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never forget

The LoRusso boys. Photo courtesy of Rich Acritelli

By Rich Acritelli

Monday, May 27, is Memorial Day, which remembers all of those service members who were lost for the defense of America. It was created after the Civil War as Decoration Day to honor the lost Americans from both sides of this terrible conflict. Whereas our citizens fought in additional wars, it was originally recognized on every May 30, but it was changed in 1971 for the last Monday of May. As Americans will surely enjoy the warmer weather, this is a moment to reflect on the true meaning of Memorial Day. 

Many of these memories are on display at the exhibit picture Wall of Honor at the VFW Post 6249 Suffolk County World War II and Military History Museum. There are a multitude of different pictures and military experiences from our local veterans. 

Frank Asselta

Rocky Point native Frank Asselta was taught by Joseph Edgar and enjoyed playing soccer, basketball and baseball. Graduating from Port Jefferson High School in 1963, Asselta attended Suffolk County Community College to earn his associates degree. In 1965, directly after graduation, he was drafted into the Army and attended basic training at Fort Dix, New Jersey. By 1966, he was deployed to South Vietnam as an infantry combat medic and he observed the massive escalation of this war to oppose the strength of the North Vietnamese Army and the Vietcong. Asselta was wounded in combat and he received the Bronze Star for his duel capacities of fighting the enemy and treating his own men under the duress of warfare.

Exposed to graphic warfare that resulted in fighting that never left him for the rest of his life, Asselta suffers from PTSD that he has managed for his entire adult life. This Sunday, May 26, Asselta is the driving force behind the annual VFW Post 6249 PTSD 5K Race at Rocky Point High School at 11 a.m. Asselta believes “all members of the Armed Forces who have been in combat need to be properly supported by our citizens. This run is a reminder to take care of all veterans who battle the difficulties of PTSD and I am proud of this mission to never forget about those veterans who are forced to deal with this condition.” The post’s Cmdr. Joe Cognitore marvels at the “immense energy” that Asselta displays on a daily basis to ensure the success of this race to care for our local veterans. 

Charles Pisano

Another infantry combat medic was a physical kid from Smithtown who was an extremely talented wrestler within Suffolk County and New York state. Charles Pisano was sent to South Vietnam and saw the powerful enemy buildup and their battlefield presence from 1968-69. He is one of the highest decorated medics to have served during the Vietnam War for the U.S. Army. Pisano for his immense time in the field was awarded the Combat Medic Badge, Army Commendation Medal with Valor, the Army Air Medal for 50 missions in the field, two Bronze Stars for Valor, the Silver Star and the Vietnamese Cross of Gallantry for continually saving wounded American soldiers.

During every Memorial Day, Pisano’s prayers are always for those comrades who were killed from the Vietnam War. His daughter Jamie, a social studies and special education teacher at Rocky Point High School, recalls that “from a young age, my dad always made sure I understood how important Memorial Day was to honor our soldiers who made the ultimate sacrifice for America.” This family has devotedly assisted guide dogs who help blind veterans and those that are suffering from PTSD.

Nicholas LoRusso

Graduating Rocky Point High School in 2003, Nicholas LoRusso was a captain of the lacrosse team and a talented wrestler. He is one of four brothers to have attended the U.S. Military Academy at West Point. In January, LoRusso, a military combat engineer, was promoted to the rank of lieutenant colonel, and he has been in the active army for 17 years. He is married to Tricia with two kids, Madison and Cole, and has moved eight times during his career. LoRusso served in Iraq and Afghanistan, and taught at West Point. 

During the height of the War on Terror, LoRusso vividly recalled his time in uniform, “I have classmates that were killed in combat within the first 12 to 18 months of service after we graduated. I served in units that have lost people. Ramp ceremonies on Bagram Airfield and memorials on combat outposts and forward operating bases in the mountains of Afghanistan are burned in my memory. I get to see, hug, laugh and share moments with my family and friends, and those we remember on Memorial Day are unable to do so. There are children, mothers, fathers and siblings missing a piece of them. Mine are not. These are things I think about on Memorial Day and it makes me cherish what I have. Those we remember on Memorial Day stood up, said ‘Send me,’ and unfortunately didn’t come back. I am honored to have served among these brave and selfless people and I hope the service I have continued in the military and the life I am living is worthy of the lives they gave up for our nation.”

