Tags Posts tagged with "Rich Acritelli"

Rich Acritelli

Rocky Point VFW Post 6249 Cmdr. Joe Cognitore, left, and Suffolk County World War II and Military History Museum curator Rich Acritelli stand alongside the museum’s planned wall of honor. Photo by Raymond Janis

Long Island’s veterans will soon take center stage as organizers of a regional veterans museum put the finishing touches on the new complex.

Located at the former Rocky Point train station and across the street from the Rocky Point VFW Post 6249 on King Road, the Suffolk County World War II and Military History Museum will open its doors to the public on Dec. 7. Museum organizers seek to tell the stories of local veterans across Long Island, putting their uniforms, combat equipment and records on public display.

Buildout of this museum commenced earlier this year and is now entering its final stretch. Nearing the finish line, organizers are calling upon the community for support. In readying the complex for its public launch, museum curator and post member Rich Acritelli said the post is still seeking donations of military memorabilia and equipment.

“If anybody has any equipment, web gear, old shovels, knives, canteens, helmets, binoculars, bayonets, rifles, any cold weather stuff or any older hats,” the museum will accept and display that memorabilia, he said.

Along with artifacts, the museum is also accepting display cases, shelves and mannequins to enhance its displays.

A centerpiece for the museum will be its military wall of honor, located along the exterior of the premises. Acritelli said that he hopes to display 250 names of local veterans by the museum’s grand opening ceremonies in December.

“We want people to scratch their heads, and that’s what they’re doing,” he said. “They’re scratching their heads and saying, ‘I have a cousin, an uncle, grandparents’” who served in the U.S. armed forces, “and we’re getting a multitude of families” submitting names.

Joe Cognitore, commander of Post 6249, emphasized the museum as an extension of the VFW’s operations, designed as an education and outreach center to bring the region’s vets together.

“Learning is a never-ending process,” he said, adding that the envisioned complex prevents veteran combat experiences from “falling by the wayside.”

For local Scouts and students seeking community service hours, Cognitore added that the museum is welcoming assistance in its buildout, adding that this form of community service also fulfills the post’s mission of educating Long Island’s youth on the wartime experiences of local veterans. “We want them to dig in, look at the history and know some of the battles,” he added.

Throughout the process of creating the museum, both Cognitore and Acritelli agreed that the project has given rise to a burgeoning homegrown veterans network, connecting former service members around a new common cause. “We’re very busy, but it’s a good thing,” Acritelli noted.

To leverage this newfound connection, Cognitore said the post aims to become “a one-stop shopping VFW.”

“We’re going to get all walks of life through here,” the post commander added.

To donate to the museum or submit a name for the military wall of honor, email Acritelli at [email protected].

J. Robert Oppenheimer, right, and Albert Einstein in a posed photograph at the Institute for Advanced Study. Public domain photo

‘Now I am become death, the destroyer of worlds.’

— J. Robert Oppenheimer

J. Robert Oppenheimer was born in 1904 in New York City. During childhood, he studied minerals, physics, chemistry, Greek, Latin, French and German. After graduating high school as valedictorian, Oppenheimer fell seriously ill with dysentery. His family sent him westward to treat this medical condition in New Mexico, where he loved riding horses in the open terrain.

After graduating from Harvard University in three years with a degree in chemistry, he studied physics at Cambridge University in England. Earning his doctorate and studying with other specialists and Nobel Peace Prize recipients, Oppenheimer built relationships with some of the foremost physicists of the time. While in Germany, he observed widespread antisemitism fostered by Adolph Hitler’s Nazi regime. Many scientists in Germany were Jewish and later fled the Holocaust by immigrating to the United States. There, they used their talents to help defeat the Nazis.

During the Great Depression, Oppenheimer was an ardent critic of Spanish general, Francisco Franco, supporting the Spanish Republican government and opposing the fascists. While never formerly a member, Oppenheimer openly accepted the views of the American Communist Party.  

During that time, the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation watched over his activities and those of his friends. He never hid his political beliefs. Oppenheimer was also deeply flawed, a womanizer who had an affair and a child with another man’s wife.

