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Rocky Point High School

Photo from the Library of Congress

During this month, the sounds of “play ball” have been heard from every baseball stadium in the United States and Canada. 

The smell of hot dogs, popcorn, peanuts and the sound of the bat hitting the ball has been for many American baseball fans. Although COVID-19 has been a complete disruption to the American way of life, there have been many troubling military, economic, social and political experiences throughout history. 

The one constant for the source of morale and goodwill has always been the playing of our National Pastime to help Americans cope.

This occurred after the election of President Abraham Lincoln in 1860, as the United States embarked on the ferocity of the Civil War. As the northern and southern states fought against each other in a conflict that lost almost one million men from both sides, baseball was a pivotal role in establishing morale. 

In some military camps, the baseball rules varied, as it was common for large groups of soldiers and local citizens to watch different military units play against each other, before they went into battle. There was the unique situation of Union prisoners of war that were permitted by the Confederate authorities to play baseball during their confinement.  

Within Union bases, the doctors felt that this sport kept the men in good shape, spirits and out of trouble when they were not fighting. While both regions were engaged in one vicious battle after another, baseball was played by the two sides in the winter and spring months. It allowed the men to handle the issues of boredom, as it took their minds off battles like Shiloh, Antietam, Gettysburg, Vicksburg and Cold Harbor. 

It was believed that baseball evolved into one of the most popular sports of this time, surpassing, boxing, wrestling, football, running races and cricket. 

Before some of these men were in the military, they enjoyed watching the earliest aspects of this game in Brooklyn, Manhattan, Philadelphia and Boston. Military officers from this war did not have to look too far to see who helped create this game. It was believed that Major General Abner Doubleday, a graduate from the United States Military Academy at West Point in 1842, was one of the earliest pioneers of this game. 

He fought at Fort Sumter, Second Bull Run, Antietam, Fredericksburg, Chancellorsville and Gettysburg. This resident from Cooperstown, NY is buried in Arlington, and he still is tied to baseball at West Point as their field is named after Double Day.

Another national event that tested the will of Americans was the Great Depression. With our citizens barely holding onto their homes and not having enough food to feed their families, baseball almost faltered during this economic crisis. 

It was a miracle that baseball was not a financial casualty, as it was estimated that from 1930 to 1931, this sport lost 70% of ticket sales, where prices were not quickly reduced by owners. As President Franklin D. Roosevelt stated, “the only thing that we have to fear, is fear itself.”  

Many Americans openly wondered if baseball teams would have enough money to operate at a moment when a quarter of the population was unemployed. Between the depression and World War II, it took almost two decades for admission into baseball games to recover. Only the Detroit Tigers reached more than a million fans in a single season during this era.

As the Dow Jones Industrial Average bottomed out and the depression became felt around the world, baseball barely survived this economic catastrophe. And through these desperate times, Jimmy Foxx, Dizzy Dean, Lefty Grove and Lou Gehrig, all performed at high levels, in front of fans that needed an emotional boost. 

Photo from the Library of Congress

But players like a younger Yogi Berra, had to tell his manager to buy him lunch or dinner before the games. Most of the players money was spent on rent and there were times that his minor league manager bought Berra hamburgers, so he did not play on an empty stomach. Ever the favorite, local fans made Berra Italian Hero’s, that kept him strong enough to stay in the line-up.

On Sept. 1, 1939, World War II began, the depression came to an end and General George C. Marshall — the “Great Architect of Victory” — was promoted to be the Army Chief of Staff.  And on this busy day, the Detroit Tigers defeated the Red Sox’s 14-10 within a high scoring game. This was the start of a volatile six years that saw Americans oppose the totalitarian powers of Nazi Germany and the Japanese Empire.  

Directly after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941, President Franklin D. Roosevelt was asked if the baseball season would be ended. Roosevelt stated that baseball should be played, as it would boost the spirit of our people to deal with the hardships of a major two front war in the Pacific and Europe.

Baseball icons like Detroit Tiger Hank Greenberg who struck fear into the eyes of opposing pitchers, was a pilot that flew over Himalaya Mountains that led from India into China. Ted Williams with his .406 batting average, had the finest hand-eye coordination in baseball, that also helped him become a fighter pilot that served during World War II and the Korean War.  

New York Yankees Manager Ralph Houk was a two-time World Series champion that was almost killed by a German bullet when he reached Normandy three weeks after the June 6 D-Day landings. This manager that worked with Mickey Mantle, Roger Maris, Whitey Ford and Elston Howard survived the Battle of the Bulge and was awarded a Purple Heart for being wounded in combat.

It was possible that 1968 was one of the most difficult social and political time periods. This decade began under the younger generation of leadership under President John F. Kennedy and ended within several chaotic events. There were the assassinations of Robert F. Kennedy and Martin Luther King, the refusal of President Lyndon B. Johnson to run for a second full-term, and the emergence of Richard M. Nixon. 

