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.
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.
“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.”