Manhattan Project

Before the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, Oppenheimer conducted extensive scientific research on possible military theories that piqued the government’s interest. Gen. Leslie Groves, an abrasive army officer who led the construction of the Pentagon, was touted for building complex government structures. The son of a Presbyterian Army chaplain, his superiors saw him as a motivated figure who succeeded at resolving challenging problems.  

By 1942, the United States mobilized its citizens to fight, and its scientists to keep pace with the Germans to construct a nuclear bomb. Groves understood that Oppenheimer knew the rival German scientists, as he had worked alongside many of them during the 1930s.  

Groves chose Oppenheimer to lead a group of America’s leading scientists, concentrating most of them at Los Alamos, New Mexico, in what was known as the Manhattan Project. Groves relied heavily upon Oppenheimer to mold these contrasting personalities, further pressured by an impending timetable, and create the most destructive weapon known to man — all before the Germans could do so themselves.

Under a cloud of secrecy, over the next two-and-a-half years, Groves prioritized resources, money and manpower for this endeavor. He spent some $2 billion to create this weapon.

Destroyer of worlds

After the death of President Franklin D. Roosevelt, Secretary of War Henry Stimson briefed President Harry S. Truman on April 24, 1945, about the status of the Manhattan Project.

After the Nazi surrender, Groves put pressure on Oppenheimer to ensure that America could use the weapon against the Japanese. During the Potsdam Conference, where the three leading Allies — the Soviets, the British and the Americans — met to plan the postwar peace, Truman learned of the successful Trinity Test on July 16, 1945.

American military leadership suspected the Japanese would fight to the last soldier. And so, 78 years ago this month, the United States dropped two atomic bombs on the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. At first, Oppenheimer was pleased with his creation, though he later feared a future arms race would precipitate and that nuclear Armageddon could lead to the annihilation of humanity.


And as the Cold War began, Americans at home were concerned about the spread of communism. Oppenheimer led the effort to create the atomic bomb, but his communist sympathies were again scrutinized during the Red Scare.

The Soviet Union quickly attained the atomic bomb. These were dangerous times for the United States. 

In 1954, the Department of Energy revoked Oppenheimer’s security clearance due to fears that he could not be trusted with classified information.  

Oppenheimer, a complex historical figure harboring beliefs that often ran contrary to those held by the government and most Americans, helped the Allies win World War II. He symbolized American scientific superiority, though he was a casualty of domestic Cold War stigma.

A scientist who created the worst weapon ever used in warfare, he also sought peaceful measures to ensure that an arms race and nuclear conflict would not recur.

Oppenheimer died on Feb. 18, 1967, at age 62.

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

Above, organizers outside the planned veterans museum in Rocky Point. From left, museum curator Rich Acritelli, VFW Post 6249 Cmdr. Joe Cognitore and museum committee member Frank Lombardi. Photo by Raymond Janis

Later this year, members of the Rocky Point Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 6249 will launch a museum showcasing the lives and legacies of local vets.

Each of us has been touched by a veteran. Whether they are our family members, friends or remote acquaintances, American veterans have given much of themselves so that we may enjoy our freedoms.

After completing their military service at home and abroad, many have returned to Long Island to build up and enrich our community. Their examples of duty and sacrifice can offer powerful insight for civilian life. Now, our vets aspire to continue their service by educating us on the trials of war.

At TBR News Media, we uphold the adage that those who forget history are condemned to repeat it. We also regret the anti-historical narrative sweeping our contemporary culture.

If we are to strive for peace, we must learn from war. If we are to endure as a community and nation, we must confront our history forthrightly.

Veterans can teach us — especially our youth — some of life’s most important lessons: How can the veteran experience inform our understanding of mental health and trauma? What can the confrontation with death teach us about life? What is the meaning of sacrifice? 

Our service members are an untapped fountain of history and wisdom. They possess firsthand knowledge of some of our nation’s most important events. We must hear these stories. But to get there, we must first lend a hand.

The curators of the Rocky Point veterans museum are actively soliciting donations. Whether by contributing monetarily, sending military gear or books or volunteering our time to build out the facility, we can all do our part to assist in this noble endeavor.

Long Island’s veterans have served our nation courageously, and this museum will soon stand as the next iteration in their long line of service. 

Let us channel and honor their example. May we, too, answer the call by showing our appreciation and sharing the stories of our local veterans. 