Thousands of miles away, the American military was fighting a tenacious enemy in the North Vietnamese Army and the Vietcong. The Tet Offensive demonstrated that while the North Vietnamese could be defeated in battle, they took heavy losses, and there was no clear victory in sight against this Southeast Asian country.

For baseball, this was the year of the pitcher, as Denny McClain won 30 games, Don Drysdale tossed 58.2 scoreless innings, Luis Tiant held batters to a .168 batting average and Bob Gibson had a 1.12 Earned Run Average. And through these successful moments on the mound, there were serious anti-war and civil rights protests. 

With mayhem engulfing the United States at every turn, near and far baseball fans had a treat during the 1968 World Series. This was a seven-game series, where fans watched the domination of St. Louis Cardinal Bob Gibson struck out thirteen Detroit Tigers within the first game. Through the efforts of Detroit players Al Kaline and Mickey Lolich, the Tigers won a World Series, at a serious crossroads for this nation. The “Boys of Summer” helped navigate the chaotic waters that our people were forced to navigate as it approached the end of the 1960s.

The Sept. 11, 2001 attacks were perpetrated on a beautiful day, that forever changed the security apparatus of the country. As our people were reeling from this horrific assault on our way of life, it essentially became some of the longest days ever in our history. 

Members of the New York Yankees and Mets visited rescue workers and military personnel that searched through debris for survivors. When baseball came back to America, fans watched as rivals like the Braves and Mets and the Yankees and Red Sox’s hugged before the games. Football teams across America waved the flag to show comradery for the rescue workers that spent numerous days in lower Manhattan, and fans during the 2001 World Series were elated at the sight of President George W. Bush throwing a strike to home plate at Yankee Stadium.  

Bush flashed a thumbs up to the crowd that had tears in their eyes, as they eerily recalled the almost three thousand Americans that were killed by these attacks. 

Through all types of modern issues like that of COVID, war, social, economic and political upheaval, baseball has always been an important source of comfort for Americans.  

Rocky Point students Chloe Fish, Sean Hamilton, Carolyn Settepani and Madelyn Zarzycki contributed to this article. 

Photo from Rich Acritelli

Rocky Point High School students helped make over 12,000 flowers this week to help Post 6249 Rocky Point Veterans of Foreign Wars with their Poppy Fundraiser. Here they are pictured with members of the VFW inside the school. 

Helene Bowler, Charles Gerace, Reilly Orlando and Tom Walsh honor Michael Bowler. Photo from Bowler family

“Circumstances the way they were, the ball just didn’t bounce our way today.  I hate to say it but that is the way life is, it isn’t always fair. And it takes a good man to lose and then to come back from it. You guys have your whole lives ahead of you, you have nothing to be ashamed of and everything to be proud of — even though we didn’t win everything, in my book we did. Because guys are everything. Not the trophy, not the wins, it’s you guys.” 

On Dec. 6, 2019, Michael Bowler eulogized the special memory of his father Michael P. Bowler who was a noted teacher, coach, club adviser, and administrator at Rocky Point High School since 1973. 

This powerful speech was given at Infant Jesus R.C. Church in Port Jefferson, in front of a packed crowd of family members, neighbors, teachers, friends, former lacrosse players, coaches and parents.   

 For decades, he spent countless hours in his classroom, administrative office, and on the practice and game fields.  

This week, Rocky Point High School honored Bowler with a large picture frame with his trademark coaching jacket, hat, whistle and pictures that showed his more-than forty 40 years of service to this North Shore community. 

Always armed with a big smile and a can-do attitude, Bowler was the epitome of commitment toward every type of student and athlete who crossed his path during his life in education. 

Even up to his death, as he fought cancer, Bowler expected to coach his players, where they were never far from his mind.  His life focused on the love of his family, service to his church, , and the devotion to the students and residents of Rocky Point.  

Helene Bowler, Kevan Bowler and Michael Bowler. Photo from Bowler family

Helene Bowler rarely missed a lacrosse game at Rocky Point and was the anchor of support toward the entire Bowler family. Like her husband, she can quickly describe the players, teams, and games that her husband coached, since he established this program.  

 “Mike loved everything about the game of lacrosse — the skill, the speed, the plays and strategies, the physicality,” she said. “He loved the challenge and excitement of being a coach and considered it an honor and a privilege to mentor these young men at Rocky Point.” 

All the Bowler kids played lacrosse on the college level, they all coached their own teams and children, and three of the boys are teachers and administrators. Bowler’s third oldest son, Kevan, connected lacrosse to the makeup of his parents and said, “I know many schools or programs like to think of themselves as a family, but I know that my dad, with the help and patience of my mom, looked after his team as if they were part of the family. Whether that meant trying to keep them on the right path academically, asking my mom to help wash the uniforms so the team looked sharp or trying to find the best possible college fit for them, lacrosse was not just a spring sport to him.” 

Since their earliest days of growing up in Hicksville, Bowler was a beloved brother to his siblings. His younger sister Meg Malangone, of Lake Grove, described her brother as being, “protective, caring and gentle. I could always talk to him and he always had time for me, even if I was being an annoying younger sister. When my husband died suddenly, Mike was there to share the load — helping with my kids, whether talking sports, watching movies and just laughing with them.”  

