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Rocky Point VFW Post 6249

Veterans gather at the Long Island State Veterans Home at Stony Brook University on March 29. Photos by Rich Acritelli

By Rich Acritelli

On March 29, 51 years after the last American troops were withdrawn from South Vietnam and the acknowledged prisoners of war were released by Hanoi, the war officially ended. 

The Long Island State Veterans Home at Stony Brook University held a symbolic Remembrance Day for Vietnam War residents, family members and local veteran organizations. After a special invocation by Rabbi Joseph Topek and the presentation of the colors by Rocky Point VFW Post 6249, the packed audience remained on their feet for The Star-Spangled Banner and the Pledge of Allegiance. 

Patriotism was personified by longtime Executive Director Fred Sganga who has cared for many veterans since 9/11 as he presented a hearty “Welcome Home.”

In 1975, two years after American troops pulled out, South Vietnam was finally defeated by the communist regime in North Vietnam. Today there are an estimated 610,000 living Vietnam War veterans who arrived home originally to open hostility toward their military efforts. This generation of veterans faced over 58,000 killed and there are over 1,500 missing in action from this war. 

On May 28, 2012, during a Memorial Day ceremony, President Barack Obama (D) mandated the National Vietnam War Veterans Day and in 2017 President Donald Trump (R) signed it into a federally recognized moment to fully honor Vietnam veterans. 

Many local Vietnam veterans were in attendance to help honor their comrades. 

Suffolk County Legislator Nick Caracappa (C-Selden) from the 4th Legislative District spoke about the military experiences of his family in numerous conflicts. As a chairman of the Suffolk County Veterans Committee, he identified the devotion of these local veterans who served in Vietnam and their generous efforts to support veterans’ causes. 

Since 9/11, groups like VFW Post 6249 in Rocky Point and the Suffolk County Chapter of Vietnam Veterans have aided War on Terror veterans at home and overseas. They have organized Wounded Warrior golf outings, PTSD 5K runs, provided their posts for family military reunions, speaking at schools and have created patriotic memorials. 

As Suffolk contains the largest number of veterans in New York state and the second largest in the United States, their goal is to provide significant support toward our many local armed forces members.

A Marine Corps major who is a decorated Purple Heart recipient and a current reservist is 6th District county Legislator Chad Lennon (R-Rocky Point). He echoed the feelings of Caracappa and fully recognized the sacrifices in South Vietnam. Lennon identified the shameful treatment of these veterans and said, “This generation of veterans, not only fought battles in Vietnam but also at home. They were spat on and discarded as less than other Americans. However, they took those experiences and made changes that allowed future generations to be properly welcomed home.”

A resident of Port Jefferson Station, and now Bayport, military advocate Richard Kitson spoke about the two wars that Vietnam veterans faced overseas and at home. After this Marine Corps mortarman returned home to Levittown, his younger brother John at 19 years old enlisted into the Marines and was killed in action in South Vietnam. 

Understanding the early national, local and family heartache that is still felt by many of these veterans, Kitson spoke about the Vietnam veterans who served 240 days in the field, one out of 10 were casualties, and 97% received honorable discharges. He told an astonished crowd that many of these veterans who were from low-income families earned high school and college diplomas. 

Kitson described these southeastern Asia veterans as trailblazers who have fought for the expanded rights of veterans. From his earliest adult years, Kitson has always helped other veterans, spearheaded the Vietnam War memorial at Bald Hill, is a senior figure at Northport VA Medical Center and continues to help those men and women who have become afflicted with Agent Orange. 

Speaking on behalf of VFW Post 6249, “Lieutenant” Dan Guida was an armor commander during the heavy fighting in Vietnam. A daily volunteer at this veteran’s home, Guida addressed his “comrades” about the hardships that Americans absorbed against the enemy and at home. Like most of the veterans in this program, Guida observed that only family members and friends understood the early challenges of Vietnam veterans. Armed with a big smile, Guida constantly supports this facility with an unyielding friendship to care for residents with PTSD. Directly after Guida spoke, all the residents had their names called out, where they received applause and praise for their time in Vietnam.

On March 22, Guida helped Cmdr. Joe Cognitore of VFW Post 6249 create the first-ever veterans affairs workshop. 

