Veterans

Photo by Kyle Barr

By Rich Acritelli

Through these daunting times, the men and women in the Armed Services have always made this nation proud of their efforts to protect, preserve and promote the ideals of this nation at home and abroad.

Earlier this month, Tommy Fricke and his workers from Fricke Memorial added a tribute to the Rocky Point Veterans Square on the corner of Broadway and 25A — another reminder of national service to local residents — through the Combat Medic Joseph P. Dwyer Statue.  

This statue of Dwyer identifies the terrible impact of post traumatic stress disorder on combat veterans that have returned home after being involved in serious fighting. Since 1915, this recognized brain trauma, from the impact of fighting on a soldier was identified as “shell shocked.”  

There was no significant counseling that was offered by the government to properly treat millions of men and women from these different conflicts. Little was offered in therapy to the veteran that had fought over the skies of Europe, or who landed at D-Day, or through the island-hopping campaigns in the Pacific and Asia. 

In many cases, veterans were told to forget about their experiences, go home, get married, attend college, find a job and start a family.  

Photo by Kyle Barr

It is highly possible that many of the people who drive by the Dwyer Statue had family members who had no significant help to deal with PTSD. Some men and women had nightmares, outbursts, flashbacks and were in dire need of mental and physical attention that was not provided to them. 

According to the Veterans Administration, the most recent Gulf War veterans that served during Operations Iraqi Freedom and Enduring Freedom have been inflicted from 11-20 veterans out of every 100. During Desert Storm, the figure is 12 out of every 100 veterans have suffered from PTSD.  

And these numbers are staggering for Vietnam veterans, who at one point in their life had to deal with the enormous pressures of their service. It is estimated that at least 30% of Vietnam Veterans endured PTSD.  

This new statue focuses on the strength of American service, and the responsibilities of our government to care for all the members of the Armed Forces when they return home.  

As a child, Dwyer attended elementary school at Infant Jesus in Port Jefferson and graduated from Mount Sinai High School in 1994. As a young man, he enjoyed playing golf and going fishing with his friends and family. After he left high school, Dwyer moved to North Carolina with his parents and was employed at a local hospital where he transported people who needed medical treatment. 

According to his older sister Kristine, Dwyer was a peaceful man who always wanted to care for others.  When America was attacked on Sept. 11, 2001, after watching the assault on this nation, he tried to enlist that very day into the army but had to wait until Sept. 12. He eventually graduated from Basic and Advanced Individual Training from Fort Benning, Georgia, where he became a combat medic.  

Shortly after finishing his training, Dwyer was sent to Fort Bliss, Texas, where he vaccinated soldiers that were deployed overseas. On Feb. 15, 2003, he married his sweetheart, Matina, in Troy, North Carolina.  

When President George W. Bush (R) ordered American soldiers to be sent to the Middle East to attack Saddam Hussein and Iraq in 2003, Dwyer replaced a single mother, so that she was able to remain home with her child. He was one of the first soldiers to enter Iraq during this war with the 37th Cavalry Regiment. 

Joseph Dwyer in uniform. Photo from Dwyer family

While Dwyer told his family that he was being deployed to a hospital in Kuwait, they had no idea that he was with the leading army units that were on the road toward Baghdad — it wasn’t until the media began to run stories of his actions saving a child when they realized he was serving in Iraq.  

This well-known picture of Dwyer carrying a young child to safety was published and reported across the nation, and around the globe.  But to the day he died, Dwyer repeatedly stated that there was another combat medic that played a pivotal role in saving the life of this young boy. 

It was a difficult deployment for Dwyer who was constantly under attack, lonely and unable to sleep.  An exhausted Dwyer began inhaling computer cleaner Dust-Off to help him sleep a few hours before going back onto duty.  

On June 20, 2008, Dwyer left Iraq and traveled alone to Fort Bliss to eventually meet his wife, where they set up their home. A month later, the couple headed back to Mount Sinai, where he enjoyed the reunion with his family, friends and teachers.  

Right away, his sister realized that he was grossly underweight. He lost over 40 pounds during his time in Iraq. While Kristine cherishes the moment of seeing her brother after his deployment, she is not sure of his true joy, due to his unknown PTSD condition. 

Once he was at home, Dwyer was continually impacted by the issues of his PTSD condition. There were points that when he was driving, that Dwyer feared possible unexploded ordinances that were on the roads. He never held the feeling of personal safety, had disturbing visions, and for the rest of his life, this peaceful man had no personal peace after he served in Iraq. 