Kevin LoRusso

The LoRussos represent the multitude of American families who have sent many family members abroad. Kevin LoRusso was an artillery officer who was deployed to Afghanistan in 2011, where he fought in Mazār-e Sharīf. Like his older brother, he reflects on friends that he served with and recognizes Memorial Day as “a time I remember West Point classmates that have paid the sheer sacrifice while protecting this nation. Recently, a good friend Steve Dwyer was my lacrosse teammate at the West Point Preparatory School. He was a helicopter pilot who was killed with his crew on a training mission, leaving behind his wife and three young boys. As I spend time with my friends and family, I will be fondly thinking about my military friends who are no longer with us today.”

Gregory Monz

An all-around good kid who graduated from Rocky Point in 2005, Gregory Monz was a tough kid who was the first All-County football player for this high school. Before shipping out, Monz could be seen carrying a full ruck sack of rocks to prepare for his training. He descends from a family that has supported the defense of America over the last several decades and continued this military tradition during the height of the War on Terror.

  A corrections officer, Monz is married with a growing family of his own. He believes “Memorial Day for myself is exactly what this day is supposed to be about — remembering. I want to instill the same respect for our fallen warriors to my sons as my parents have taught me. I take my four sons to Calverton National Cemetery to help place American flags at every headstone. As a veteran, Memorial Day is a quiet day for myself. Many thoughts replay a bit more about my brothers I served with, not only about those who paid the ultimate sacrifice, but also the ones who could not move on stateside. To this date I have lost more Marines to PTSD than overseas. We must do better and we also must remember them.”

Never forget

May this nation never forget about those lost veterans from all national defense conflicts and situations. Thank you to those current Armed Forces members who still operate in harm’s way that are determined to support this nation on Memorial Day. And may we always show appreciation to those current veterans who are out of uniform that have made our people proud of their services to support the citizens and ideals of this great country.

This Sunday, Sept. 11, marks 21 years since of one of the darkest episodes in U.S. history. Pixabay photo

“You can be sure that the American spirit will prevail over this tragedy.” — Colin Powell 

Those were the words of the former U.S. secretary of state who passed away last year. As a prominent military and political figure, Powell understood the terrible impact that the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, would have on the nation. 

Though the 9/11 attacks were 21 years ago, the American public was and remains forever changed. Yet Powell was confident that America could overcome this tragedy.

This year marks the first time that the U.S. has not had a major military force in Afghanistan since the weeks after 9/11. A year ago, President Joe Biden (D) ordered the final withdrawal of soldiers from this war-torn nation. After the withdrawal, Afghanistan was quickly overrun by the Taliban. 

The long-term fighting in Afghanistan contributed to the increase in post-traumatic stress disorder among American servicemen with many other soldiers who were severely wounded fighting in this conflict. For almost two decades, Americans tied yellow ribbons around their trees and kept stars in their windows to represent the military service of their loved ones who served in Afghanistan.  

On May 1, 2011, Americans learned during a New York Mets game against the Philadelphia Phillies that Osama bin Laden was finally killed. Flying from military bases in Afghanistan, members of SEAL Team 6 were transported by helicopters to Abbottabad, Pakistan, where they cornered bin Laden in his compound. Chants of “USA” were heard throughout Shea Stadium once baseball fans learned of the death of this al-Qaida leader. The demise of the coordinator of the terrorist plot on 9/11 provided a sense of justice to the victims on that day and their families.

Despite ongoing political polarization domestically, many can still recall the moments of national solidarity in the wake of the attacks. After 9/11, citizens put their political differences aside for the good of the nation, just as they had done after the attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941. Americans in 2001 rallied around the importance of helping local rescue workers and first responders who worked around the clock in Lower Manhattan.  

New Yorkers lined the streets with American flags and handed out food and water to the police officers, firefighters, demolition workers and medical personnel who heroically sifted through the debris at Ground Zero. A plume of smoke hung in the air, blocking visibility of downtown Manhattan. Yet within this cloud, rescue workers operated 24/7.

At Shea Stadium, the New York Mets organized supplies that were sent to the rescue workers. Prominent members of the New York Yankees — Derek Jeter, Bernie Williams and Tino Martinez — visited firehouses near the World Trade Center and thanked these public servants for their efforts. Both the New York Giants and Jets invited military and rescue workers to spread flags across their football fields. With tears in their eyes, football fans nationwide watched fighter planes soar through the skies above the stadiums. Rival fans who rooted against New York teams wore “NY” on their hats, showing support for the residents of the City.