Agencies from all over Long Island spoke to veterans about key services and programs that are provided to them and their families. A Vietnam veteran and a platoon sergeant who fought in Cambodia in 1970, Cognitore has been one of the most vocal local, state and veterans advocates over the last several decades. Since the First Gulf War, Cognitore has been a vital pillar of support and a source of information to help aid veterans of all ages. 

At the end of this ceremony, VFW Post 6249 retired the colors at this endearing program to “Welcome Home” our Vietnam veterans some 51 years after the last Americans pulled out of South Vietnam.

Rocky Point VFW thanks Jerry McGrath for his service. Photo courtesy Rich Acritelli

By Rich Acritelli

On March 29, the federal government will honor the military service of our American citizens through the National Vietnam War Veterans day. 

On Saturday, March 16, VFW Post 6249 Suffolk County World War II and Military History Museum thanked Wading River resident Jerry McGrath for his devotion to fighting for the United States during this conflict. A young man who was in the United States Army in South Vietnam, McGrath was an artillery sergeant in the field during the height of the fighting. 

After his enlistment ended, McGrath became a long time teacher at the Wading River Elementary School. Over his teaching career, McGrath was a beloved figure for the younger generations of students from this North Shore community. 

The affection for this teacher was recently seen as a picture of McGrath and his Vietnam War picture that has been placed in this local museum was placed on Facebook. Students from all decades responded to the kindness that McGrath presented to the boys and girls who he taught at this elementary school. 

As a fifth grader, Eric Strovink was in McGrath’s class in 1981, and affectionately recalled the life-long lessons that he learned from this iconic figure. A physical education teacher at a Mount Sinai Elementary School, Strovink was a talented baseball player and wrestler who later followed in the same career as McGrath.

Speaking in front of members of the VFW Post 6249, Strovink asked McGrath questions about his time in Vietnam, as an educator, and his love of fishing. In 1985, McGrath began instructing courses on recreational fishing. 

The positive character of McGrath and his expertise increased the class sizes through different educational and professional development workshops that were taught at local libraries and for the Suffolk County Parks Department. McGrath’s influence spread to Ward Melville, as one of his students, organized a fishing class at this high school. 

Thank you to Jerry McGrath for his patriotic sacrifices during the Vietnam War.  This disabled veteran from Wading River serves as an important reminder of local and national service that some teachers have experienced during their lifetime.  

Rocky Point VFW rally for veteran funding on Feb. 1. Photo courtesy Office of Senator Anthony Palumbo

By Nasrin Zahed

State Sens. Anthony Palumbo (R-New Suffolk) and Mario Mattera (R-St. James), alongside state Assemblymembers Jodi Giglio (R-Riverhead) and Ed Flood (R-Port Jefferson), joined forces Thursday, Feb. 1, with local veteran groups to demand the prompt distribution of over $1 million in taxpayer donations destined for veteran organizations. 

The urgency of this allocation is underscored by the critical need to support veterans, particularly those requiring continuous care, through funds earmarked for state veterans homes.

The press conference, held at the Rocky Point Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 6249, served as a platform to amplify the voices advocating for the dissemination of these funds. In addition to the elected officials in attendance were Bob Smith, chairman of the Long Island State Veterans Home Advisory Board, and Joe Cognitore, commander of VFW Post 6249 and a member of the LISVH Advisory Board, along with other local veterans and groups.

At the heart of the matter lies the delay in distributing approximately $410,000 allocated for state veterans homes, essential for providing round-the-clock care to veterans in need. Palumbo, recognizing the urgency of the situation, had previously taken action by issuing a formal letter to Amanda Hiller, acting tax commissioner and general counsel of the New York State Department of Taxation and Finance, urging for the expedited allocation of these donations.

During the press conference, Palumbo emphasized the moral obligation to allocate these funds, stating, “Our veterans have sacrificed so much for our country, and it is our duty to ensure they receive the care and support they need without delay.” His sentiments were echoed by Giglio and Flood, who reaffirmed their commitment to advocating for the timely distribution of these crucial resources.

Smith continued the conversation, emphasizing the tangible impact of these funds on the lives of veterans, noting that every moment of delay translates to missed opportunities to provide essential care and services.

Cognitore expressed his gratitude, saying, “It was unbelievable, they went above and beyond their duty and our cause in representing us.”