To learn more or how to donate, please contact the museum’s curator, Rich Acritelli, at [email protected].

Museum organizers, standing outside the former Rocky Point train station, will soon put the stories of Long Island’s veterans on full display. From left, museum curator Rich Acritelli, VFW Post 6249 Cmdr. Joe Cognitore and museum committee member Frank Lombardi. Photos by Raymond Janis

The Rocky Point Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 6249 is embarking on an ambitious quest to showcase the stories of Long Island’s veterans.

Organizers will launch a veterans museum on Dec. 7 at the site of the former Rocky Point train station, situated just across the street from the post’s headquarters at the intersection of Broadway and King Road.

‘It’s about giving back to the community and making positive impacts within the community.’

— Frank Lombardi

Joe Cognitore, commander of Post 6249, said the planned museum represents an extension of the VFW’s programs and outreach initiatives.

The idea of erecting a veterans museum in Rocky Point has been decades in the making. Cognitore said the post unsuccessfully attempted to purchase a nearby drugstore before acquiring the former train station property through a community giveback from a neighboring developer.

The museum will serve to “educate the community, with an emphasis on young adults,” Cognitore said.

Rich Acritelli, a social studies teacher at Rocky Point High School and an adjunct professor of American history at Suffolk County Community College, has been performing the historical research and archival work for this project and will serve as museum curator upon its opening.

The post seeks to cast a wide net, Acritelli said, featuring the stories of veterans throughout the Island rather than narrowly tailoring the exhibits to the immediate locale.

“This is more of a broader” undertaking, he said. “It’s not just Rocky Point or Sound Beach. It can be East Hampton, Huntington, Wyandanch,” adding, “There aren’t too many places like this [museum]” on Long Island.

Inside the planned veterans museum in Rocky Point. From left, Frank Lombardi, Rich Acritelli and Joe Cognitore.

Acritelli said he plans to cover “every inch of this museum” with military equipment, historical relics, uniforms, collectibles, books and other memorabilia. Plans for rotating exhibits are also in the works.

Cognitore suggested that, within the broader national context, younger generations are gradually losing touch with American history. He said the post aims to regain that historical connection through this museum.

“We need to know that history,” he said.

Frank Lombardi, a member of the museum committee at Post 6249, envisions local veterans offering firsthand accounts of actual historical events, comparing and contrasting their recollections to popular fiction.

“If we showed a movie like ‘Platoon,’ you can show the movie, and then you can have some of the Vietnam veterans talk and say, ‘This is what it was really like, and these are the inaccuracies in the movie,’” he said.

For the museum’s organizers, each of whom has served in the U.S. Armed Forces, this endeavor represents the next iteration in their service.

Cognitore said the project is a necessary means for processing his wartime experiences and providing greater historical understanding to those who have not witnessed the brutality of war.

This bazooka will soon be on display along with military equipment, historical relics, uniforms, collectibles, books and other memorabilia.

“Working on this helps me free myself of all the things I did see or did do and kind of makes me happy to know that positive things are happening because of where I was and what I did,” the post commander said.

Acritelli said he regretted leaving the service because of the camaraderie shared among his compatriots. He said the museum and its collaboration has inspired similar feelings from his days in the military.

He maintains that Long Island’s vets are valuable primary sources in telling the local and national history.

“There are a lot of stories,” he said. “We want to make this into a large primary source.”

Lombardi remarked that he hoped the museum could inspire greater historical awareness and understanding of the realities of war while bringing community members together.

“It’s about giving back to the community and making positive impacts within the community,” Lombardi said. “We all grew up here locally on Long Island, and it’s important to recognize those who have come before you.”

Acritelli notes the active role that community members can play in preparing the museum for its launch date at the end of the year.

“We need people to donate things,” he said. “If they have basements and garages and old boxes full of stuff, they can give that to us or put it on loan,” adding, “We’ve got to build up some inventory.” 

Potential donors should contact Acritelli by email at [email protected].

Photo by Capturing Life as it happens from Pixabay

In recent years, much has been said of the state of division in the United States. But as the nation celebrates its 247th birthday, Americans should remember the many struggles they have overcome.

After the fall of Fort Sumter in April 1861, President Abraham Lincoln believed the Confederate South would never peaceably re-enter the Union. The country was engaged in the defining conflict of its history and the deadliest war its citizens had ever fought. 