Stephanie Bowler described her brother as being “an unsung hero who was always in the background, waiting to be of assistance to anyone in need, great or small. No one was beyond his notice or care. Others always came first, be it a family member, student, athlete, community member or even a stranger.” 

A lasting impression was made on his fellow teachers who have long retired from Rocky Point. Vincent Basileo was an American history teacher who vividly remembered Bowler speaking to the students on a class trip to Quebec.  

“We were in a historic church and Mike had the students mesmerized through his description of the religious artifacts that these young men and women were learning about,” Basileo said.  

For 25 years, Bruce Mirabito taught and coached next to Bowler.  He saw his friend as being a “goal-orientated man who always led by example within all of his endeavors.”  

High school guidance facilitator, Matthew Poole, was a young counselor who worked closely with Bowler handling the administrative tasks for the junior high students within the mid-1990s.  Poole watched as “Bowler disciplined and advised students to help them find better decision-making.  

He was also a man who understood the college recruiting process to help his players enroll into the best possible schools.”   

Athletic director, Charles Delargy, often spoke with Bowler, where these two “Irishmen” enjoyed each other’s company.

Delargy believed that “Bowler was a true professional and gentlemen.  I was very lucky to have him as a good friend.”  

Longtime athletic secretary, Rose Monz, had the routine of seeing Bowler and said, “Never has there been a kinder gentleman. A man with old-fashioned values with a faith strong enough for everyone. I think of Mike every day for many different reasons — for the kids who seem lost, for his kindness and generosity to all the secretaries. And most of all,  I miss Mike for just being Mike.” 

It is impossible to put a number on the players who participated on the lacrosse teams since Bowler’s first competitive year in 1978.   

 “As a player of his and then watching as a fan as he coached two of my sons, he never lost the passion or dedication that he had for not only his teams, but all of the kids coming up,” said Peter LaSalla, a 1982 Rocky Point graduate. “He is missed greatly.”   

John Fernandez praised Bowler, too. 

“He treated his players with respect and wanted to get the best out of them,” Fernandez said. “He loved the game and studied it to be the best possible coach.”   

Michael Muller, a 2010 graduate, was a pallbearer for his beloved coach who helped him get him accepted to Dartmouth College.  According to Muller, “The world needs more people like Mike Bowler. He changed the course of my life and countless others for the better.  His legacy will live on forever.” 

For years, entire neighborhoods have been tied to the Rocky Point lacrosse program. Nicky and Vin Loscalzo graduated in 2011 and 2012 and they grew up with several boys living next to their home. Nicky always laughed when Bowler jokingly yelled at the six boys who made up the “Dana Court Crew.”

Kevin Fitzpatrick was a “crew” member who wanted to thank Bowler “for always teaching me to hold myself accountable for my mistakes and to have pride in the things I work hard at.”  

Nicky LoManto, a 2005 graduate, said, “Bowler provided an outstanding environment for student athletes that emphasized teamwork, respect for opponents and personal life skills for life.” 

During the unveiling, Chris Nentwich spoke about the difficulties of leaving Rocky Point to coach his own son and being away from the presence of Bowler. 

Dave Murphy touched on the loyalty of Bowler and thanked his family for allowing all of us to have special moments with him.  

James Jordan addressed the sincere messages that people wrote when they learned Bowler was named a lacrosse national coach of the year.   

Family friend and a lacrosse coach Brian Buckley spoke of Bowler’s knowledge and how he always loved to talk about his sport. Rocky Point lacrosse coach Tom Walsh cherished his moments with Bowler and would like to carry on many of his traditions within this school.   

And Rocky Point lacrosse senior captain, Reilly Orlando, mentioned he is one of three brothers who all played for Coach Bowler.  

 It is not easy to speak about a loved one who has passed away but, when it is about Michael P. Bowler, his legacy is easy to address and will be difficult to duplicate.

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

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Photo from the Library of Congress

By Rich Acritelli

It was 156 years ago this month, that after four long years of war, the confederacy was on the brink of destruction. For most of this time, Gen. Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia operated with far less men and materials to oppose the Union. 

Through decisive leadership, he stymied the union at every turn, invaded Maryland in 1862, Pennsylvania in 1863, and his cavalry operated extremely close to Washington, D.C., in the summer of 1864 — where they were within sight of the capitol building.  The Confederates kept fighting, with the outside hope of securing a peace that would not end slavery or curb their state’s rights.

At the helm of the union leadership was President Abraham Lincoln (R) who continually agonized over the ferocity of the fighting and the extreme losses of all-American soldiers. He desperately wanted to end this carnage, but not until the south was defeated, the northern soldiers continued to fight to preserve the union and end slavery. 

Right up until the election of 1864, Lincoln and his closest allies were concerned that this president was vulnerable to losing to democratic opponent General George B. McClellan, who was also the former commanding general of all northern armies. 

Union citizens were not sure of McClellan’s plan if he won this election, in the type of peace that would be accepted with the south and the fate of slavery.

