07/25/12 12:06pm
07/25/2012 12:06 PM

KATHARINE SCHROEDER PHOTO | Johnathan and Cathrine Schmanski enter Brecknock Hall in Greenport moments after their wedding ceremony last Veteran’s Day.

After the outpouring of local support for Brecknock Hall’s wedding giveaway to two local soldiers last year, Peconic Landing, the event’s organizer, has decided to do it again.

Active duty Army soldiers Cathrine and John Schmanski of Riverhead, who had been stationed in Afghanistan, were married last Veterans Day at Brecknock Hall, a restored 19th-century manor house in Greenport, in a ceremony donated by the Peconic Landing lifecare community, which owns the building, with support from two dozen local merchants.

Now stationed at Fort Stewart in Georgia, the couple are expecting their first child. They fell in love while stationed at a military base in Germany in 2009 and were officially married by a justice of the peace in Arizona in 2010. But they didn’t have a wedding ceremony until the Brecknock Hall event.

This week, the search began for the 2012 Brecknock Veterans Day wedding couple.

“It’s powerful to see individuals and businesses join together to honor those who serve our country in such a meaningful way,” said Peconic Landing president and CEO Robert Syron. He added that last year’s wedding was a testament to a community that unites for a good cause.

“We’re embarking on this year’s journey to Nov. 11 with an incredible sense of gratitude,” he said. “Giving back is a priority at Peconic Landing and this effort is particularly meaningful since many of our residents are veterans.”

This year’s winners will receive catering, entertainment, flowers, photography and numerous other wedding day donations from 20 local sponsors.

Couples must submit their stories to info@brecknockhall.com by Monday, Aug. 5. They’re asked to include details about their ties to the East End, Suffolk County, Long Island or New York State and whether one or both serves or served in the military.

Peconic Landing would also like to know whether they’re on active duty or have recently returned from a combat zone, the number of tours of duty they’ve completed and any special circumstances or honors they’ve received.


05/28/12 2:16pm
05/28/2012 2:16 PM

JOHN NEELY PHOTO | Members of the New York 88th Volunteers Civil War re-enactors marched in this year's parade.

Riverhead honored its fallen soldiers Monday morning in a parade from Pulaski Street School to downtown and back, stopping at St. John’s R.C. Church, at the Riverhead Cemetery and at St. Isidore’s Cemetery.

Veterans from recent wars back to World War II joined scout troops, the Riverhead High School marching band and NJROTC, Civil War re-enactors and World War I-era vehicles in the parade, which concluded in a ceremony at the World War II memorial in front of Pulaski Street School.

Town Supervisor Sean Walter gave the keynote address. Mr. Walter said he considered his speech a history lesson for young folks and quoted John Adams and the Declaration of Independence in his remarks.

“Our rights come from God above,” he said. “We will always be the greatest country in the world.”

Mr. Walter asked attendees to remember Van T. Barfoot, a World War II veteran and Medal of Honor recipient whose homeowners association in Virginia had balked at letting him fly an American flag from a  20-foot tall flagpole in front of his house.

Mr. Barfoot had served in Italy during the war, where, as a Sergeant in Carano in 1944, he made his way through a minefield, taking out three enemy positions, then captured 17 POWs and destroyed tanks that were sent to re-take the enemy positions.

After national media attention, the homeowners association agreed to let him keep his flag.

Mr. Walter urged Riverhead residents to take Mr. Barfoot’s lead and “stand up and do something.”

Sister Linda Joseph, principal of St. Isadore’s School, gave the invocation at the ceremony.

She urged attendees to join in sacred remembrance of those who were lost in the country’s battles, and to work for peace, justice, and hope for the world.

She urged attendees to avoid the “overbearing pride of false and narrow patriotism” and to be more compassionate and giving in their daily lives.

“Let peace come in one thousand tongues,” she said.

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05/28/12 9:00am

KATHARINE SCHROEDER PHOTO | An American flag aboard one of the tall ships in Greenport Harbor this weekend.

Since the 19th century, a day in late May has been a time of year when Americans — some of them, anyway, like the North Forkers who watch the parades — take time to put aside all the fuss and bother of daily life and think about something that isn’t easy for most of us to grasp.

It is not easy to understand the willingness of our airmen, seamen and soldiers to expose themselves to mortal danger in the service of their country. Their sacrifice is what we must take time to ponder and appreciate. Memorial Day isn’t about a three-day weekend. It’s about the service men and women who “gave the last full measure of devotion” for their country.

The parades are heart-warming and fun. They make us feel great about our little towns that thrives thanks to their independence, volunteerism and abiding sense of community, in an age when little towns elsewhere keep dying or disappearing under the tide of economic stagnation.

The fun part of Memorial Day is important. It celebrates community, which is what our soldiers have been dying for since 1775. In an effort to help Americans remember that Memorial Day isn’t only about parades, flags, barbecues and a long weekend, President Clinton in May 2000, on the heels of a congressional resolution calling for it, issued a proclamation setting a “national moment of remembrance” lasting one minute at 3 p.m. on Memorial Day. Its purpose was for Americans “to pause and consider the true meaning of this holiday.”