Yet Lincoln helped the nation carry on, ensuring that Americans would reunite under one flag. In a speech to Congress on July 4, 1861, he asserted the cause of the Union as that of the American Revolution. The Civil War, Lincoln affirmed, would prove to the world the viability of self-rule.

“It is now for [Americans] to demonstrate to the world that those who can fairly carry an election can also suppress a rebellion,” Lincoln said, “that ballots are the rightful and peaceful successors of bullets, and that when ballots have fairly and constitutionally decided there can be no successful appeal back to bullets.”

And the nation endured.

In 1914, President Woodrow Wilson nervously watched as European powers marched toward World War I — the “powder keg” ignited after the heir of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, Archduke Franz Ferdinand, was assassinated. 

“Nobody outside of America believed when it was uttered that we could make good our independence,” Wilson told a beleaguered nation. “Now nobody anywhere would dare to doubt that we are independent and can maintain our independence.” 

After his re-election in 1916, Wilson declared war against Germany in April 1917 to make the “world safe for democracy.” As it had during the Civil War, the nation again endured.

In early July 1945, the United States was nearing the end of World War II. With Nazi Germany defeated, America was one month away from dropping the atomic bomb against the Japanese. On July 4 of that year, President Harry S. Truman tied the war effort to the cause of American freedom. 

“This year, the men and women of our armed forces, and many civilians as well, are celebrating the anniversary of American independence in other countries throughout the world,” he said. “Citizens of these other lands will understand what we celebrate and why, for freedom is dear to the hearts of all men everywhere.”

The war would end the following month, and the nation endured once more.

President John F. Kennedy presided over the federal government at a volatile moment. After the failed Bay of Pigs invasion in April 1961 and only months away from the Cuban Missile Crisis in October 1962, Kennedy reminded his fellow citizens of the cause of independence on July 4, 1962.

“For that Declaration unleashed not merely a revolution against the British, but a revolution in human affairs,” Kennedy noted. “Its authors were highly conscious of its worldwide implications.”

Despite the tumult of the 1960s, the nation still endured.

Near the end of the Cold War, President Ronald Reagan was determined to ensure American victory over the Soviet Union in this global conflict. With tensions mounting between these two superpowers, Reagan reminded citizens of the resolve of America’s founders.

“Their courage created a nation built on a universal claim to human dignity — on the proposition that every man, woman and child had a right to a future of freedom,” Reagan said in his July 4, 1986 speech, likening the cause of independence to the triumph over communism.

The U.S. won the Cold War, and the nation endured.

Today, as Americans enjoy outdoor barbecues and spend time with loved ones, they should remember that the legacy of independence still flourishes. In the face of brewing tensions abroad, Americans must remember that we have experienced such challenges before and will do so again.

And the nation will endure.

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

Crew members on the USS Durham desperately bring Vietnamese refugees onboard. Photo from the U.S. National Archives and Records Administration

“Today, America can regain the sense of pride that existed before Vietnam. But it cannot be achieved by refighting a war that is finished as far as America is concerned.”

— President Gerald Ford (R), April 23, 1975, on the collapse of South Vietnam

In one of the most unsettling moments in American history, April 30, 1975, marked the day when the South Vietnamese capital of Saigon fell to the North Vietnamese Army, effectively ending the Vietnam War. 

The fall

In 1973, President Richard Nixon (R) made peace with North Vietnam, withdrawing a once-massive military force and leaving behind about 5,000 staff, support and military security members to protect American expatriates still in the region.

It was a dangerous time to be an American. By 1975, the Communist regime in Hanoi understood the U.S. would not recommit forces to South Vietnam, an ill-fated government without American support. 

The North Vietnamese and Viet Cong armies moved swiftly, penetrating South Vietnam’s cities and villages. Americans watched in disbelief as South Vietnamese cities fell, one after another. 

While Nixon had warned that the U.S. would oppose any breach of the peace, Ford refused to redeploy soldiers and resources to South Vietnam. With over 58,000 Americans killed in Vietnam, he believed his nation had had enough.

From the end of World War II to 1975, America was tied to this Southeast Asian state both militarily and diplomatically. Now, all was lost.