But the end was near when Lincoln promoted Ulysses S. Grant to the rank of Lieutenant General and the overall commander of all union forces within March of 1864. 

Grant was the most successful fighting figure within the entire nation, and he was the first person since George Washington to be permanently given this rank. Up until Petersburg and Richmond fell in early April 1865, Grant waged an unrelenting war against the confederacy. 

Grant never wanted to hold territory; his armies were expected to constantly pursue the confederate forces that operated against the Union. From 1864 to 1865, Grant’s strategy of “Total War” brought the confederacy to an end. Although he had taken heavy losses and was called a “Butcher,” Grant’s plans paid heavy dividends against an enemy that was completely unable to match the union strength in men, resources, and money that also caused them to be exhausted from the fighting.  

By the spring of 1865, the confederates were reeling from the warfare in the wilderness and were forced to guard the heavy fortifications that were in front of Petersburg and Richmond. Gen. William T. Sherman took over Atlanta in the summer of 1864, by that Christmas, he took Savannah, and moved up the coastline. 

His men destroyed everything that was in their path and brought the war to the people of South Carolina that widely supported the firing against Fort Sumter in 1861.  At no point were the con-federates able to stop the determination of Sherman that squeezed the southern soldiers through the Carolinas, where he planned to reinforce Grant in Virginia. Both generals and their massive armies expected to fight and defeat Lee.

Grant promoted Gen. “Little Phil” Sheridan to run the Army of Shenandoah Valley. For too long, the massive resources of this part of Virginia were used to feed Lee’s forces. Through the tenacity of Sheridan and his men, he carried out the will of Grant who stated that he did not want a “Crow” to fly over these productive lands. Sheridan vehemently fought Confederate Gen. Jubal Early that wreaked havoc on the Union homes and resources that were near Washington, D.C. and Maryland. 

That December, Virginian Gen. George Thomas who remained loyal to the Union was always seen as a slow figure, but when he finally moved, he hit like a “Sledgehammer.” His command was almost fired by Grant who believed that Thomas waited too long to oppose the confederacy under Lt. Gen. John Bell Hood that threatened the Tennessee city of Nashville.  

Lincoln was concerned about this state being overrun by the confederates and Grant worried that if Thomas did not halt this movement, Hood would push his men toward the Ohio River. Over two days on Dec. 15 and 16, Thomas smashed this southern army that retreated back into Mississippi. As a result of this battle, Thomas demonstrated his decisiveness as a fighting general through his re-solve in soundly defeating Hood. 

By the early spring of 1865, it was Grant’s turn to change the tide of the fighting in Virginia. It was a painfully slow process for Grant to overrun the positions that were well fortified and held by Lee. At this final stage in the war, Grant completely extended his lines in front of Richmond and Petersburg. Lee’s men were still willing to fight, but they were unable to fill in their lines with fresh soldiers, as many men were starving and deserting in large numbers.  

Many of these men understood that the confederacy was on the brink of defeat through the successes of Sherman, Sheridan, and Thomas.  With scarce food for the residents of Petersburg and Richmond and Lee unable to secure enough feed for his horses that were to weak to pull artillery pieces, Grant was confident that the end of this conflict was imminent.  

At this stage in the war, Grant invited the president to leave the politics of the capitol, and to visit the union headquartered at City Point, VA.  Lincoln spoke to soldiers, visited the wounded, rode horses with Grant and told stories around nightly fires. Although both men barely personally knew each other, Lincoln’s trust in Grant far surpassed any other general in the union. 

They had a good deal in common, where Grant and Lincoln both lived difficult lives that saw failure, were from the mid-west, and they wanted the quickest way to win this war.  Lincoln appreciated the honesty of Grant, his tenacity to fight Lee, and the battlefield success that Grant achieved that helped the president win his re-election against McClellan.  

After four years of setbacks, Lincoln was on the cusp of victory by one of the strongest armies in American history that the nation ever mobilized.  

After the union victory at Five Forks, Virginia, Grant ordered Sheridan to assault the right flank of Lee, and to operate within the rear of Confederate forces to end this 292-day military siege to take Petersburg. By April 2, 1865, Grant ordered assaults across the entire southern lines that penetrated the defenses of the confederates and made progress towards Petersburg and Richmond. 

In a matter of days, Lee lost 10,000 soldiers that were killed, wounded and captured. As the union moved forward, the valuable railroads from Petersburg were cut off from Richmond. In a matter of moments, the trenches that were firmly held by the confederates, were empty, and in full retreat. As these two notable southern cities were about to be captured, Lee warned Confederate President Jefferson Davis that Richmond would only be held for a couple of hours and that the government had to flee, or it would be taken by Grant.

It was only four years before Richmond fell to Grant that he was a private citizen in Galena, Illinois. Since he left the army under the threat of a court martial due to heavy drinking on duty in 1854, Grant struggled to earn a living for his family. 

