Tags Posts tagged with "Veterans"

Veterans

Landmark Properties set to break ground next week

Two veterans and their families will soon be Sound Beach homeowners. Stock photo

For Iraq and Afghanistan veterans living on Long Island, finding an affordable new home is the difference between remaining on the Island and leaving.

According to Mark Baisch, of Rocky Point-based Landmark Properties, many Long Island veterans cannot afford to purchase a home on the Island and are forced to move.

Baisch, alongside Commander Joseph Cognitore of the Veterans of Foreign Wars Fischer/Hewins Post 6249 of Rocky Point, is helping two veterans and their families live a little easier with the construction of two new homes on Tyler Avenue in Sound Beach.

According to Cognitore the $250,000 homes are actually worth around $400,000. Basich said the properties could not exceed $250,000 in order for the vets to afford the property and mortgage rates. But, with the help of Suffolk County and the Long Island Housing Partnership, Baisch said the price of the properties could be reduced to $190,000 each.

“They’re getting a brand new Landmark house for it looks like possibly … a hundred plus thousand dollars less than market value,” Baisch said.

The reduced price allows veterans to get an affordable mortgage like the VA mortgage, which offers zero down payment.

According to Cognitore, he and his committee of veterans screen each candidate to determine the vet’s need for the home after the mortgage company approves them for a loan. The vets must also be first-time home buyers who make less than $200,000-$300,000 annually. The amount of years a vet served, the size of their family and whether they received awards for their service are determining factors. However, for Cognitore and his committee the hardest part is selecting the candidates.

“It’s a good opportunity for a couple of families,” Cognitore said. “Unfortunately, everybody that we interview deserves a home.”

Although this is not the first time Cognitore and Baisch are helping Long Island veterans, this is the first time Baisch is constructing the homes alone. Landmark Properties’ construction workers may start clearing the land this week, according to Baisch.

While a veteran with physical disabilities has not received one of the homes in the past, Baisch said he could tailor the home to the veteran’s needs. Cognitore hopes to select the veterans before Landmark Properties finishes construction.

“What happened in the past, we got all the candidates together and a lot of times they couldn’t wait to build the home,” Cognitore said regarding construction. “They didn’t know who the candidates were right away so they had to start building the home prior to the candidates being picked.”

Cognitore said they would reach out to previous candidates who did not receive a home and bring them up to speed with the process.

Regardless of the veterans who get the homes, both Cognitore and Baisch are happy to make a difference and help vets in need.

Cognitore said the lower cost of the homes “makes it affordable for them and they could just make it. That’s the kind of opportunities that we’re looking for.”

Baisch expressed similar thoughts.

“Every veteran that I’ve sold a house to has told me that if it weren’t for [the homes], they would have left Long Island,” Baisch said.

This version corrects a typo that misidentified a country where American veterans served overseas.

by -
0 1255
Chief Master Sgt. John Bellissimo, boat captain Adrian Mason and Master Sergeant Shawn Burke holding part of the day’s catch of fluke. Photo from Angelo Peluso

By Angelo Peluso

As we all go about our busy lives, we sometimes forget to say thank you to those who protect our freedoms and our coveted way of life. Those liberties were bestowed upon us by visionary forefathers, etched in our Constitution, fought for in wars, and above all else, preserved and protected for generations by all those who serve.

Regardless of one’s political beliefs or political party affiliations, we as a nation are united by those freedoms we all enjoy. We are forever indebted to the many who have served and to those who have made the ultimate sacrifice so others can enjoy unparalleled liberty.

Paying tribute to members of the American military for their honorable and selfless service to our country takes many forms. Members of the outdoor community were among the first to embrace that patriotic practice. The Soldiers on the Sound fluke tournament, organized by the Smithtown Bay Yacht Club, is supported by the Veterans of Foreign Wars, Post 395 from St. James. The 2015 event marked the seventh annual gathering of soldiers and volunteers.

The tournament drew a total of 300 participants, including 135 active members of the military, 60 boat captains, 60 mates and 45 event volunteers — all working to make this the best day possible for the guest soldiers.

Those military members in attendance represented the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines and the renowned 106th Rescue Wing of the New York Air National Guard, which is based in Westhampton. Many of the soldiers had recently returned from various deployments abroad.