Over 7,000 people were flown out of Saigon before it collapsed. Under enemy fire, helicopters quickly ferried out American personnel and refugees. The last helicopters containing the staff members of the U.S. Embassy watched as North Vietnamese convoys entered Saigon.

Heroes forgotten

It was a painful time for this country. Torn apart by years of strife, political unrest, economic instability and Watergate, the fall of Vietnam was the final stroke. Vietnam War veterans — to this day — endure the pain of heavy scrutiny for their efforts. 

Ridiculed, mocked and belittled at the time for their participation in the war, they are determined to ensure that American service members who have fought since are treated with dignity and respect. 

Joe Cognitore witnessed these final stages of fighting, recalling the fall of Saigon as a “dark” chapter. He served in Vietnam from 1970-71 as a platoon sergeant, leading other air cavalrymen through the jungles of Vietnam and Cambodia. 

With the presence of the Viet Cong always near, he guided his soldiers through “search and destroy” missions against an enemy that lurked in underground tunnels, exercised frequent jungle ambushes and persisted through massive bombing raids.

Despite the traumas of war, in some ways it was even worse when the soldiers came home. The nation showed little appreciation for their sacrifices.

Paying tribute

For years, Cognitore hustled as a representative for Coca-Cola, then raised a family in Rocky Point. It was only during the First Gulf War of 1990-91 that he became involved in the Veterans of Foreign Wars, offering support to veterans returning from war.

Today, Cognitore serves as commander of Rocky Point VFW Post 6249, advocating for the over 200,000 Vietnam War vets across New York state. He represents a class of veterans continually working to aid those who have fought in past and present conflicts.

These individuals work untiringly, helping to honor the veterans who fought the Global War on Terror in Iraq and Afghanistan by organizing care packages, welcoming ceremonies and golf outings to support U.S. veterans and their families. Such devoted people do what they can to carry on the tradition of honoring veterans.

This past Memorial Day, Monday, community members were able to emulate this compassionate example.

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

A year ago, Vladimir Putin waged an unprovoked war against Ukraine. Today, he leads an army that is poorly trained, ill-equipped and increasingly resentful of his command. Pixabay photo

The Russo-Ukrainian War has become the largest European conflict since World War II, which ended in 1945. 

A year after the Russian invasion, and with his nation fighting for its survival, Ukraine’s leader President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has told the world his forces would continue their efforts.

The year of bloodshed

At first, the international community believed the Ukrainian capital of Kyiv had no chance of holding out against a well-coordinated Russian assault. Yet the capital city remains in Ukrainian hands.

Some cities in Ukraine now resemble the World War II-ruined cities of Berlin, Dresden and Warsaw, buried in rubble.

At some points in the war, Zelenskyy has warned against the potential collapse of his lines as Russian assaults have been levied against his army. The president of Russia, Vladimir Putin, has relied on the costly strategy of attrition against the Ukrainians, even as his army has endured as many as 200,000 casualties. 

During this year of fighting, Ukraine, with a smaller army, has relied on Cold War-era planes, helicopters, guns and tanks yet has thwarted Russian movement.

With European allies like Germany deploying Leopard tanks, the key to Ukrainian survival has rested in the constant supply of weapons from the coalition that the United States has created. 

The war has demonstrated the might of American weaponry, which has stymied the Russians. Through the proximity of American bases in Poland and Germany, American forces have also trained Ukrainian noncommissioned officers to lead their soldiers better.

This expertise has also aided Ukrainian military officials, who have learned to mobilize Patriot air defense systems, Abrams tanks and artillery guns. Although the Biden administration has continually downplayed the deployment of fighter planes for the Ukrainians, reports indicate that training has already commenced for some of their pilots.  

A disconnected dictator

Putin, meanwhile, continually targets civilian populations of Ukraine’s major cities and towns, causing death and destruction with hypersonic missiles that are almost impossible to shoot down. 

On the world stage, the Russian army has no clear path to victory. Some of Putin’s soldiers have even sent videos to their families and the press, revealing how poorly equipped and trained they are to meet the Ukrainians on the battlefield.  

Some Russians have openly criticized the government for mishandling the invasion effort. Putin’s government has lost much credibility along the way. 