Here on Long Island, locals need not look far to see patriotism that stirred from that day of infamy. Countless memorials depict the importance of this date. Pieces of steel that were collected by the NY/NJ Port Authority was given to towns across Brookhaven and Suffolk County that were placed at post offices, schools, libraries, and police and fire stations. 

This past spring, the Rocky Point VFW organized the first annual 5K race to support War on Terror veterans as they work to better handle post-traumatic stress disorder.

And so 21 years ago, politics was put aside for the good of the nation. Americans from every corner of this country sent rescue, salvage and fire crews to help the search, and later recovery efforts at Ground Zero.  

In a moment of profound despair, our nation came together. Through shared tragedy, people from diverse economic, social and ethnic backgrounds illustrated the meaning of national unity. 

America today is a deeply divided nation. In the face of unlikely odds, the American people should never doubt their power to resolve their differences and overcome adversity. 

Rich Acritelli is a history teacher at Rocky Point High School and adjunct professor at Suffolk County Community College.

9/11 Memorial at the World Trade Center. Pixabay photo

This Sunday will mark 21 years since our nation was attacked on Sept. 11, 2001. The fear that many of us felt on what was a beautiful late summer day and the compassion toward the victims and their loved ones will never be forgotten.

In addition to those who lost their lives on that tragic occasion, there were many who coordinated evacuation efforts and others who helped clean up the wreckage. It’s imperative for Americans to remember and honor these heroes, too. 

Since 2001, more than 4,000 first responders, volunteers and survivors have died, according to the World Trade Center Health Program. More are suffering from cancers and illnesses that medical professionals believe are linked to working at Ground Zero. These reported deaths are over 1,000 more than the nearly 3,000 killed at the World Trade Center on the day itself.

The images of first responders trying to save people will be forever seared into Americans’ collective memories. 

In the days and the months after 9/11, police officers, firefighters, tradespeople and more put their country and fellow humans first. They dedicated their time and energy to help New York City heal, rebuilding a hurt but unbroken nation, bringing dignity to those perished beneath the rubble. Their dedication allowed families and friends of the victims to properly grieve, and offered a sense of closure.

This was no ordinary work. It took immense courage and selflessness to confront the horrors of Ground Zero. The first responders and the rest put others before themselves, knowing that what they uncovered within the debris could not be forgotten. 

And despite the trauma and shock in the days and weeks after the attacks, these brave souls likely never imagined the physical strain their work would have later in life. 

They could not know that one day they would need additional health care because of their work, emotional support, and possibly financial assistance to help with mounting medical bills.

Ground Zero volunteers and workers, as well as 9/11 first responders, still need our help. Whether it’s listening to their stories, running an errand for them when they are sick or simply thanking them for their bravery, every bit means something.

When tragic memories become part of the distant past, for those who were removed from the scene, it’s easy to forget those who suffered the most or, even worse, ignore them. However, we should never forget the repercussions of 9/11 as our heroes continue to heal from it.

This 9/11, as we honor those lost on that tragic day, we must also remember the thousands on the scene in the months following who have died since then. They helped New York City recover, and their sacrifices should never be forgotten.

The 9/11 memorial in Hauppauge. File photo by Rita J. Egan

“One of the worst days in American history saw some of the bravest acts in Americans’ history. We’ll always honor the heroes of 9/11. And here at this hallowed place, we pledge that we will never forget their sacrifice.” — Former President George W. Bush

These were the patriotic thoughts of this president who reflected on the heroic services that were demonstrated by Americans during and after the September 11, 2001, attacks on the United States. 

While it has been 20 years since our nation was attacked by the sting of terrorism, Americans have not forgotten this tragic moment. On the North Shore — about 80 miles from Manhattan at its easterly point — there are many memorials that honor the local residents who were killed, the dedication of the rescue workers and the War on Terror veterans who defended this nation at home and abroad for the last two decades.

There has been a tremendous amount of support from the local municipalities, state and local governments, along with school districts to never forget 9/11. People do not have to look far to notice the different types of memorials, landmarks and resting places that represent those harrowing moments and the sacrifices that were made to help others and defend this country. 

Calverton National Cemetery

Driving northwest on Route 25A, it is possible to quickly see the reminders of sacrifice within the Calverton National Cemetery. This sacred ground is one of the largest military burial grounds in America and driving through its roads, there are flags that have been placed for veterans of all conflicts — especially the most recent during the War on Terror. 