Once the war began, he quietly stated that any person that opposed the union was treasonous against the government. While Grant is perhaps the finest general to lead American armies, when the war started, he was refused a commission back into the regular army under McClellan. Illinois Governor Richard Yates presented Grant with the last of four colonel positions to lead a volunteer regiment.  

Quickly, Grant understood that the only way to win this war was to insensately fight the confederates.  He captured enemy armies at Fort Donelson in February 1862, Vicksburg in July 1863, and narrowly missed the destruction of General Braxton Bragg at Chattanooga at Thanksgiving of 1863.  

As Lee was a respected general, he never captured any union armies. But Grant captured three confederate armies, the last being at Appomattox Courthouse on April 9, 1865. 

This unassuming American, that was a farmer, a storekeeper, a seller of firewood, and a veteran of the United States-Mexico War was the most important weapon that Lincoln had at his disposal to preserve the Union and end slavery. 

It was at this moment many years ago that Lincoln received word that Petersburg and Richmond fell and that the Union would be preserved due to the support of Grant and his armies.

Rocky Point students Sean Hamilton and Zachary Gentile helped contributed to
this story.

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Patsy Vassallo during his military days. Photo from the Vassallo family

By Rich Acritelli

Rocky Point High School lost a special employee that held a special place within the staff and student body on March 21.  

Patsy Vassallo, of Miller Place, considered his moments within the hallways of this school to be amongst the most gratifying of his life. At 83 years old, Vassallo wore a big smile, where he engaged the young men and women of this school, and he spoke to all the staff members as a calming presence. 

Each day, Vassallo was pleased to go to work, where he embraced being a part of the RPHS community. As COVID-19 surely has that tested the roles of administrators, teachers and students, Vassallo was always a warm presence to lighten our atmosphere. 

Photo from the Vassallo family

Originally from Bayside, Queens, he started working at the young age of seven, where he learned how to repair footwear in a shoemaker shop. At 17, Vassallo enlisted into the New York Army National Guard where he proudly served in the military for eight years. 

For many decades, he held manufacturing engineering positions and was an entrepreneur that owned and operated machine, coffee and shoe businesses. Vassallo was a proponent of education and in his 60s, he taught college level courses as a lecturer of architectural design through the application of software.  

Always armed with a “can-do” attitude, Vassallo lived an extremely productive life. This was seen at 77 years old, where he provided customer service at a local hardware store. And when he was not working or spending time with his family, Vassallo was a drummer with his brother Charles who played the saxophone in a wedding band during the 1970s and 80s.  

Always known for his energy, athletically, Vassallo was also an avid golfer. One thing was for certain, Vassallo through his many interests was able to speak to every type of person that crossed his path, especially those individuals that were fortunate to see him at his most recent job. 

Vassallo’s greatest achievement was his family. He cherished his children, grandchildren and great grandchildren. He preached the necessity that “family always comes first,” and as the senior patriarch, Vassallo always exclaimed, “I love you to the moon and back.” 

In a brief matter of months, Vassallo had a reassuring presence that was welcomed by the staff of Rocky Point High School.  Principal John Hart believed that “At the age of 83, Pat quickly became a well-loved member of the High School community and was often referred to as a true gentleman. He proudly arrived early each day, exchanged pleasant conversations with our staff, was detail-oriented, and most importantly respectful and friendly to all those in this building.”   

Hart’s secretary, Sheila Grodotzke observed the positive qualities of Vassallo as “loving his job and his reliability in seriously taking his responsibilities. He showed and expressed such fierce pride in his family.”

“I will remember how he beamed with such passion and humbleness when he introduced me to his two grandchildren who attend our high school,” she added. “I truly miss him and never will forget him. May he rest in peace.”

Within these hard times for the Vassallo Family, RPHS wanted to thank these residents for the unique opportunity that our students and staff had in knowing this good man. While his loss has been on hard on his family, they were immensely proud of his many achievements. 

Thank you for the daily devotion and affection that Mr. Patsy Vassallo provided to all those that he befriended in this North Shore district. 

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A photo of the Iwo Jima Memorial in Washington D.C. This month commemorates the anniversary of the battle, which ended in 1945. Photo from the Library of Congress

By Rich Acritelli 

By the end of February 1945, the United States made significant progress within its island-hopping campaign to operate closer toward the Japanese mainland. Since 1942, Gen. Douglas MacArthur pursued a movement across the Pacific Ocean that saw Americans land on islands like Guadalcanal and Tarawa, along with the recapture of the Philippines. This fighting was waged against an enemy that refused to surrender and was willing to take heavy losses.

For American military and political leaders, this period was an extremely bloody part of the war. In Europe, the United States began its slow advances into Germany after Hitler’s last-ditch attempt to split the Western Allies through the Battle of the Bulge. For MacArthur and Nimitz, the taking of Iwo Jima presented a harsh dilemma for the Japanese. If the American Navy and Marines took this island, it brought our forces 750 miles from the main Japanese home islands. Now, their soil, people, munitions plants and Emperor Hirohito would be directly assaulted during the latter part of this war.