‘Team Old School’ heads out on the water in the seventh annual Soldiers on the Sound fluke tournament. Photo from Angelo Peluso
‘Team Old School’ heads out on the water in the seventh annual Soldiers on the Sound fluke tournament. Photo from Angelo Peluso

It was my honor to once again participate in the event and serve as mate aboard captain Adrian Mason’s boat, Big Trouble. Two distinguished members of the 106th Rescue Wing joined with us for the day’s fishing activities — Master Sgt. Shawn Burke and Chief Master Sgt. John Bellissimo. These two seasoned military veterans are also seasoned anglers who are quite adept at catching fluke and big sea robins. One of the team’s keeper flukes was a contender for the day’s weigh-in. In the end, that fish was bested by the winning flatfish in excess of six pounds. The winning fish was caught by 16-year-old first mate Jake DeLeo with the assistance of Staff Sgt. Chris Arrigo from the 106th Rescue Wing, Air National Guard and his captain Tony Voelker. It was both DeLeo and Arrigo’s first year participating in the event.

Captain Adrian Mason of Time Flies Fishing Charters was at the helm of our boat. Like the other gracious captains, he donated his boat, time and skills to host our team of soldiers. Captain Adrian did not disappoint as a number of quality summer flounder were caught, including half a dozen large keeper fluke. The catching is usually secondary to the camaraderie, the laughter and the opportunity to say thank you to a group of patriotic Americans.

“I have been involved with the Soldiers on the Sound for five years, and I can’t thank these service men and women enough for all they do,” he said. “Spending a day on the water with them seems like such a small way to say thank you, but it really means a lot to them. They are heroes in my book and this tournament treats them as such. I am honored to be a part of it every single year and I am already planning for next year.”

The concept for the Soldiers on the Sound fluke tournament was the brainchild of Kings Park resident Mark Garry.

Garry felt a compelling and overwhelming need to honor members of our armed forces who are currently serving our country. His dedication to both cause and mission was intense, and he, along with his team of volunteers, took his vision and turned it into reality — organizing and running one of the most successful events of its kind.

“This event is a small token of appreciation for all that the U.S. military does so that we can all enjoy our freedoms and life in the greatest country on earth,” Garry said to the soldiers who took part in the event. “We can never repay you enough for all that you do for us and for your courage and skills.”

While the initial event seven years ago was a tremendous success, the 2015 tournament set the bar even higher. All soldiers and participants were treated to a pre-tournament breakfast, a BBQ upon their return from fishing, live music and a hot food buffet as the extensive raffle was conducted. The raffle prizes, donated by individuals, local businesses and corporate sponsors, included fishing rod and reel outfits, gift bags, gift certificates and handcrafted products. The top prizes were kayaks, flat screen TVs and computer tablets.

Beyond the fishing, the food, the prizes and the camaraderie of the event, one soldier’s comment hit home.

During one of the idle moments in an otherwise very active day, Chief Master Sergeant John Bellissimo spoke about the importance of the event.

“You cannot imagine how much an event like this means to the entire base,” he said. “Even those soldiers who did not attend will be talking about this for weeks. What matters most of all this is that we know people here on Long Island care about what we do. We are already looking forward to next year.”

The Soldiers on the Sound fishing tournament yields hefty results on Sunday. Photo by Joseph Bellantoni

By Rachel Siford

St. James was swimming with activity on Sunday as the Soldiers on the Sound fishing tournament hit the waters.

From 15 boats and 25 soldiers participating in 2009, to 57 boats and 135 soldiers this year, Soldiers on the Sound Ltd. has been thanking active military members every year with consistent growth and success.

Soldiers on the Sound is a military charity and fishing tournament for active service men and women, organized to honor and give back to those who are in the military.

At the event’s beginning, Mark Garry, president and founder of Soldiers on the Sound Ltd, got off his boat after a day of fishing and relaxing at the Smithtown Bay Yacht Club and saw news coverage of the war, seeing soldiers overseas laying in the sand using their helmets as pillows, and thought that he should do something to thank them for protecting his freedom.