Community members gaze upon the military wall of honor during the grand opening of the Suffolk County World War II and Military History Museum in Rocky Point on Thursday, Dec. 7. Photos by Raymond Janis

The Rocky Point community ushered in history Thursday, Dec. 7, welcoming hundreds to the hamlet to launch the Suffolk County World War II and Military History Museum at the former Rocky Point train station.

In a grand opening ceremony featuring speeches from Rocky Point VFW Post 6249 members, musical performances by local students and even a military flyover, the event formally opened the highly anticipated regional veterans museum to the public.

Attending the event included various public officials, such as Town of Brookhaven Councilwoman Jane Bonner (R-Rocky Point), Suffolk County Legislator Nick Caracappa (C-Selden) and a representative of Congressman Nick LaLota (R-NY1).

The museum showcases various exhibits spotlighting the stories of local veterans. Uniforms, combat gear and memorabilia are out on display. The centerpiece, situated just outside the complex, is a military wall of honor with hundreds of names of local vets.

Joe Cognitore, commander of VFW Post 6249, declared that Thursday’s event was the realization of years of planning. “This is a vision we had many, many years ago, and this vision finally came true today,” he said.

Cognitore thanked the museum’s curator, post member and history teacher Rich Acritelli, for his considerable effort in preparing the museum for launch. “This museum is unbelievable,” the post commander explained. “It’s amazing what he did inside with such little time and little space.”

In his remarks, Acritelli outlined the objectives of the museum. “This story represents the countless Long Island people that have had numerous family members that have served within the Armed Forces and supported America within every military conflict,” he said.

Chronicling the vast contributions that went into the museum’s rollout, the curator added how the facility represents a moment of community building for Greater Rocky Point and beyond. “While there is a small percentage of the population who actually enter the military, the Armed Forces are embedded within every American family,” he noted. “Working on this veterans project, you watch how almost every person said they had a cousin, brother, father, aunt, close friend, mom, who was in uniform and wanted to recognize them for their patriotic efforts and sacrifices.”

Now, their stories are on display for the public. The museum is located at 7 Prince Road, Rocky Point.

VFW Post 6249 in Rocky Point hosts its annual Veterans Day service on Saturday, Nov. 11. Photo courtesy Joe Cognitore

By Aidan Johnson

As Veterans Day once again arrived on Nov. 11, members of the Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 6249 in Rocky Point took the time to pay their respects to all those who have served in the military.

“As a veteran, I stand before you with a profound sense of pride, humility and gratitude,” said Joe Cognitore, commander of Post 6249, in a speech to those in attendance. “I’ve been where many of you and our fellow service members have been, serving our great country with unwavering dedication, yet facing the many challenges that come with it.”

Cognitore made it a point to focus on the importance of Veterans Day not only from the perspective of being a veteran and VFW post member but also from “the collective duty we as U.S. citizens share in honoring our veterans and ensuring the truth and essence of this day is not forgotten.”

“Veterans Day isn’t really about acknowledging our service or expressing gratitude,” he continued. “It is about making Veterans Day a touchstone for understanding, education and appreciation for our Americans.”

“And I believe it’s our job as veterans to help ensure the true significance of this day isn’t lost in the noise of the [store] sales or everyday life,” he added.

Suffolk County Legislator Nick Caracappa (C-Selden) spoke at the event and expressed appreciation for the national holiday and the local veterans community.

“If you think about it, what these guys do, especially at this post, they are out in our communities every single day making a difference, as are many other posts,” he said in an interview. “All veterans continue to serve our communities and our country, so it’s only fitting that we recognize them and appreciate them and realize that they are out there on a daily basis.”

Cognitore mentioned upcoming events at the post, including the opening of the Suffolk County World War II and Military History Museum on Dec. 7 located at the former Rocky Point train station across the street from the VFW post, and a Christmas party on Dec. 9.

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].

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].

The Rocky Point community celebrated Independence Day Tuesday, July 4, with a reading of the Declaration of Independence and public recognition of local veterans. Photos by Raymond Janis

Patriotism filled the morning air in Rocky Point on Tuesday, July 4, during a communitywide celebration of American independence.

Public officials, business leaders, Scouts and community members gathered outside Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 6249 — at times braving gusts of rain — for a ceremony in honor of the 247th anniversary of American independence. The festivities combined a traditional reading of the Declaration of Independence with public recognition of the area’s veterans.