The taking of Iwo Jima also denied the Japanese the use of airfields for attacks on American B-29 Superfortress bombers. At this time, these bombers did not have the support of American fighter planes to guard against the Japanese Mitsubishi Zero aircraft. A victory on this island, allowed the Army Air Forces a strip of land for its bombers and fighter planes to bring increased pressure against the entire Japanese war effort. 

As the American forces kept pushing forward, the Japanese resistance grew stiffer by kamikaze aircraft that targeted our major naval vessels. The sight of these enemy planes that targeted American ships was a horrifying reminder that the war was far from over.  

Bob Feller was called Ace of the Greatest Generation, and he was stationed on the USS Alabama battleship in the Pacific. This Hall of Fame pitcher and Cy Young Award winner was a called a hero when he returned to the Cleveland Indians in 1946. Recalling the determination of the Japanese, he firmly stated that he was not a hero, but ”a survivor” of combat against this nation. For Feller and the other veterans of World War II, they were constantly targeted by these enemy pilots that sunk some 47 Allied vessels.  

American war machine

Even as the Japanese government sent few reinforcements and supplies to their garrisons, they were left on these islands to fight to the death. The Japanese, unlike the Germans, realized that they were unable to stop the strength of the American war machine. But they understood that our citizens hated losses and the Japanese were determined to increase the blood toll. In battles like Iwo Jima, Japanese officers instructed the necessity of their soldiers to kill at least 10 Americans before they were overrun by our forces.

During the Iwo Jima planning stages, there was a lack of information from the American pilots who were unable to see any major signs of Japanese soldiers on this island. Instead, they observed a rugged terrain of rock and mountains that offered few luxuries for any of its inhabitants. But the Japanese deployed almost 22,000 soldiers to contest any American landing. They operated in the caves, a series of tunnels, and placed heavy guns in well-concealed positions. They gained valuable time in building these lines of defense by delaying the American conquest of the Philippines. 

Before the American military planners assaulted Iwo Jima, they ordered their “frogmen” — or the earliest SEALs — to attack the Japanese in the effort for them to reveal these gun emplacements. In anticipation of heavy resistance, the Marines requested that the Navy should fire at the suspected areas of Japanese fortifications and guns for 10 days. Instead, there were only three days of naval bombing, and this resulted in the later extreme losses for American land forces. A flotilla of about 450 ships laid off the coast of Iwo Jima, where 60,000 Marines and 10,000 Navy and Army personnel were used to capture this small island. On Feb. 19, when the Marines landed with their waves of men and materials, the Japanese barely resisted these early American actions.

Led by veteran Japanese leader Gen. Tadamichi Kuribayashi, it was his intention to allow the landings to reach the shores unopposed. The Americans were permitted to move inland where they would be heavily targeted by Japanese forces. Kuribayashi believed that if his forces created massive American losses, it was expected that our officers would lose their willingness to continue fighting on Iwo Jima. He utilized the steep terrain of the beaches, as the first wave of 8,000 men had to wade ashore through deep beaches. This sand was also difficult for the motorized American vehicles to operate on, as tanks, trucks and jeeps were targeted by Japanese guns.

Opening assault

On the first day of the assault, there were 2,400 casualties that surprised the American military leadership, as these losses were lower than those that were suffered at Tarawa and Saipan. The biggest mistake that the Japanese made on this day was to fire from their positions at Mount Suribachi.  Japanese firing at the tip of the island, proved to be fatal for the enemy, as it allowed the American Navy, fighter planes and ground forces to hit these enemy troops and their guns. On the fourth day of the fighting, photographer Joe Rosenthal captured perhaps the most historic military picture ever taken.  The “flag raising” depiction on the top of Mount Suribachi presented the commitment of the Marines to place the colors of this nation. As Americans were elated by this picture, the dangerous reality for the Marines was that this contest was far from over.  

Unlike other battles that showed the willingness of the Japanese to use banzai assaults against American positions, Kuribayashi discouraged these methods. If large groups of Japanese soldiers went into the open to attack the Marines, they would eventually be killed, and this would only weaken his forces.  While there was some fighting at night, the Japanese stayed close to their tunnels, guns and cover, and this prevented an early victory for the Marines. Our military leadership became increasingly worried about the resistance that the Japanese had showed on the northern part of Iwo Jima. The Japanese used larger mortars which increased losses and the Marines began to utilize napalm against the enemy.  There was a kamikaze assault of the Navy off the island, with the USS Bismarck Sea and the USS Saratoga being targeted by Japanese aircraft.  For both sides, the 36 days of warfare at Iwo Jima proved to be a battle that was bent on total carnage.

Even as American strength was far superior, the Japanese often waited for the sight of the Marines before they opened fire. Gen. Holland McTyeire “Howlin’ Mad” Smith came ashore several times to personally observe the fighting, and he believed that the Marines were in perhaps the worst battle that they had ever experienced. It was estimated that 14 out of 24 Marine infantry battalion commanders were killed or wounded leading their men on the front lines. Mostly through hand-to-hand combat, this was the only way to chip away at the Japanese defenses.  