He said he decided a fishing tournament was the way to go, because that is how he relaxes. Garry was then a Nassau County Homicide Detective.

“This is a very satisfying event to put on,” Garry said. “You can’t find anyone without a smile on their face.”

The event includes a fishing tournament, food, entertainment and raffles at Smithtown Bay Yacht Club, all paid for completely from donations. This year they raised about $13,000. Soldiers do not have to do anything. Local boat owners donate the boats.

Individuals and companies make the donations. Simrad Marine Electronics and C.E. Smith Company Inc. were major contributors.

“Soldiers bring nothing and walk out of there with new TVs and trips to Florida,” Garry said. “Soldiers leave in disbelief, because it’s hard for them to grasp the fact that there’s no catch.”

Soldiers are mainly local to Long Island and work out of the airbase in the Hamptons, but many come from all over.

Ed Reiter, retired command chief master sgt. of the 106 Rescue Wing, Air National Guard, serves as the liaison.

“What the soldiers do is unbelievably generous,” Reiter said. “A lot of the soldiers are overwhelmed by the generosity and support.”

Jake DeLeo, a 16-year-old first mate, caught the winning fish, weighing more than six pounds, with help from Staff Sgt. Chris Arrigo from the 106th Rescue Wing, and his captain Tony Voelker.

“This event is really cool; it’s great what they do for the soldiers,” Deleo said. “The fish was big and flat, so it wouldn’t go in the net. I had to turn it sideways to finally get it in. Then we saw the rigging was stretched out and they could have lost the fish! The fish was so big they had to put it another cooler.”

It was both Voelker and DeLeo’s first year participating in Soldiers on the Sound.

Skip Hein is the only founding member of Soldiers on the Sound with a military background. He is a retired senior master sergeant who served in the U.S. Air Force and New York Air National Guard.

“Back in Vietnam, the public wasn’t really supportive of the military, so it’s just natural that I’d want to show my thanks to the military now,” Hein said.

Phil Tepe, Paul Kelly and Fred Amore, members of the Town of Huntington Veterans Advisory Board, and Supervisor Frank Petrone unveil names at the Vietnam memorial wall on June 11. Photo from A.J. Carter

Huntington Town has added 378 names to its Vietnam War memorial, and unveiled tribute plaques on June 11 as part of a ceremony marking the 40th anniversary of the end of the conflict and the half-century that has passed since it began.

Almost 3 million Americans served in the military during the Vietnam War between March 1965 and April 1975, and more than 58,000 died in the conflict.

The town kicked off the day with a breakfast that served veterans, their families and supporters and included musical performances as well as a keynote address from Huntington native Frank Libutti, a retired U.S. Marine corps lieutenant general. He spoke about his service and experiences as a platoon commander in Vietnam. During the breakfast, according to a town press release, the names of the 49 Huntington residents who were killed in that war were read aloud.

Later, people gathered at Veterans Plaza in front of Town Hall for a ceremony dedicating the plaques with the 378 new names at the Vietnam memorial wall. The town said there are now 1,540 names at that memorial, which was erected in 2003 and includes names of Vietnam War-era veterans who live or have lived in the town.

The Town of Huntington Veterans Advisory Board was named an official Vietnam War commemorative partner, as part of an initiative of the U.S. Department of Defense to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the war’s beginning, and the local event was listed on the national website for the program.

by -
0 747

Sound Beach residents observed Memorial Day and remembered the men and women lost at war on Monday. The Sound Beach Civic Association led a service at the Sound Beach Veterans Memorial Park in honor of their neighbors — William Binder, World War II; Stewart Carroll, World War II; Joseph DeGrennaro, Vietnam; Bruce Kerndl, Vietnam; Charles Prchal, Vietnam; Kerry Hein, Desert Storm; and Peter Hahn, Iraq — who died in the line of duty. Veterans and those still serving were also honored.

By Chris Setter

The Northport community held its annual Memorial Day parade and remembrance ceremony on Monday, May 25. The American Legion Post 694 of Northport hosted the event, which included participants from Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, high school cadets, World War II veterans and more.

by -
0 1367

Middle Country Road in Centereach was decked out in red, white and blue on Sunday in honor of Memorial Day. Hundreds watched the vintage cars, marching bands, bagpipers, motorcycles, scouts and military and fire trucks at the hamlet’s Memorial Day parade, which was organized by the Centereach Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 4927.

