Tags Posts tagged with "Michael Blanco"

Michael Blanco

The Blanco family stands at the newly dedicated "L. Cpl. Michael E. Blanco" section of Wichard Boulevard in Commack. Photo from Ron Pacchiana

By Kyle Barr

A Commack street now bears the name of a U.S. Marine who lost his life in 2010 from the battle against post-traumatic stress disorder.

Town of Smithtown officials, local veteran groups and the Blanco family gathered July 1 on Wichard Boulevard in Commack to watch the unveiling of the sign dedicating a portion of roadway in memory of Lance Corporal Michael E. Blanco. It was erected on the street where Blanco grew up.

“It means to us that every time someone looks at that sign, they’ll remember however Michael touched their lives,” Blanco’s sister, Nicole Blanco-Abbate, said.

Smithtown Town officials, Suffolk County elected officials and member of the Blanco family at the July 1 ceremony. Photo from Ron Pacchiana

Those who knew Blanco recalled him as a selfless man who wouldn’t hesitate to do things for others. Blanco’s father, Bruce, remembered how when his son attended high school the young man asked for more lunch money, commenting that he was “a growing boy.” Later, he learned Blanco was giving that extra money anonymously to the kids who couldn’t afford lunch.

“My son was always known as the protector – he was the one who came out of nowhere to help people,” Blanco’s father said. “I get constant phone calls from his friends of what he’s done to help them. He stood up for people who couldn’t stand up for themselves.”

The Blanco family said they were humbled when nearly 100 people showed up to the ceremony at the intersection of Wichard Boulevard and Philson Court in support including including Suffolk County officials, members of the American Legion Ladies Post 1244, Smithtown and Nesconset Fire Departments, AM Vets, the Patriot Guard Riders, Missing in America Project, Veterans for Freedom, American Legion riders and American Legion Auxiliary Greenlawn Chapter 1244.

“There were so many people there, from small kids all the way to veterans in their 70s and 80s,” Suffolk County Legislator Leslie Kennedy (R-Nesconset) said. “This type of dedication leads to more acceptance. It shows there has to be something done about soldiers with PTSD.”

In September 2017, the U.S. Office of Veteran Affairs released a report on suicides amongst veterans of the armed services based on 55 million record dating from 1979  to 2014. It found that an average of 20 veterans die from suicide every day. PTSD is the leading cause of death for veterans and military service members.

Several veterans groups attended the July 1 ceremony in honor of Michael Blanco. Photo from Ron Pacchiana

“He still was a soldier – he still was a veteran,” Blanco’s mother, Donna, said. “With this sign, we are bringing awareness to the 22 veterans who die every day from PTSD.”

Both of Blanco’s parents agreed that this dedication does much to help the community remember their son and the struggles he faced.

“The worst fear a mother has when a son dies is that he won’t be remembered,” Blanco’s mother said. “Now I know my son will forever be memorialized and he will always be remembered.“

Bruce Blanco said he became involved the American Legion Riders Chapter 1244 after his son passed away, and he is now leading them as their president. Since then, the riders have been involved in many veterans memorials and events all around the Huntington and Smithtown areas. The chapter also participates in the Missing in America Project that tries to give proper military funerals to those veterans who died without family or who remain unremembered.

“One of the worst things for anyone is to ever be forgotten,” Blanco’s father said. “Everything throughout Smithtown is a remembrance for us, and this sign just adds to onto it.”

Bruce Blanco smiles with other members of the riders. Photo from Blanco

For one man, riding isn’t just a way of life — it’s a way to honor his son.

Bruce Blanco, president of the American Legion Riders Chapter 1244, first got involved with the American Legion in 2010, after his son Michael Edward Blanco, a lance corporal in the United States Marines, passed away on Feb. 15, 2010.

“I am living in the eyes of my son,” Blanco said in a phone interview. “He is my hero.”

Blanco, a Commack resident, said that whenever his son was on leave he would lend a hand to local organizations like the American Legion, so Blanco “took over the things he would do,” once his son passed.

Michael Blanco served in the U.S. Marines. Photo from Bruce Blanco
Michael Blanco served in the U.S. Marines. Photo from Bruce Blanco

The American Legion Riders started in 1993, when American Legion members decided they wanted to create an environment where members could come together to share their love of motorcycles. Blanco described the American Legion Riders as “riding billboards for veterans,” that help bring attention to and raise money for veteran events.

Blanco, who has been president for the past year, said that through the organization he has been able to spend time with veterans, play bingo or share a meal, stood in as family for burial services when a veteran had no other family left, and raised money to provide veterans and their families with meals for the holidays. According to Blanco, in the last year alone, the riders were present at more than 100 military funerals. They also participate in local celebrations like the upcoming St. Patrick’s Day parades in Huntington and King’s Park, and organize welcome homes from the airport.

According to Blanco, his chapter only has 24 members, but provide at least 150 different missions each year for veterans. They are one of only three rider posts in Suffolk County, and he said they are the most active chapter in New York State.

One of his fondest memories with the riders thus far, was fulfilling a wish of a veteran in his early 90s, who had always wanted to ride a motorcycle.

“We had all of his family and friends out to see him,” he said. “It was just a really nice day.”

Blanco said he thinks the organization is so important because it reminds veterans that they are not alone.

Blanco poses with Post American Legion Post 1244 Commander Dennis Madden. Photo from Bob Santo.
Blanco poses with Post American Legion Post 1244 Commander Dennis Madden. Photo from Bob Santo.

“We show vets love and give them the support they deserve,” he said. “When you have veterans who think they’re alone and then we can be there for them, that makes my day.”

He said he has seen some American Legion posts lose support and membership in the past few years. Some were even forced to close their doors.

“I never want to see this disappear,” he said. “The riders are trying to bring attention to what the American Legion does, and help to try and make it grow.”

The American Legion Legacy Scholarship Fund recently honored Blanco for the $1,000 donation he and the riders fundraised for in 2015. The scholarship fund gives money to children of fallen post-9/11 service members.