Severe losses

By March 14, the Marines felt confident that Iwo Jima was taken into possession by American forces.  While the Japanese lost most of their positions, there were still moments that they infiltrated the rear parts of American lines to kill Marines. On both sides, the losses were severe, with the Japanese having more than 20,000 casualties. It was estimated that 30% of Americans were casualties, with most of the damage being done against the infantry.  The losses of this battle never discriminated, as noted combat figure John Basilone, a gunnery sergeant and Medal of Honor recipient, was killed during his earliest moments on Iwo Jima. Every type of Marine fought on this island from the most decorated, to a 16-year-old that experienced some of the hardest warfare. 

Some 76 years ago this month, over 6,000 Marines were killed during an immensely challenging time within the history of this branch of service.

Rocky Point students Chloe Fish, Sean Hamilton, Carolyn Settepani and Madelyn Zarzycki contributed to this article. 

Athletic Director Charlie Delargey charges down court. Photo by Kyle Barr

By Rich Acritelli

On Feb. 28, at Rocky Point High School, administrators, teachers, coaches, support staff and even district groundskeepers participated in the 2nd annual Swooping and Hooping basketball game. It was a night filled with cheers, laughs and comradery to raise money for the school’s Kids in Need Fund and VFW Post 6249 program to aid our local Wounded Warriors. Since the early fall, the game and fundraiser were led by the creative efforts of math teachers Jenessa Eilers and Carly Tribby. Through their efforts, the school raised $3,400 this year.

Guidance counselor Jimmy Jordan, also the boys basketball coach, passes to an open player. Photo by Kyle Barr

At the start of this year, the two younger educators took control of the Be a Nicer Neighbor Club after social studies teacher Brooke Bonomi retired last year. From looking at their ability to handle this lively night, a new torch has certainly been passed and accepted by Eilers and Tribby to continue making the school a “better place.” While the activity was flawlessly guided, these two educators put in countless hours in planning the fundraiser. They were present to guide the student-based process of organizing teams, general managers, coaches and entertainment for the night. Like that of Bonomi, it was the goal of Eilers and Tribby to give the students the responsibility in establishing the roots of success that will allow Swooping and Hooping to be a strong tradition for the high school.

Several weeks before this game, students organized a draft to pick the players for the night. With an assortment of background music, every participant was chosen by the leadership of groups named Hoops We Did It Again, Strawberry Thunder, the Dunkin Dino’s and the Flipping Mandalorians.  Up until the game, the students were expected to organize their rosters, make trades and sign free agents. For several mornings of the past week, Eilers and Tribby were surrounded by their club members to sell early tickets and team shirts which were worn by staff and alumni. Every part of the school district was represented within these four teams, from Principal Jonathan Hart and Athletic Director Charlie Delargey to the girls basketball coach Reagan Lynch and the athletic groundskeeper Aaron Lipsky. Armed with big smiles, the players arrived early, where they practiced shooting, stretched and organized some lay-up drills. Bonomi, a familiar face, wore a huge smile over the positive actions of Eilers and Tribby to build on a the event that he help create.

After a rousing national anthem performed by senior Molly Lambert and the presentation of the colors by Post 6249, its commander, Joe Cognitore, started the game with the tip-off. First-year assistant principal Lauren Neckin started the evening off on a high point by hitting a 3-pointer.  Right away, the students chanted for their fan favorites and intently watched the staff members who drove to the net and dove for loose balls. As longtime guidance counselor Tammy McPherson was bringing the ball up the court, she heard the warm gestures of her family including her baby granddaughter that came out to see her play.  This energy was repeated with math teacher Jason Rand hitting a jump shot in the last seconds of the first half. With over 400 tickets sold, the smiles were easy to detect among both fans and players.

Halftime entertainment of Rocky Point student dribbling blindfolded. Photo by Kyle Barr

After a rousing victory by Hoops We Did It Again, there was a musical halftime show performed by guidance counselor Michael Conlon and his Sound Choice club.  They brought the fans to their feet through their electric playing of Queens “We Will Rock You” and White Stripes “Seven Nation Army.”  To keep the people entertained, students and faculty tossed shirts into the stands, along with shooting contests, and many basket raffles. For the second time, Cognitore was the grand marshal for the game and he marveled over the wonderful job that Eilers and Tribby did to bring the staff and students together.

The second game demonstrated the athletic prowess of Strawberry Thunder and the Dunkin Dino’s.  While it was expected that the Dino’s would have a difficult game, this team hit their shots and kept the game close. Through the leadership of Delargey and guidance counselors Jimmy Jordan and Matt Poole, the Dino’s advanced to the finals where the crowd was at the edge of their seats. Science teacher Mark Brienza energized the fans through his superb shooting and the chants from the student body who said he should earn the most valuable player award for this evening. Opposing him was the point scoring strength of physical education teacher Kelly Calamita and Joseph A. Edgar special education teacher Lauren Boyle.