Kristine noticed a stare that developed in her brother who always wanted to be outside. Matina observed that her husband never liked going out to dinner, he closely watched the other customers, and always kept an eye on the door. Dwyer eventually gained his discharge from the service, but it was a battle to fight the government to receive his full disability compensation. During his service at home and when he left the army, Dwyer was still unable to sleep, and he continued to inhale Dust-Off.

By the end of his life in 2008, he did not have family members living with him and was unable to hold onto his own mental state. 

The picture that was widely presented across the nation and in different parts of the world was indicative of the kindness of Dwyer, even as he dealt with the horrors of his own personal concerns.

Until he passed away, it was important for Dwyer to have his story truthfully reported that presented the negatives of PTSD, and how it drastically changed the mental state of this peaceful citizen. On June 28, 2008, Dwyer died from the inhalants that he used to cope with the severity of his PTSD. 

Dwyer and his family. Photo from Dwyer family.

In speaking about the memory of her husband, Matina firmly recalls how he always sought to help others with an immense amount of love. This affection was especially demonstrated to his then two-year-old daughter who was called his “little princess.”

Meagan K. Dwyer is now 14 years old with a memory that lives on through family stories and pictures of her father.  

At the end of World War II, the historic Flag Raising at Mount Suribachi, Iwo Jima, was a similar picture that showed the resolve of American service overseas. 

When Ira Hayes, a marine that hoisted this flag during the earliest moments of this terrifying battle, came home, he suffered from PTSD where he drank heavily and agonized over his fellow marines and friends that died on this island. A short time later, he died from excessive drinking. 

Although Hayes passed away nearly 67 years ago, his story is connected to Dwyer. Both veterans were widely documented through a historic picture that rapidly received national acclaim from Americans across this country. 

But the hardships of PTSD never discriminate from one soldier or conflict to the next, and it is vital for this government to always perfect its ways to help combat veterans. 

At the St. Charles Give Veterans a Smile Day, veteran Kevin Magrane is treated by Michelle Wah, DDS; and Renee Calasciabetta, dental assistant.

Catholic Health Service’s (CHS) St. Charles Hospital Stephen B. Gold Dental Clinic in Port Jefferson recently hosted its 5th annual Give Veterans a Smile Day. The event provides men and women who have served our country in the armed forces with quality dental care free of charge.

This year’s event was dedicated to Mark Cherches, DDS, who passed away on September 18th. A military veteran, Dr. Cherches served as director of the St. Charles Dental Residency Program for 40 years and was instrumental in founding Give Veterans a Smile Day.

“It is humbling and very uplifting to help these men and women who have done so much to protect our freedom,” said St. Charles Department of Dentistry Director Keri Logan, DMD. “Many of our military veterans no longer have dental insurance. A veteran must be 100% service-disabled to qualify for dental care from the Veterans Administration.”

This year’s November 4th event provided service members numerous much-needed dental procedures, including exams, oral cancer screenings, cleanings, extractions and fillings. Also, free flu shots were provided.

Beginning in 2021, the Give Veterans a Smile Day will be held twice a year thanks to a grant from the Mother Cabrini Health Foundation.

For information about the Stephen B. Gold Dental Clinic, please call (631) 474-6332.

Presidents Abraham Lincoln, left, and Franklin D. Roosevelt visit their troops during their respective wars. Photos from respective presidential libraries

By Rich Acritelli

“A nation that does not honor its heroes will not long endure.”

These words were stated by an American icon who guided this nation during one of the most tumultuous periods in our history. It was at this point on Veterans Day, 1864, that Lincoln won re-election against former commanding general of the Union military George B. McClellan.  For many months, Lincoln feared that he would not win a second term and that his military forces would have to gain a decisive victory against the South before he left office in March of 1865. The president agonized over his personal estimation that he would eventually lose to McClellan and that the nation would not be preserved. His eventual victory signaled a continuation of the major task of the Union government to defeat the Confederacy and have the country be united under one flag.  