During the early days of the war, the Russian dictator said his goal was to rid Ukraine of its “Nazi” elements that influenced the government in Kyiv. During a recent G20 Summit in New Delhi, Russian foreign minister Sergey Lavrov was met with laughter when he said, “The war, which we are trying to stop, which was launched against us using Ukrainian people.” 

These confused comments suggest an increasingly disconnected Putin regime, a Kremlin that has lost the global public relations battle to justify the war.

Resentment against the regime

Domestic instability has been a primary concern when looking at the Russian regime under Putin. The dictator is in constant fear over his own security, increasingly suspicious that he will be deposed.  

The Wagner Group, a Russian paramilitary organization that has spearheaded much of the fighting, has had several public differences in how this war was being carried out under Putin’s directives. Some believe that Putin views the Wagner Group as a threat to his own rule.  

It is estimated that the Wagner Group has lost over 30,000 mercenaries, with about 9,000 fighters killed in action, U.S. officials said last month. Putin’s forces quickly surpassed the 15,000 Russians killed during the Soviet War in Afghanistan from 1979-89.

There is rising distress within the Russian population over the many soldiers who will not return alive. It has not helped Putin’s cause that his armies receive little training before being shipped off to the Ukrainian front against a battle-hardened foe. 

Through the startling number of casualties, deficiencies in Russian hardware and a total lack of leadership, Putin has repeatedly stated that nuclear weapons remain on the table.

All signs point to a defeated and embarrassed former world power. At every turn, Putin has refused to believe the Ukrainians could mount a capable resistance. One year later, Ukraine continues to push for victory.

Rich Acritelli is a history teacher at Rocky Point High School and adjunct professor at Suffolk County Community College. Written in conjunction with members of the high school’s History Honor Society.

Graphic from NYSPHSAA website

Rocky Point High School sophomore Ava Capogna and junior Alexandra Viera made history during the inaugural NYSPHSAA Girls Invitational Wrestling Tournament in Syracuse Jan. 27. 

In the first-ever New York State championship featuring over 200 female wrestlers, Capogna achieved a fourth-place finish at 120 pounds and Viera won first place at 126 pounds.

Longtime varsity wrestling coach Darren Goldstein has coached some of the finest athletes on Long Island. Over the last several years, he has coached many female wrestlers. 

Goldstein recalled recent developments within Rocky Point’s female wrestling program. “Gianna Amendola, a 2022 graduate of Rocky Point and a current wrestler at East Stroudsburg University of Pennsylvania, was a pioneer as a woman in this sport,” he said. “She had a decorated career on the mats and set the stage for Capogna and Viera to excel within the difficulties of wrestling.”

Ava Capogna

‘This is an incredible achievement for these two amazing people and teammates.’

— Aidan Donohue

Since she was 7 years old, Capogna has enjoyed wrestling. Her father had experience in wrestling and Brazilian jiu-jitsu, and he wanted his daughter to be involved in Rocky Point’s wrestling program. 

Beginning in third grade, Capogna began wrestling in tournaments in Long Island, New Jersey and upstate New York.

She was the first female on Long Island to be classified for the varsity team. As a seasoned veteran, her most effective moves are the double-leg takedown, headlocks, throws and drags.

This Rocky Point Eagle has already earned 40 wins against boys and is one of the captains of her wrestling squad. Capogna’s future is bright and she has already competed in the nation’s largest female tournament at Fargo, North Dakota.

Next year, Capogna is motivated to return to Syracuse again to gain a higher placement in the state competition. 

Alexandra Viera

Viera always wears a big smile with a can-do attitude. Her path to excellence began several years ago as a young girl wrestling in a Brentwood youth club. The only girl in this organization, Viera recalled her earliest moments in this sport with delight. 

Consistently a top-rated wrestler, she has perfected her single- and double-leg takedowns and throws against opponents. After wrestling for Connetquot, Viera quickly emerged as a notable competitor for Rocky Point.

She appreciates her teammates for helping her transition into a new school. She credits her mom and stepfather, who were instrumental in mentally and physically preparing her for the rigors of the sport. She would also like to thank wrestling classmates Nick LaMorte, Jeron’Taye Coffey and Kyle Moore for their continual support.

As a rising senior, she hopes to continue wrestling at the collegiate level.