One of the most visited sites there is that of Patchogue resident Lt. Michael P. Murphy who was killed in 2005 in Afghanistan, where under intense enemy fire he tried to call in support to rescue his outnumbered four-man SEAL team. 

As the 20th anniversary of 9/11 approaches, local residents can also see his name gracing the front of Patchogue-Medford High School, the post office in Patchogue, the Navy SEAL Museum that is near completion in West Sayville, and a memorial created for him on the east side of Lake Ronkonkoma, where he was a lifeguard.

Shoreham-Wading River—Rocky Point—Sound Beach—Mount Sinai

West of Calverton, at the main entrance of Shoreham-Wading River High School, you will notice a baseball field located between the road and the Kerry P. Hein Army Reserve Center. 

One of this field’s former players, Kevin Williams, was killed on 9/11, where he was a bond salesman for Sandler O’Neill, in the South Tower of the World Trade Center. This 24-year-old young man was a talented athlete who was recognized with MVP honors on the baseball, golf and basketball teams for the high school. 

A foundation has been created in the name of Williams, an avid New York Yankees fan, that has helped provide financial support to baseball and softball players unable to afford attending sports camps. 

Not far from Shoreham, driving westward, motorists will notice the strength, size and beauty of the Rocky Point Fire Department 9/11 memorial. This structure is located on Route 25A, on the west side of the firehouse.

Immediately, people will notice the impressive steel piece that is standing tall in the middle of a fountain, surrounded by a walkway with bricks that have special written messages. In the background, there are names of the people killed during these attacks and plaques that have been created to recognize the services of the rescue workers and all of those people lost.  

Heading west into Rocky Point’s downtown business district, VFW Post 6249 has a 9/11 tribute with steel from lower Manhattan. Less than a half mile away, on Broadway and Route 25A, the Joseph P. Dwyer statue proudly stands high overlooking the activity of the busy corner.  

This veteran’s square remembers the service of PFC Dwyer, who enlisted into the Army directly after this nation was attacked and fought in Iraq. He struggled with post-traumatic stress disorder and this statue supports all veterans who have dealt with these hard psychological and physical conditions. 

A short distance away, the Sound Beach Fire Department also created a special structure on its grounds through a neighborhood feeling of remembrance toward all of those people lost.

Heading west toward Mount Sinai, it is easy to observe a wonderful sense of pride through the Heritage Park by its display of American flags. On the Fourth of July, Veterans Day and Memorial Day, residents see these national and state colors, and this always presents a great deal of patriotism for the people utilizing this park.

Coram—Port Jefferson—St. James 

More south on County Road 83 and North Ocean Avenue, visitors of all ages enjoy the Diamond in the Pines Park in Coram. There, people have the opportunity to visit the 9/11 Memorial Learning Site. This site honors all of the citizens lost from the townships of Brookhaven and Riverhead, the rescue workers and War on Terror veterans.  

For 10 years, the site has helped reflect on this assault on America through the major bronze plaques with historical information, black granite pictures, benches, and statues of a bronze eagle and a rescue dog that helped search for survivors of the attack at the World Trade Center.

Leaving this park and going north into the village of Port Jefferson, people enjoy the beauty of its harbor, its stores, and they see traffic enter via ferry from Connecticut. Through the activity of this bustling area, there is a large bronze eagle that is placed on a high granite platform.  

Perched high, citizens from two different states brought together by the ferry are able to walk by this memorial that helps recognize the lost people of Long Island and the New England state. Driving near the water through Setauket, Stony Brook and into St. James, there is a major 7-ton memorial that highlights a “bowtie section” of steel from the World Trade Center.  

Due to the type of steel on display, there are few memorials that capture the spirit of the St. James Fire Department 9/11 site.


Traveling south down Lake Avenue toward Gibbs Pond Road and Lake Ronkonkoma, the 9/11 Responders Remembered Memorial Park in Nesconset is located at 316 Smithtown Blvd. This is a vastly different place of remembrance, as it is continually updated with the names of fallen rescue workers who have died since the attacks 20 years ago. 

Taking Townline Road west into Hauppauge toward Veterans Highway and Route 347, you will end up at the Suffolk County government buildings. 