Lincoln’s armies were led by the skill of General Ulysses S. Grant, who understood the importance of achieving military objectives towards the success of Lincoln being re-elected.  Unlike Robert E. Lee who did not connect the strategy of the Army of Northern Virginia towards leadership directives of Jefferson Davis, Grant directed that his forces had to win battles to persuade northern voters that Lincoln was making enough progress to win the war. Once Grant took over the authority of all Union forces in March of 1864, he directed the bloody fighting in Virginia that resulted in a deadly struggle between these two armies.

At the start of the Overland Campaign in May of 1864, Grant informed Lincoln that there was no going backward against the Confederates. Every effort was put forth to pressure the southern forces that precariously held onto fortifications that guarded Richmond and Petersburg. Although the southerners defeated many of the commanding leaders from the Army of the Potomac, Lincoln had a bulldog in Grant who was not intimidated by the multitude of southern victories that were won by Lee. 

Davis and Lee eagerly sought the political defeat of Lincoln, as they realized that if he gained a second term, this president would vigorously carry out the war until the North achieved victory. These key Confederate leaders worried about the lack of resources and the stretching of their own lines against the numerical strength of the northern soldiers.  And in Georgia, Sherman left behind Atlanta in his “March to the Sea,” where he captured Savannah by Christmas as a gift to Lincoln. With a vengeance, Sherman marched through the Carolina’s to link up with Grant’s army in Virginia. Grant’s unwillingness to bend against the Confederates and the political and military wisdom of Lincoln, signified the beginning of the end for the Confederacy in early November of 1864.

During World War II in Europe and at this moment in time (originally called Armistice Day), Allied armies quickly operated from Normandy to move eastward into the interior of France. That summer was an extremely hazardous moment for the Germans, as they were driven back into Poland on the Eastern Front, in the West, and when Paris was liberated by General Dwight D. Eisenhower and his coalition of armies. Even as Operation Market Garden was deemed a failure with a waste of resources and men, the Allies waged massive air drops into Belgium, the Netherlands, and near the German border. This pursuit from the Atlantic and the Mediterranean Sea saw German military resistance almost collapse in this part of Europe that was held by the Nazis since the spring of 1940.  

Like that of Lincoln, President Franklin D. Roosevelt faced a re-election, but this was for his unprecedented fourth term. Many Americans counted on the smile of Roosevelt and his guidance during the harrowing moments of this war. Although Lincoln was a dominant Republican and Roosevelt was one of the most capable Democratic Presidents to hold office, these leaders shared many similarities. With six months left of fighting their respective wars, both men were exhausted from the daily rigors of leadership and they aged beyond their years. They asked their populations to keep sacrificing for the good of the war, grieved over losses, and they were determined to gain a victory that would change both the nation and the world.  

Both men are historic giants, but they were known for being major political figures within their states of Illinois and New York, respectively. They held secondary military positions, as Lincoln was a captain of his militia during the Black Hawk Indian War and Roosevelt was an Assistant Secretary of the Navy during World War I. To win their respective wars, Lincoln counted on the support of war time Democrats that served in the Union army as generals. When Roosevelt ran for re-election for his third term in 1940, he fully realized that America would eventually fight the Germans and Japanese. FDR asked for the support of noted Republicans Frank Knox as the Secretary of the Navy and Henry L. Stimson to command the War Department. 

These historic families sacrificed like others in this country as Lincoln’s son Robert was a captain within Grant’s headquarters staff. Jimmy Roosevelt, the eldest son of FDR, was decorated for dangerous combat operations against the Japanese, and he ended the war as a colonel. They were well-liked figures that saw Lincoln present colorful stories and Roosevelt always wore a smile on his face during tense moments. While they were busy running the war, both leaders saw the importance of visiting their soldiers. At the end of the Civil War, a tired Lincoln was urged by Grant to spend time with his headquarters and soldiers at City Point, Virginia. Lincoln rode his horse close to the front lines with Grant and enjoyed the company of his officers and soldiers. In North Africa, Roosevelt sat in a jeep with his brilliant smile and openly talked to Eisenhower and General George S. Patton. Even at the cusp of total victory, Lincoln was at the service of Grant in helping him at every turn to defeat the Confederacy and end slavery in this country. Roosevelt was driven to destroy fascism as his armies were poised to enter Germany and General Douglas MacArthur prepared to stage his return to the Philippines.  

When these leaders died, the American government, military, and civilians mourned over their loss. Citizens watched the trains that brought Lincoln to Springfield, Illinois and Roosevelt to Hyde Park, New York for their final burial. Americans from different walk’s life tried to gain a last glimpse of the coffins that were draped within an American flag.  May this nation always thank the men and women that served in the armed forces within every conflict and those historic political leaders that put our people first during exceedingly trying times.  