Residents across Three Village in East Setauket, Stony Brook and beyond stopped on Monday to honor the memories of our nation’s heroes as their respective Memorial Day parades stepped off.

Groups representing various facets of the community came out in full force to march in the parade before somber ceremonies stopped to say thanks to those who dedicated their lives to military service.

The American Legion Riders from Greenlawn ride in the 2015 Memorial Day parade and honor a fallen soldier. Photo by Dan Woulfin
The Huntington Fire Department rides in the 2015 Memorial Day parade. Photo by Dan Woulfin
The Huntington Fire Department rides in the 2015 Memorial Day parade. Photo by Dan Woulfin

By Dan Woulfin

Huntington held its annual Memorial Day parade on Monday, May 25, and residents from all around watched their local veterans march down the street in honor of the American men and women of the armed forces who have made the ultimate sacrifice for our country, laying down their lives for freedom.

Firefighters, Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts and marching bands from local high schools and middle schools also marched in the parade alongside the veterans.

Vietnam veteran Thomas Semkow, from Post 6249 Rocky Point Veterans of Foreign Wars, poses with members of the A-Team in 1968. Photo from Semkow

‘Many veterans of Vietnam still serve in the Armed Forces, work in our offices, on our farms, and in our factories. Most have kept their experiences private, but most have been strengthened by their call to duty. A grateful nation opens her heart today in gratitude for their sacrifice, for their courage, and for their noble service.’ — President Ronald Reagan, Memorial Day Speech, May 28, 1984

By Rich Acritelli

Today Vietnam veterans comprise the largest group of Americans who have fought for this country. Nearly three million citizens were deployed to Southeast Asia during the longest war in our history. For the next couple of decades, they will also be the most prominent group of veterans in this nation.

The Vietnam Veterans Memorial on Bald Hill in Farmingville reaches into the sky. File photo
The Vietnam Veterans Memorial on Bald Hill in Farmingville reaches into the sky. File photo

Locally, the Suffolk County Chapter of Vietnam Veterans and the VFW Fischer/Hewins Post 6249 of Rocky Point are two groups that strenuously work to welcome home all members of the armed forces who have protected this nation during the war on terror. These organizations are headed by two men who are driven to help every veteran.

Richard Kitson, from Port Jefferson Station, is the longtime president of the Suffolk County Chapter of Vietnam Veterans. Members of this chapter all point to Kitson’s dedication: He organizes members to speak in the schools, march in parades, welcome home veterans, help their families and assist veterans who have fallen on hard times. Both groups have been a fixture at the Rocky Point High School Veterans Day program and have been guest speakers at the Vietnam War history classes that are taught at Ward Melville High School in E. Setauket.

Kitson grew up in Levittown and served in the U.S. Marine Corps as a mortar man in Dong Ha, situated near the demilitarized zone between North and South Vietnam. The war had especially hit home for Kitson as he not only lost many friends from his hometown but his brother was killed fighting in Vietnam in 1969. It is families like Kitson’s who have completely sacrificed for this nation.

Instead of returning home to a grateful country, these veterans were degraded for their efforts to serve in the military. For several years the government did not recognize those who fought in Vietnam, and because of this policy, these veterans were not properly recognized for their service. It was not until 1978 that the Vietnam Veterans of America was granted the same rights to function as a charter as the Veterans of Foreign Wars and the American Legion.

Richard Kitson and Frank D’Aversa served in Vietnam. Photo from Jennifer Pohl
Richard Kitson and Frank D’Aversa served in Vietnam. Photo from Jennifer Pohl

After the war, Kitson went to college, married, started a family and worked for the post office. It was not until the 1980s that he began to fight for greater rights for the veterans who fought in that war. His devotion helped build the Vietnam Veteran’s Memorial at Bald Hill in Farmingville and his chapter will read the names of all those residents of Suffolk County who were lost during that conflict at the site on Memorial Day at 5 p.m.

This weekend marks an important date for Kitson for not only thanking our veterans who served in the military but also to recall the memory of his brother. Kitson and his members are always visible to ensure that our local veterans are properly thanked for their past, present and future service.