Directly across from Blydenburgh Park in Smithtown, is a major 9/11 memorial created by the county. This memorial has 179 pieces of glass etched with the 178 names of the Suffolk County residents killed on September 11, with one extra panel to honor the volunteers who built the memorial.

As commuters head west to reach the Northern State Parkway, they drive by a major structure that was created to recognize all of those citizens from Huntington to Montauk killed on 9/11 by terrorism. It is just one of many such monuments created by our local townships, fire departments, parks and schools.  

Even after 20 years, our society has not forgotten about the beautiful day that turned out to be one of the most tragic moments in our history.  

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

Photo from Alice Martin

Alice Martin remembers it like it was yesterday. 

Her husband, a lieutenant in the FDNY’s Rescue 2, left his Miller Place home on Monday afternoon, Sept. 10, for his 24-hour shift in Brooklyn. He was supposed to come home Tuesday night, but he unfortunately never walked back through the door. 

“I left all the lights on in the house,” she said. “I left the front door unlocked because I figured maybe if he gets his way home somehow, he would just come in.” 

The mom of three boys, ages 13, 8 and 6, had just finished dropping them off at the bus stop when the first plane hit the tower on Sept. 11.

“As the day unfolded, and I was watching the news, I realized he could be there because even though he didn’t work in Manhattan, he was in a rescue company,” she said.

But Peter was always fine, Alice thought. “Then by six o’clock, when obviously he never called and then he didn’t come home, it became very real.”

Looking back two decades later, she doesn’t know how she did it. 

“It was beyond horrible,” she said. “But especially as a mom, that’s really the key. I went into mommy gear right away. My kids needed me more than they’ve ever needed me, and I really  needed to keep my head screwed on straight.”

Photo from Alice Martin

Peter C. Martin began his career as an FDNY firefighter in 1979. A native of Valley Stream, he graduated from St. John’s University where he met his future wife. 

“He was good at it and he loved it,” she said. “I think most of them do … It really is a calling.”

A full-time dad, who also worked at the Suffolk County Fire Academy as a teacher, she said her husband was just “a really good guy. A wonderful dad, and a wonderful husband.”

The two were married for 17 years when he passed away.

“It’s strange … I’ve been without him longer than I’ve been with him,” she said. “I never remarried, and my heart still belongs to him.”

According to Alice, Peter was just 43 years old on 9/11 and was among seven that were killed that day in his firehouse.

“I started calling the firehouse in Brooklyn and nobody was answering. My kids started asking questions,” she recalled. “And as the hours were going on, I felt useless because I wanted to do something. So, I actually started calling hospitals that I knew they were taking the wounded to.”

She eventually got a call that her husband was missing and unaccounted for. 

“That’s when neighbors started coming over, people started reaching out to me, which was comforting in some ways and frightening at the same time,” she said. 

Alice said the outpouring amount of love and support she and her boys got from the local community during that time was “wonderful.”

“I can say nothing bad,” she said. “There was just such a generous spirit from the people of Sound Beach, Miller Place and Rocky Point … That whole area, the letters I got from strangers.”

Peter was the only 9/11 victim from Miller Place. 

“I have to say it was a horrible, horrible situation, but it was also — now looking back — just unbelievable, the goodness of people to strangers they never met,” she said.

Along with learning that a community can come together, Alice said she’s learned two other things after that day’s events.

“I believe in the gift of time with finding a new normal and learning how to live,” she said. “I started taking one thing at a time, whether big or small, I just took everything one thing at a time.”

Twenty years later, with her now-grown sons and a grandson who bears Peter’s name, they still talk about him every single day. 

“Now the good thing is any stories that are told, it’s peaceful because we’re not crying, we’re just talking about him,” she said. “You just keep going, and I’m still going.”

Alice said that her husband would be “busting over the moon” knowing that he’s now a grandpa, and that the baby is Peter Charles Martin, the second. 

Photo from Alice Martin

“He’d be so happy to see that these three little boys have become three wonderful men, all doing wonderful things, all living their dreams,” she said. 

And the sons followed in their dad’s footsteps. All three have begun careers helping other people; as a registered nurse, paramedic and licensed Master of Social Work. 

“They’re definitely making a difference in the world,” she added. “He’d be so proud with everything.”

Peter loved snacks and Alice will be reminded of him when she bakes certain things. 

“I don’t believe in closure, but I do believe in the gift of time and the healing that can come with that,” she said. “The hardest part is you have to go through it.”