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

People take pictures and point to names of family members on Rocky Point HS Wall of Honor back in 2019. Photo by Kyle Barr

The Rocky Point High School is looking for graduates of the school district and any employees who have served in the armed forces to be recognized on their Wall of Honor.

The Wall of Honor was created in 2018 to recognize the many people and their families who have served their country. In 2019, the district added 50 names to the wall in a ceremony held in November. There are now over 110 honorees displayed near the front entrance to the high school. Funding for the wall is provided by local sponsors, but all work is done by school district employees and students.

Rocky Point history teacher Rich Acritelli asked interested persons to send a military picture, the year they graduated and, if necessary, the job title they held in the Rocky Point School District by Nov. 11. People can send all information to [email protected]

Rocky Point VFW during a 2019 Veterans Day Event. The Rocky Point VFW has donated to the Joseph P. Dwyer project, but that same initiative may be losing funds without federal aid. Photo by Kyle Barr

County officials said the Joseph P. Dwyer program, which provides veterans with peer to peer counseling for post traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injury, is under financial pressure amid the economic collapse caused by the pandemic.

Though at the same time, a local congressman who helped start the program has questioned whether the program could truly be defunded, even as local officials are facing a grim financial outlook.

U.S. Rep. Lee Zeldin said there is not much risk of the Dwyer program being defunded any time soon. File photo by Kevin Redding

A loss of the Dwyer program is especially problematic this year, as the need for these services on Long Island has more than doubled in the last six months, according to Marcelle Leis, program director of the Joseph P. Dwyer Veterans Peer Support Project.

Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone (D) led a group of people focused on veterans affairs in the county, which has the largest population of veterans in the state, to ask for federal disaster relief.

The Dwyer program is “at risk because of tough budgets in the state,” Bellone said on a conference call with reporters. It is “critical that the federal government provide disaster aid to state and local governments so we can continue to function and provide critical services during the pandemic.”

Veterans commit about 20 suicides per day, which is a “national shame,” Bellone said. The county executive cited a recent report in Newsday that estimates that veteran suicides are up by 20 percent since the pandemic began.

“All of the challenges people have faced” have been exacerbated by the “unprecedented natural disaster that we are all living through,” Bellone added.

Domestic violence, mental health and addiction issues have all become more prevalent amid the threat to public health and the economic uncertainty caused by COVID-19, officials said.

Thomas Ronayne, Director of the Suffolk County Veterans Service Agency, said resources for veterans in Suffolk County were “stretched to near the breaking point.”

Ronayne suggested the virus that has changed the world during this challenging year has been no less an enemy than any combatant veterans faced on a battle field, in a jungle or in a desert city.

Veterans have struggled with the isolation created by calls for them to avoid social interactions, when agencies like Ronayne’s would normally encourage them to socialize and interact with the community and their peers.

Indeed, Joe Cognitore, Commander of the Rocky Point VFW Post 6249, who received the Bronze Star and the Combat Infantry Badge for his service during Vietnam from 1969 to 1971, said he has typically felt relief going out and feels much more pent up by being indoors.

“Staying in and [staring at] the four walls of your home takes a toll on you,” Cognitore said.

Cognitore said the Rocky Point VFW recently donated $2,500 to the Dwyer Program.

Leis said the Dwyer Program receives $185,000 in Suffolk County each year in state funding. Cutting or eliminating that funding would reduce the services veterans can access.

“We do save lives,” Leis said. “We cannot do it alone.”

Ronayne said veterans can reach out to the Agency by calling (631) 853-8387, adding that they are always available to support veterans, but that people who need help immediately should call 911.

Bellone said U.S. Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-NY1) has a “close, working relationship with the president and the White House,” Bellone said. “That’s a critical thing. We need the president to weigh in with [Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY).] We need all parties to come to an agreement on disaster aid.”

Zeldin was a state senator when the Dwyer Program started and said in a phone interview Tuesday that he has continued to provide support.

While Zeldin has spoken with President Donald Trump (R) this Sunday by phone about the need for funding for Suffolk County, he has not heard about any imminent threat to state-sponsored support for a program he helped create.