Coaches and teammates alike are in awe of these two trendsetters who have opened up doors and broken barriers for female athletes locally. Athletic director Jonathon Rufa summarized their achievements. 

Capogna and Viera are “blazing a trail for girls along the North Shore of Long Island to participate in wrestling,” he said. “We look forward to their continued achievements and honor their recent accomplishments.”

Junior Aidan Donohue remarked on the important contributions of his two classmates. “This is an incredible achievement for these two amazing people and teammates,” he said.

Trevor Green, dual-sport student-athlete at Rocky Point High School. Photo courtesy Rich Acritelli

Rocky Point ninth grader Trevor Green is a dual-threat swimmer and cross-country runner, and is among the promising athletes on the North Shore. On Saturday, Feb. 11, Green competed at Stony Brook University for the Suffolk County swimming championships.

His swim training regimen is a daunting, year-long commitment. He spends many hours daily in the pool.  

The disciplined Green understands that achievement is earned through the accumulation of consistent effort. Always armed with a can-do attitude, he placed among the elite swimmers in Saturday’s county competition.

This season, Green has attained state qualifying times for the 500-meter freestyle, 200 individual medley, 100 butterfly and 100 backstroke. The counties would be no different, with Green placing near the top in the butterfly and backstroke events. During his races, the athlete had a strong show of support from his parents, grandparents, sister and friends.

As Green prepares for the state swimming championships in Utica, he treads upon familiar ground. 

In November, Green qualified as an individual for Rocky Point’s cross country team. At Sunken Meadow during the Section XI state qualifier, Green placed seventh overall and ran a 5K of 17 minutes, 41 seconds. A week later, he ran just outside Utica at Vernon-Verona-Sherrill Senior High School for the state championships. One of the youngest runners in that meet, Green ran in borrowed spikes on a saturated course but placed a creditable 17th. 

Competing against the very best runners and swimmers of New York state, Green has proven himself a force. He looks optimistically toward the future, continually seeking ways to improve his times.

Green continues his pursuit of perfection in two of the most strenuous and physically taxing sports in athletics, representing his school and community well.

Above, Lily Bonacasa, daughter of American war hero Louis Bonacasa, holding her father’s portrait. Photo courtesy Deborah Bonacasa

Deborah and Lily Bonacasa are a mother-and-daughter team who have distributed thousands of toys to needy children over the last three years during the Christmas season. 

When Lily was a second grader, she sat on Santa’s lap as he asked what she wanted for Christmas. She said she only wanted to help children who were less fortunate, those who couldn’t receive gifts. Knowing her story, Santa began to weep.

Deborah and Lily live in Sound Beach. But Deborah grew up in Lemoore, California. After graduating high school, she enlisted in the U.S. Air Force and was sent to a base in Utah. As an information manager, she provided networking and computer support to 75th Air Base Wing members. While in uniform, she met her future husband Louis.

Staff Sgt. Louis Bonacasa

Louis Bonacasa was a local kid. He graduated from Newfield High School in 2002. Deborah described Louis as someone “who demonstrated a boundless amount of energy toward playing baseball, being with his friends, hiking, shooting and demonstrating humor amongst his loved ones.”  

In high school, Louis watched the attacks of 9/11. It inspired a love of country and a commitment to serve, and he soon entered active duty in the Air Force. Louis quickly rose through the ranks, presented with accolades for his devoted duty to the nation. Louis soon reenlisted as a security forces member of the New York Air National Guard 106th Rescue Wing in Westhampton Beach. He then transferred to Stewart Air National Guard Base 105th Airlift Wing in Newburgh where he deployed to Afghanistan, Iraq and Qatar.  

Seven years ago, on Dec. 21, 2015, Louis was killed by a Taliban suicide bomber near Bagram Airfield in Afghanistan. Louis was working as a tactical security element truck commander, tasked with the dangerous job of gathering intelligence on the operations of the enemy outside of this major air base. His assignment was hazardous, as he was often the “eyes” of Bagram to protect it from the enemy. 

On patrol, Louis was approached by a suicide-bomber motorcyclist. To protect his men, Louis positioned himself between this adversary and his comrades, and he was killed with five of his soldiers.