Joseph A. Cognitore is the commander of Post 6249 Rocky Point Veterans of Foreign Wars. A former football and track standout from Farmingdale, he went to college in South Dakota and after graduation joined the U.S. Army. Cognitore fought in Vietnam in 1970 and had the unique experience of operating inside of Cambodia. A platoon sergeant, he was part of the air cavalry that flew dangerous missions into territory that was held by the Vietcong and the North Vietnamese Army. Cognitore was a combat veteran who was always looking out for the safety and security of his soldiers.

For almost two decades, Cognitore tried to put the war behind him by taking care of his family and working for the Coca-Cola Company. It was not until the first Gulf War that Cognitore became an active participant at Post 6249 in Rocky Point. He wanted to ensure that the men and women who were serving overseas were properly cared for at home and abroad.

Currently, Cognitore runs one of the most productive VFW posts on Long Island and is the legislative chair for the Department of New York Veterans of Foreign Wars. Retired from his job, Cognitore puts in a tremendous number of volunteer hours running this post. He has helped run a Wounded Warrior Golf Outing, has participated in the creation of a 9/11 Memorial and is always present in our local schools. This weekend presents a somber moment for Cognitore to reflect on all of his comrades who were killed in Vietnam.

Both Kitson and Cognitore state how fortunate they are to have soldiers that still give back to their communities. One of these veterans is Bay Shore resident Ralph Zanchelli. After graduating from high school in 1962, Zanchelli immediately enlisted into the U.S. Naval Reserves. With the war escalating in Vietnam, he was deployed to the USS Bennington CVS 20, which operated in the South China Sea. This aircraft carrier guarded against the North Vietnamese torpedo boats that attacked American shipping off the coast of this communist nation.

From left, Richard Kitson, Clarence Simpson, Barry Gochman, Jimmy O’ Donnell and Bill Fuchs. Photo from Jennifer Pohl
From left, Richard Kitson, Clarence Simpson, Barry Gochman, Jimmy O’ Donnell and Bill Fuchs. Photo from Jennifer Pohl

Zanchelli was a Hot Case-man gunner who caught the rounds as they were fired. This job ensured that discharged armaments would not start any fires within the ship during combat operations. The carrier served 30-day intervals off the coast of North Vietnam, and Zanchelli observed the earliest moments of this war. For Memorial Day, he would like everyone to say a short prayer for those currently protecting this nation.

Gill Jenkins from Post 6249 is another local citizen who goes about his business in a quiet and friendly manner. He lives by the credo that all veterans, regardless of when they served, must be respected. During the height of the Tet offensive in 1968, Jenkins was a plumber and handyman on the USS Intrepid, which operated off the coast of South Vietnam.

This naval veteran served for four years, and he vividly recalled the launch and recovery efforts of this historic carrier to attack the enemy and to locate those airmen that were shot down. During his naval years, Jenkins traveled around the world on the Intrepid. He recalled how the vessel was hit by a typhoon as it was traveling around the tip of the Cape of Good Hope.

One of the nearly 600,000 armed forces members who were sent to Vietnam in 1968 was Tom Semkow from Center Moriches. Currently the main photographer for Post 6249, Semkow was a Special Forces medic in the Mekong Delta for 10 months. During the height of Tet, he remembered how the enemy made their presence felt by firing mortars and attacking the American military squads that operated in the area. He recalled operating in the flooded areas of this country and receiving air boat rides from Chinese operators who transported them into combat areas. Semkow enjoys the camaraderie of this post and likes to attend the Memorial Day services at Calverton National Cemetery each year.

Memorial Day is a moment when our nation welcomes the warm weather, watches a ball game and barbeques. But we Americans need to take a brief time-out of our schedules to honor and recall those Americans who have protected us during every conflict in our history. Thank you to all those service members, especially to the Vietnam Veterans we “Welcome Home” on this national day of remembrance.

Rich Acritelli is a social studies teacher at Rocky Point High School and an adjunct professor of American history at Suffolk County Community College. He was a staff sergeant in the New York Air National Guard 106th Rescue Wing in Westhampton Beach.