The Dwyer Program is funded through the end of the first quarter of 2021, Zeldin said, adding he wasn’t aware of anyone inside the state executive or legislative branch who is planning to cut funding for this program.

Zeldin doesn’t anticipate that this particular program will be cut at the state level either.

The North Fork Cruisers hosted a car show in Port Jeff to support the Rocky Point VFW Post 6249 July 11. Photo by Kyle Barr

The sweet sounds of ’50s ’60s and ’70s pop and blues drifted out over the cars settled in front of the Port Jefferson Frigate ice cream and candy shop Saturday, July 11. Despite the humidity from tropical storm Fay passing by the day before, crowds gathered in the small parking lot to look at a host of cars in all varieties to support the local VFW post that has struggled financially from the pandemic.

The nonprofit North Fork Cruisers hosted its first Car Show for Veteran Suicide Awareness, with proceeds going to the Rocky Point VFW Post 6249. The post has taken a significant financial hit due to the pandemic to the tune of approximately $10,000 to $12,000, according to post Commander Joe Cognitore. The post takes in a lot of its revenue from renting out the VFW hall during the year, but all of that was halted since March. 

Present at the show were classic Mercedes from the ’50s and other novelty cars like a pink Thunderbird and the much renowned Batmobile often seen around the North Shore. The music was provided by Long Island’s DJ Night Train and Larry Hall, of Brazier Insurance Agency, donated the trophies handed out at the end of the show. Also present was Louis Falco, the founder of Operation-Initiative Foundation, a nonprofit that supports veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder. 

Peter Oleschuk, of the North Fork Cruisers, said with the event they were “just looking to do something nice for our VFW which has been closed these past few months and hasn’t been able to fundraise.”

The event raised around $440 for the VFW post, which Cognitore said was generous of the numerous people and veterans who donated at the show. He also thanked Roger Rutherford, the general manager of The Frigate, for facilitating the car show in front of his business.

Post 6249 is planning further ways to fundraise to plug its funding hole, including a GoFundMe page which should be available to donate to within the next week. The VFW is also planning for its 13th annual golf outing to support veterans organizations come Sept. 21. 

For more information on how to support the VFW, call 631-744-9106. 

For more on Operation-Initiative, visit www.opinitfdn.org.

Somber day marked with wreath-laying event

By Heidi Sutton

In Setauket, Memorial Day is usually marked with a parade from Main Street to Route 25A followed by a remembrance ceremony, but these are not usual times.

For the first time in recent years the parade was canceled due to the coronavirus pandemic. Instead, Veterans of Foreign War Post 3054, which hosts the Three Village Memorial Day Parade each year, decided to hold a brief wreath-laying ceremony at Setauket Veterans Memorial Park to memorialize those who have given the ultimate sacrifice in service to their country.

The park’s monument honors members of the community who perished in World War I, World War II, the Korean War and the Vietnam War.

 “As long as two comrades survive — so long will the Veterans of Foreign Wars of the United States render tribute to our heroic dead,” said Post Commander Jay Veronko, who led the 10-minute remembrance event.

“On this day, forever consecrated to our heroic dead, we are assembled once again to express sincere reverence. This monument represents the resting places of many departed comrades who served in all wars. Wherever the body of a comrade lies there the ground is hallowed,” Veronko recited. 

As in years past there was the traditional rifle salute, a prayer, the playing of taps and rousing renditions of our country’s national anthem and “God Bless America” by Arleen Gargiulo of Setauket, albeit with face masks while adhering to strict social distancing measures.

Kellen McDermott of Cub Scout Pack 18, Beverly C. Tyler representing the Three Village Historical Society, and Tim Still and Jack Cassidy from VFW Post 3054 presented wreaths.

“Our presence here is in solemn commemoration of all these men — an expression of our tribute to their devotion to duty, to their courage and patriotism. By their services on land, on sea and in the air, they have made us their debtors, for the flag of our nation still flies over a land of free people,” Veronko said.

The Post also paid their respects to their departed comrades Edward Arndt and Walter Denzler Sr. and “a solemn tribute to all comrades wherever they may rest.” The group also laid wreaths at the Setauket Village Green Memorial and the Stony Brook Village Memorial. 

Veronko thanked the participants for coming. “Hopefully next year we can have a parade,” he said.

