ward Melville Heritage Organization; and Chris Graf, owner of Stonegate Landscape recently met at the site to review the results of recent efforts to refurbish the area in preparation for Veterans Day.

 The area has been renovated several times over the years and recently needed additional work.  Graf stepped up to take care of this project, gratis, installing another boulder and new plantings, updating the area to the state it was in when first created in 1946. WMHO, along with Stony Brook University, partnered together and paid for an additional plaque as well as a bluestone marker.

Photos from WMHO

*This article has been updated to reflect Michael Bernstein’s new title.

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Port Jefferson and Port Jefferson Station vets have shown dedication to a local institution for just over 100 years.

The American Legion Wilson Ritch Post 432 held its 100th Anniversary Dinner/Dance at the Port Jefferson Moose Lodge Sept. 14. Local veterans and members of the lodge celebrated the centennial achievement alongside residents and local elected officials. 

The post was named after the late Cpl. Irving Wilson Ritch Jr., who made the ultimate sacrifice Sept. 6, 1918, on the Vesle River during the Oise-Aisne campaign during World War I. On Sept. 1, 1919, 15 of the original members came together to form the post, which was formally chartered Sept. 16 that year.

Their first meetings were held at the Port Jefferson Hook and Ladder House on Jones Street, presided over by A.C. Fiske, who was the post’s first commander and president.

Later, meetings were held at the local YMCA, the Port Jefferson court room, the K. of C. rooms and the rooms over the Port Jefferson Free Library. The group has now been meeting out of its new formal headquarters located at 1450 Hallock Ave. in Port Jefferson Station.

Since its start the post has been very active in the Port Jefferson Station and surrounding communities: attending and participating in various activities, ceremonies and events such as the annual wreath laying ceremonies on Memorial Day and other remembrance ceremonies on Veterans Day. Recently, the group has been working alongside other local vet groups and with Suffolk County Legislator Kara Hahn (D-Setauket) raising funds to revitalize local veteran memorials.

Members of the post said they look forward to serving and celebrating in local communities for another 100 years. 

Information provided by post historian Richard Knutson.