Above, Joe Cognitore, commander Rocky Point Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 6249, left, and Gary Pollakusky, president and executive director of the Rocky Point Sound Beach Chamber of Commerce

“Freedom is a gift given by all of those who fought for us,” said Gary Pollakusky, president and executive director of the Rocky Point Sound Beach Chamber of Commerce, which helped organize the event. “As we celebrate with our friends and family, we must express our thanks for feeling free to the men and women who made that possible.”

Joe Cognitore, commander of Post 6249, performed the commemorative reading of the list of hometown heroes. Following this service, the post commander reinforced the value of reading the Declaration annually.

“Today, we celebrate 247 years of freedom and independence,” he said. “Let us remember that the true power of our nation lies in the unity and resilience of our people.”

“The VFW stands as a testament to the enduring spirit of our veterans and their dedication to our country,” he added. “Together, let us renew our commitment to supporting our veterans and bridging the gap between military service and civilian life.”

Town of Brookhaven Councilwoman Jane Bonner (R-Rocky Point) reflected upon the uniqueness of this annual tradition, noting the sizable and proud veteran population of northeastern Brookhaven.

From left: New York State Assemblywoman Jodi Giglio; Town of Brookhaven Councilwoman Jane Bonner; and Brookhaven Deputy Supervisor Dan Panico.

“I’m proud to represent this community because, trust me, the Declaration of Independence is probably not being read anywhere else today in Suffolk County or Nassau County,” she said. “So props to the people who made it happen.”

New York State Assemblywoman Jodi Giglio (R-Riverhead) said the Declaration stands as a “reminder to everyone of how important it is that we have our freedoms and our liberties,” she said.

Bonner’s colleague on the Town Board, Deputy Supervisor Dan Panico (R-Manorville), used the occasion to reflect upon the historical significance of the American Revolution and the audacity of those who signed the document nearly two and half centuries ago, tying their contributions to those of American service members today.

“We offered law and logic to the rest of the world as to why we should be free,” the deputy supervisor said. “It’s our veterans — from the American Revolution through today — that have been there to ensure that this country … ensues and keeps on going forward.”

Above, Sound Beach Fire Department Chief William Rosasco, left, and 2nd Assistant Chief James McLoughlin Jr. present a memorial wreath. Photo by Raymond Janis

Community members, first responders and veterans groups gathered on Memorial Day, May 29, with services paying tribute to the fallen.

The Sound Beach Fire Department hosted its annual memorial service, recognizing the departed members. James McLoughlin Jr., 2nd assistant chief of the department, shared the meaning of the service and the importance of recognizing first responders who have laid down their lives in the line of duty.

“The death of these fine men and women merits recognition and honor by our department,” he said. “While we are saddened by their deaths, we also testify to their many contributions in making their communities a better place to live, and we pay tribute to their memory.”

In Rocky Point, the Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 6249 held a service honoring the departed members of the post and recognizing the sacrifices of American service members.

Members of Rocky Point VFW Post 6249 with Town of Brookhaven Councilwoman Jane Bonner and New York State Assemblywoman Jodi Giglio, above. Photo by Raymond Janis

Joe Cognitore, commander of Post 6249, delivered an address to the many in attendance. He expressed his gratitude for those who had paid the ultimate sacrifice, risking their own lives to protect the freedoms of others.

“As we stand together today, we are reminded of the true cost of freedom,” Cognitore said. “While we as a nation mourn the lives lost, we celebrate the lives and are forever grateful.”

He added, “In an attempt to pay back our debt as American citizens, we also must not only remember the fallen, but it is our responsibility to teach our youth that nothing comes without a cost and that sacrifices are meaningless without remembrance.”

Bea Ruberto, president of the Sound Beach Civic Association, during a Memorial Day service on Monday, May 29. Photo by Raymond Janis

Rounding off the ceremonies for the day, the Sound Beach Civic Association hosted a service at the Veterans Memorial Park, recognizing the hamlet’s fallen service members. Musical renditions were performed by members of the Rocky Point High School Music Department, with veterans of the U.S. armed services raising the flags of their chosen branches of service.

SBCA president Bea Ruberto reflected upon the motivations behind the annual service, calling the event a means to remember those who paid the ultimate sacrifice. 

“Each year, we come together on this day and in this place to reflect upon their sacrifice and honor their memory,” she said.

At each of these events, memorial wreaths were placed as a symbolic tribute of thanks to the fallen.