Photos by Heidi Sutton

It was a muggy Saturday morning at Washington Memorial Park Cemetery in Mount Sinai, May 23. Across lawns dotted with inset grave markers, small flags were listless in the stagnant air. There, while COVID-19 has meant many could not participate in the large, standout flag planting ceremonies normally seen the weekend before Memorial Day, families, friends, Boy Scouts and active service members still found ways to honor those who are buried there.

Adam Morris, bottom right, helps his family and friends, clockwise from bottom, Bailee Morris, Skye Sherrard and Jocelynn Morris plant flags. Photo Kyle Barr

Riverhead residents Bill Merker and his son Zach visited the grave of Glen “Doc” Moody Jr., an Iraq and Afghanistan veteran who had passed away April 8. His grave was still packed with fresh dirt and had not yet even received the stone marking his name on his grave. 

“He was a very big inspiration for us,” said the younger Merker, a member of the U.S. Naval Sea Cadets program who said Moody would teach them about medical procedures.

Moody, of Miller Place, had been featured in a previous article in TBR News Media papers. The marine veteran had been active helping his fellow veterans adjust to life outside the military and had been active with the Patriotic Service Dog Foundation, which helps provide service and therapy dogs to veterans. Moody, who passed at the age of 39, had his own service dog, a red fox Labrador named Independence, who never left his side.

Scattered around the park were others helping to plant flags. Ray Langert, one of the groundskeepers at the cemetery, helped one group of folks looking to plant flags at veterans’ graves. 

Adam and Melora Morris, of Mount Sinai, joined with their children and friends to come out to Washington Memorial to plant flags. They said while they regularly attend the flag planting ceremonies at Calverton National Cemetery, federal orders to ban large gatherings at the cemeteries put a squash to those plans. 

Ray Langert, who works at Washington Memorial Cemetery, looks over his parent’s grave. Photo by Kyle Barr

It was a sentiment shared all across the North Shore with people trying to offer memorials to those passed. Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone (D), who had petitioned the federal government to allow the large-scale flag planting events at places like Calverton, still offered condolences and remarks. Bellone also thanked the health care and essential employees continuing to work through the Memorial Day weekend.

“This day is unlike any other we have seen in modern times,” Bellone said. “We could not gather the way we normally do … But we did come together today to recognize, make sure we are honoring those really precious individuals in our community who have served and sacrificed.”

Some still managed to go to the Calverton cemetery to offer what services they could. Members of the Rocky Point VFW Post 6249 went down that Saturday morning to place flags and host small services. 

On Memorial Day, May 25, the VFW hosted a small ceremony in the park behind Tilda’s Bakery in Rocky Point. In Sound Beach, community leaders placed a wreath at their own vets memorial on New York Avenue.

Despite restrictions and the need for distancing, it’s still hard to estimate how positive the impact is in memorializing those who’ve passed. Langert’s own father and mother, Robert and Elsie, are buried in the mausoleum on the grounds of the Washington Memorial Cemetery. Robert was a U.S. Army veteran who passed in 2005. The Morris family and friends offered to place a flag by his father’s stone in the mausoleum. 

“He would have loved to see that,” Langert said, sitting in his lawnmower’s seat with a smile. “He would have been ecstatic.”

Photo by Rita J. Egan 2018

Frustrated by a Veterans Affairs office that has denied his repeated requests to conduct flag planting at Suffolk County’s two national cemeteries over Memorial Day weekend, County Executive Steve Bellone (D) is asking President Donald Trump (R) to get involved.

“I’m asking for his support once again on an incredibly important issue in this moment,” Bellone said on his daily conference call with reporters.

Bellone thanked U.S. Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-NY-1) and Trump for their help in securing personal protective equipment for the county and for helping to ensure that the county can tap into the municipal liquidity fund, which will allow the county to provide temporary property tax relief until July 15.

Without help from the president, Bellone said he is “afraid that a tradition that goes back a quarter of a century will end this Memorial Day weekend.”

Even if the county can’t place flags at Calverton National Cemetery and Long Island National Cemetery, Bellone and the county plan to place flags at 15 cemeteries. The County Executive is still looking for volunteers, who can sign up through his facebook page at facebook.com/SteveBellone. He is also looking for a donation of 3,500 8×12 inch or 12 x 18 inch flags in good condition.

Separately, the county executive indicated that Suffolk County residents shouldn’t expect fireworks displays in July to celebrate Independence Day.