Again, the fans were into this game from the championship tip off to the final moments which saw Hoops We Did It Again named the 2020 victor. After the final moments of this game, the fans rushed the court and showed their appreciation for a wonderful night. It was a chance for the players to dust a little rust from their basketball skills and raise much needed funds through the kindness of the Be a Nicer Neighbor Club. Looking at the energy of this night, high school principal Hart said these, “ladies went above and beyond to ensure this year’s event was as successful as last year’s.”  

Through the efforts of Eilers and Tribby, they certainly have made strides to fill the major shoes left behind after Bonomi retired last year. Through his mentorship, these two young educators have proven themselves to be up to the task in organizing and running major programs that have turned into traditions for the district.

Assistant marching band director Vincent Ragona with students Tristan Duenas, Dan Curley, Andrew Trebilcock, Riley Watson and Shaun Sander. Photo from RPUFSD

The magical sounds of the low-pitched tuba were a celebration for thousands of spectators to hear and witness at The Rink at Rockefeller Center’s 46th annual Tuba Christmas this past weekend.

Rocky Point High School freshmen Dan Curley and Andrew Trebilcock, sophomore Shaun Sander, junior Tristan Duenas and senior Riley Watson, along with the high school’s assistant marching band director Vincent Ragona, were among the hundreds of baritone horn, baritone horn, euphonium, tuba and sousaphone players of all ages and abilities from around the country who joined together to perform holidays carols and other crowd favorites on their brass instruments.

“We are so grateful for this real-world opportunity for our students, to use a public platform to share in the gift of music,” Rocky Point High School Principal Jonathan Hart said. “We also thank Mr. Ragona for leading and sharing in this memorable event.”

 

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Rocky Point natives Gerard and Diane Hahn are honored along with three other siblings for service in the armed forces. Fifty other veterans were honored on the high school Veterans Wall of Honor. Photo by Kyle Barr

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.

People take pictures and point to names of family members on Rocky Point HS Wall of Honor. Photo by Kyle Barr

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.

Greg Hotzoglou honors his brother Taylor, a veteran who died trying to stop an armed robbery. Photo by Kyle Barr

“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.”

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The Rocky Point High School History Honors Society stand with Joe Cognitore along with a plaque commemorating the flag that now flies over the 9/11 Memorial in NYC. Photo from Rich Acritelli

Just recently, Joe Cognitore, commander of VFW Post 6249 in Rocky Point spoke to the Rocky Point High School History Honors Society. He addressed the tragic attacks of 9/11, 18 years ago and an uncovered part of ground zero that was presented to this North Shore area.  

Cognitore recalled a past beautiful fall day, the afternoon of Oct. 4, when the Rocky Point school district held a major patriotic and remembrance ceremony only weeks after the terror attacks. It was the goal of this school district to remember and honor all of those national and local people that were impacted by these attacks. As Americans watched the rescue and recovery efforts in the city, they were reminded of a new war that was waged against the Taliban and al-Qaida some 19 days after Manhattan was hit by supporters of terrorism.  Those days saw a tremendous burden weighing on the minds of citizens, and this program presented a united front to support all of our Americans at home and abroad.

Local residents filled the bleachers of Rocky Point High School and in front of them was a Town of Brookhaven concert mobile. The VFW post marched in the colors and presented our flag to a crowd that was overcome with the memory of the four graduates that were killed from these attacks. The sounds of “God Bless America,” the armed forces music and “America the Beautiful” were played to the crowd. Veterans were invited to stand to represent different branches of the armed services that were all on alert during the earliest moments of the War on Terror. There were all of the local, state and federal government representatives, World War II veterans, and Boy Scouts that were all present on this day to present a dynamic unity.

This camaraderie resembled the same feelings that Americans felt when the Japanese  attacked Pearl Harbor Dec. 7, 1941.  Flags were flown all over the nation and people stuck bumper stickers on their cars in support of the residents of New York City. People wrapped yellow ribbons around trees for those soldiers who going to be deployed. Cognitore and the other organizers of that event decided on a unique angle to demonstrate patriotism. Calverton-based Sky Dive Long Island planned to make a jump over the skies of this school with a large flag that would be seen well above the heads of the people. Only a few weeks before this jump, it was discovered under the debris of Lower Manhattan. It was originally flown outside of the World Trade Center and it was located by a volunteer recovery worker.

The plane took off from Calverton with jumpers Curt Kellinger, a Port Authority police officer and Ray Maynard. The crew made a memorable landing with a tattered yet historic flag that landed on the Rocky Point football field. Once the flag made it to the ground, it was presented to a representative of the Port Authority and brought back to the city. That year, it was flown over Yankee Stadium during the World Series, at Super Bowl XXXVI and at the 2002 Salt Lake City Winter Olympics. Even as this flag was scarred from the attacks of 9/11, it showed the resilience of our country to quickly rebound and rebuild.  The flag that once was displayed at Post 6249 has a permanent home at the 9/11 Memorial in New York City. Today, millions of people have visited this well-known museum and they can see a flag that has strong roots of patriotism and remembrance to this North Shore community.

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

The Rocky Point High School History Honors Society contributed to this story.