Members of VFW Post 6249 pose with Post Commander Joe Cognitore and Brookhaven Councilwoman Jane Bonner, sixth and seventh from right, respectively, during the second annual Joseph P. Dwyer Memorial 5K race on Sunday, May 21. Photo by Sofia Levorchick

By Sofia Levorchick

At the starting line, the “Star Spangled Banner” played over the loudspeaker, evoking a solemn patriotic atmosphere. Veterans removed their service hats and saluted as they gazed upon an American flag rippling spectacularly beneath the May sky. All applauded and cheered as the runners took their marks. 

The countdown began, and at exactly 12 p.m. an announcer called out, “Go!” A large group of racers took off, darting toward a three-mile stretch of concrete, asphalt and pine barrens.

The Rocky Point VFW Post 6249 hosted its second annual Joseph P. Dwyer Memorial 5K race on Sunday, May 21, recognizing veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder and highlighting veterans’ issues in Suffolk County. 

The race was held in collaboration with the Joseph P. Dwyer Veterans Peer Support Project, a peer-to-peer support program for veterans experiencing PTSD and traumatic brain injury. 

A Mount Sinai native, Joseph P. Dwyer had served in Iraq. After returning from the war, he suffered from PTSD — a mental health condition triggered by trauma that causes symptoms such as flashbacks, anxiety and emotional distress. He died from an accidental overdose in 2008.

Town of Brookhaven Councilwoman Jane Bonner (R-Rocky Point) reflected upon Dwyer’s legacy and the symbolism of his statue, situated on the corner of Broadway and Route 25A in the Rocky Point Veterans Memorial Square. 

“The statue’s prominence is important because it brings awareness to PTSD every day,” Bonner said, adding, “The run was born from that prominence of the statue.”

All 62 counties across New York State participate in the Dwyer Project, raising awareness for mental health and promoting the well-being of American veterans. Melanie Corinne, the Suffolk County Dwyer Project’s coordinator and a U.S. Marine Corps veteran, described the program’s mission as “making sure other veterans don’t slip through the cracks with efforts to support veterans, active duty service members and their families in their wellness goals with the help of trained veteran peers.”

A family participates during the event. Photo courtesy Joe Cognitore

This year’s 5K race, held again at Rocky Point High School, was one such effort to boost public awareness and funds for veterans with PTSD, asking participants for a $25 to $35 donation. 

Veterans from Post 6249 also attended the race — some as spectators, some volunteers and some runners.

Frank Asselta, one of the organizers of this race, served as a medic during the Vietnam War and has been involved with the Rocky Point VFW for five years. He emphasized the organization’s considerable local following and success at fundraising for veteran causes. “The VFW has found support from thousands of people across Long Island,” he said.

Joe Cognitore, commander of Post 6249, said the VFW launched this annual tradition “for participants to have a great day and to reinforce everyone — veterans, teachers, students, community members — who have PTSD, spreading awareness and keeping that awareness alive.” 

And the event had participants and veterans across the community smiling while they congregated with those around them on a radiantly sunny May day, exceeding last year’s turnout.

Shannon O’Neill, one of over 100 runners and walkers who participated in this event, described herself as a woman devoted to serving veterans in the community. O’Neill, who works with military and veteran students at Suffolk County Community College, was motivated to run in this event because “no one on Long Island does more for veterans than the VFW in Rocky Point,” she said. “I wanted to support their initiatives so that they can continue to give back to veterans who are so deserving and so in need. It’s really such a great cause.”

Many volunteers helped out, performing duties such as registering runners, handing out race bibs and offering refreshments as they cheered the runners on.

Rocky Point High School student Travis Pousson finished first, crossing the finish line in just 19 minutes.

Post member Pat, a veteran and former Cold War-era spy for the United States, spoke fondly about the 5K event, calling it “a worthy cause for men suffering from PTSD, and they need all the help they can get.” He also reminisced on his memories at the VFW, expressing that the VFW has “created a brotherhood, and every member in it is very community-minded.”

Ultimately, the race not only brought recognition to veterans with PTSD but also served as a powerful reminder of the profound impact American service members have had on society.

“I think that so many of the guys in the VFW never got their welcome home and never got their thank yous,” O’Neill said. “This is our opportunity to make sure that they are seen and acknowledged for their time and service because they always continue to give back.”

She added, “These guys never stop serving — they’re still serving today, so this is our opportunity to give back and to serve in our own way.”