“We know reopening our economy safely and being able to sustain that is directly connected to keeping our curve flat,” Bellone said. “Opening back up to mass gatherings” which would include July 4th fireworks “would undermine our goals.”

Viral Numbers

Hospitalizations continue to decline. The number of people in Intensive Care Units has declined by 29 through May 19 to 129, which is the “largest decline the county has seen” in a while, Bellone said.

The number of people who are hospitalized was 453, which is a decline from two days earlier, when the number was 497.

In the past day, 53 people have come home from the hospital.

The number of deaths due to complications from COVID-19 rose by 11 to 1,802.

The number of people who tested positive for the virus increased by 142 over the last day, rising to 38,553. That doesn’t include the 11,461 people who have tested positive for antibodies to the virus.

Stony Brook Update

Stony Brook is cutting back the hours of its drive-through testing site in the South P lot. It will be open from 8 a..m until 6 p.m. on Monday through Saturday and from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Sunday. Residents must make appointments in advance through the New York State Department of Health Hotline, at 888-364-3065 or at coronavirus.health.nygov/covid-19-testing. The site will not accept walk ins.

Finally, America’s Got Talent Golden Buzzer and Apollo Theater Competition Grand Prize Winner Christian Guardino will perform tonight at 8 p.m. at the entrance to Stony Brook Children’s Hospital.

The performance is for hospital personnel only.

The musical tribute will include a light show.

By Rich Acritelli

Kindness, devotion, hard work, and determination; these are the words to describe the loyalty that the Long Island State Veterans Home at Stony Brook has toward its patients. While the COVID-19 pandemic has made their mission immensely difficult, this facility is carrying out its responsibilities to support our local veterans at this nursing home. This staff has adapted to the hardships of this virus, and they are finding different ways of helping many elderly veterans who have served in practically every military branch.

The vets home has created a multi-faceted program that helps people from Riverhead to Massapequa. Leading the way is Jean Brand, the Program Director of the Adult Day Health Care Program, with their efforts based in Stony Brook and in the homes of these older populations who rely on the services.  Even before the coronavirus changed operations, staff members have provided assistance in cooking, bathing and nutritional aid that allows for breakfast and lunch to be served along with taking home a meals for dinner. They also provided rehabilitation for physical and speech therapy programs. As the veterans ages range from the mid 60’s to over 100 years old, the staff’s devotion also allows the older counterparts to take a brief break in handling the rigors of treating their loved ones.  

From the start of the day, the state nursing home provides transportation to bring citizens that served from World War II, Korean and Vietnam to Stony Brook. Due to this current pandemic, the programs are now more home based. Although these were necessary changes, according to Brand, the organization is finding new ways to help these older citizens. Through a home delivery program, several meals a week are organized and distributed to the elderly. Brand and her staff are currently preparing food that is non-perishable and easy to eat. Deliveries also include necessary items that have been difficult to purchase such as toilet paper, masks, wipes, paper towels and soap. They have also sent home word puzzles and and other games to help keep their minds sharp and to pass the time, as many of these veterans that are spending numerous hours in their houses.

With many longterm relationships built up at Stony Brook, the staff misses these familiar faces and their stories of service of defending our nation during many trying times. Many of these men and women are considered family members to the staff. The entire staff, through expertise and professionalism, has for many years attended to the many diverse needs of these men and women. They have implemented telehealth to boost morale and at the same time to safely utilize social distancing initiatives to keep a watchful eye on the health of their patients. Although sending home food is a primary function of this program, many of these telephone calls are keeping the lines of communication open, and range from a simple hello to necessary inquiries about serious ailments.

Brand spoke about a unique program that was created to connect the patriotic stories of national service to the students of today. The Long Island Museum has worked with the vets home through a pen pal project which has younger men and women reach out to veterans to learn about their lives. Even as this has been tough period, this idea has developed relationships between different generations. Young people have seen and heard the examples of service by our senior population. This writing programs has also allowed younger students to identify the various issues that impacted the mobility and health concerns that have widely plagued older populations. 

Not since the days of the 1918 Spanish Flu has our nation had to handle a health crisis of this magnitude.  The numbers of the people that have been impacted are still staggering, but the efforts of places like the Long Island State Veterans Home continue to adapt and overcome many of these medical challenges that still pose a major concern to this country. This homecare program has completely shown the determination of longtime staff members like that of Brand and her fellow workers to help their patients before, during and after this sickness is finally subdued.

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