Louis is honored with several sites by local and state governments to remember his ultimate military sacrifice. On Rocky Point Yaphank Road toward Middle Island, a major thoroughfare connecting the North and South shores was named in his honor. For travelers on the Long Island Expressway, they are reminded of the memory of Staff Sgt. Louis Bonacasa on the bridge that connects the northern and southern service roads on Yaphank Avenue. 

Above, members of Lily’s Toy House during a gift donation event in Rocky Point Saturday, Dec. 3. Photo by Raymond Janis

Lily’s Toy House

In 2016, Mark Baisch of Landmark Properties and Rocky Point VFW Post 6249 Cmdr. Joe Cognitore presented Deborah and Lily with a new $350,000 home in Sound Beach that was sold to the Bonacasa family for less than $200,000, according to CBS New York.

Deborah was thankful for the altruism shown to her family during that highly delicate moment. After Lily spoke to Santa Claus, Deborah believed it was time to pay it forward. 

Deborah spoke of her desire never to want to turn down families that are unable to purchase gifts. The Bonacasas have created two nonprofits, Lily’s Toy House and the SSgt Louis Bonacasa Memorial Fund. Working with Long Island Helping Hands, they target needy families.  

In 2020, Lily was interviewed by Savannah Guthrie on the “Today” show. Lily presented a brilliant smile and spoke to America about her goals in helping other children have a lovely Christmas.

The holiday demand has grown due to COVID-19 pressures and rising inflation. Three years ago, there were about 1,000 donated toys collected. Today Lily’s Toy House has distributed over 3,000. Deborah hopes to expand this program to accommodate families across this state and region, especially to military families. 

Lily is a sixth grader at Rocky Point Middle School, where she is a well-rounded student, determined to help others. As a young lady who lost her father, she can speak to others about handling adversity at an early age.  

Reactions from the community

Town of Brookhaven Councilwoman Jane Bonner (R-Rocky Point) has followed firsthand the efforts of the Bonacasa family. “Staff Sergeant Bonacasa gave his life for his country, so we can all live free,” Bonner said. “Deborah and Lily have honored his service so meaningfully with their annual toy drive.”

The councilwoman added, “Lily is a remarkable young girl, who faced a great loss, decided to follow in her father’s footsteps by helping others. The community appreciates all that Deborah and Lily do to bring joy to children in need.”

Suffolk County Sheriff Errol Toulon Jr. (D) said he is reminded of Louis every time he drives to the Riverhead Correctional Facility. The county sheriff appreciates Lily’s thoughtful spirit and compassion. 

Lily is an “inspiration to all of us, despite losing her father at a young age while he protected Americans in Afghanistan,” he said. “She was still able to think of others before herself, and her dedication to ensure that those most in need have a wonderful Christmas through Lily’s Toy House reminds all Suffolk residents of the true meaning of Christmas.”

Above, Lily Bonacasa. Photo courtesy Deborah Bonacasa

First Lt. John Fernandez, of Rocky Point, is in awe of the patriotic spirit that Lily inspires. “What does it mean to give?” he said. “Staff Sergeant Louis Bonacasa did not lose his life for our country. He gave it heroically for his family and nation. Despite his family’s unfathomable sacrifice, his wife, Deborah, and daughter, Lily, found the strength to continue to give by donating toys to children during the holidays and those who continue to serve today. This shows a depth of courage and love that should be emulated.”

Cognitore described the immense cost the family paid in defense of the nation, calling the support toward the family mortgage “not a handout, but rather a hand up.” He reflected on the positive work the family has done since. 

“It has been a wonderful experience to see Lily speak at veterans and charitable events,” the post commander said. “There is no price that could be attached to the valuable community initiatives that both mother and daughter perform for our citizens during the last several Christmas holidays.”   

James Moeller, Lily’s middle school principal, said he is amazed by her fortitude. “Lily is a hardworking and quiet girl who is always willing to help her teachers and classmates,” he said. “On a regular basis, she is a positive young lady who always wears a big smile on her face. It’s no surprise that Lily is a driving force behind this wonderful toy drive that her family continually organizes.”

Through her charitable endeavors, Lily continues to follow in her father’s footsteps by sharing love and generosity toward others during Christmas. 

For adding light and joy into the lives of others and for honoring her dad’s legacy, TBR News Media recognizes Lily Bonacasa as a 2022 Person of the Year.

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