Veterans Day isn’t just another day on the calendar for those who served.
“I can’t speak,” said Armmond Bergeron while fighting back tears. The veteran was unable to put together more than a few words about the Veterans Day Ceremony at Long Island State Veterans Home in Stony Brook. “It hits me right here,” he added, pointing to his heart.
Veterans, religious figures, New Lane Elementary School students and Sen. John Flanagan (R-East Northport) were among those who attended the home’s seventh annual Veterans Day Ceremony on Nov. 6. The home invited Flanagan to speak at the ceremony, as he is an avid supporter of veterans and the sacrifices they make or made for the nation.
“I consider myself very fortunate to have the liberties, freedoms [and] protections that I do because a lot of people that are sitting here today,” Flanagan said in an interview.
According to Fred Sganga, executive director of the veterans home, the ceremony honors the more than 42 million Americans who served the nation. He added that those who served the nation continue paying the price, even after their military service ends.
For the senator, how society treats people correlates to how veterans are cared for when they return home. Earlier this year, the home called upon the senator, seeking financial assistance — the Long Island State Veterans Home qualified for a $15 million construction grant to fund future projects. The home hoped to further assist its veterans by providing a lift system, upgrading the building’s elevators and renovating each resident’s room.
According to Sganga, the federal government agreed to provide $10 million and the state funded the rest of the money. Flanagan secured the rest of the money three days after the veterans home sought his help.
This is his 13th year representing the community and the veterans at the home — and his efforts earned him the name Guardian of the Long Island State Veterans Home, according to Sganga.
While Flanagan was met with cheers when he took the podium, it was the fifth-grade students from New Lane Elementary school in Selden who brought the veterans together. Many veterans joined the students as they sang a variety of songs, including “The Army Goes Rolling Along,” “Anchors Aweigh,” “The Marines’ Hymn” and several others. Veterans like Bergeron even stood to clap and dance along as the students sang. Following the ceremony, the fifth-graders went through the crowd of veterans and shook their hands.
Korean War veteran Walter Muller added his thoughts on the ceremony, saying that it was wonderful.
Muller served in the war for 22 months, from 1954 to 1955. His fellow veteran Bergeron was too young to serve in World War II, but he said he helped rescue soldiers when he was able to serve. Like many veterans, the service was a special way to honor his sacrifices.
“I got a lot of things going down,” Bergeron said about his health. “But I’ll never get anything less than I got here today.”