Congress, seven months later, enacted Public Law 106-579 to establish “a National Moment of Remembrance … to reclaim Memorial Day as the sacred and noble event that that day is intended to be.”

President Obama has issued a similar order. “Since our Nation’s founding,” the White House declared, “America’s sons and daughters have given their lives in service to our country. From Concord and Gettysburg to Marne and Normandy, from Inchon and Khe Sanh to Baghdad and Kandahar, they departed our world as heroes and gave their lives for a cause greater than themselves.”

How many of us know about the “moment of remembrance?” It seems to have gotten lost in the same swirl of distractions that blur the meaning of Memorial Day for so many folks.

Here, people do remember. All the more reason to take one minute at 3 p.m. Monday to think hard about those who have died defending the United States.

05/28/12 7:00am

Mark Terry of Southold was intrigued to find a pair of World War II dog tags at an estate sale in Southold last month.

He spotted them in a box alongside other items and purchased the box and its contents.

But he had no intention of keeping any of it.

Mr. Terry has found many pieces of military memorabilia at local tag sales over the years, ranging from letters from soldiers and generals to discharge papers for distant unknown veterans, and he keeps a small collection.

But these dog tags were different. They came from veteran John Edward Tremski, whose faded yellow military records stated that he was he was local, from Calverton.

“I don’t want to keep it,” Mr. Terry said last month. “I just want to be the person that gets it to its home.”

So this Memorial Day, here’s a short story of the life of one local veteran and how his dog tags found their way back to his family.


John Tremski was born Jan. 17, 1913, to Antone and Anna Tremski of Calverton, according to local records. His military acceptance papers say he completed eight years of grammar school and was a farmer earning $18 a week.

Mr. Tremski was called to service on March 3, 1941, according to the military documents. After medical tests declared him capable of active duty, Mr. Tremski was sent to war and served as a corporal in the U.S. Army. He was 28 years old.

The documents found at the Southold estate sale show another side of World War II as well.

Mr. Tremski was given a small medical card bearing his fingerprints and a small portrait as identification. He was also given a small pamphlet, about the size of a playing card, that advised ways Catholic soldiers could “look upon [their] years of training as a special opportunity God has given [them] to develop a strong body and a rugged character.”

The pamphlet also offered some advice: “Seek wholesome amusement in the recreation hours … don’t gamble. Most gamblers become ‘moochers’ — and the moocher is an Army pest.”

Mr. Tremski returned home from the war and stayed in the area. He worked in maintenance at Brookhaven National Lab for more than 20 years. When he died in 1988, he was living by himself in a mobile home park near Forge Road.

PAUL SQUIRE PHOTO | Rita Hodun, niece of John Tremski, holds up her uncle's identification card. Mr. Tremski's war records and dog tags were found at a Southold estate sale.

Though Mr. Tremski never married or had children, he is survived by a niece, Rita Hodun of Calverton. Ms. Hodun said in an interview last week that her family wasn’t close to her “Uncle Johnny.”

“I never saw him a lot,” she said upon being presented with his dog tags and other belongings. “I guess everybody [in the family] did their own thing.”

The family never gathered for holidays either, Ms. Hodun said, though she recalled meeting her uncle a few times when she was younger. She says she had no idea how his military papers ever became lost.

“We went through all the drawers and all the papers in his trailer [when he died,]” she said. “We never saw it.”

“He was kind of a quiet guy, a nice guy,” Ms. Hodun added as she ran her fingers slowly over the dog tags and documents.


05/26/12 3:40pm
05/26/2012 3:40 PM

BARBARAELLEN KOCH PHOTO | Barbara Celeste and John Horvat of Mattituck having lunch behind their 1959 Nash Metropolitan.

The Second Annual Wounded Warrior Project Car Show sponsored by Peconic Bay Region of Antique Automobile Club of America was held from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. today at Martha Clara Vineyard.

There were 156 classic cars, muscle cars, trucks, vans, fire trucks and even WWII Army trucks on display.

The event featured wine tastings, music, food, raffles and auctions.

Car owners received trophies for class awards and people’s choice awards.

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05/26/12 7:45am

BETH YOUNG PHOTO | The runners and supporters outside the Southold firehouse Friday.

Marines from the 3rd Battalion of the 25th Marines Regiment are planning to disrupt Memorial Day celebrations along a more than 100-mile stretch of road from Orient to the site of the World Trade Center beginning this morning in honor of their 48 fellow servicemen who died in Iraq in 2005.

This is the third time the Marines have held a 100 Mile Memorial Relay, but the prior two events went from Richmond, Va. to the Iwo Jima Memorial at Arlington National Cemetery. This year, Staff Sgt. Oscar Aguilera, who grew up in Greenport, suggested they hold the event on Long Island, and invite first responders and police officers, particularly those who were on the scene on 9/11, to join them in remembering the fallen.

This event has already raised more money to benefit Hope for the Warriors than any of the prior events, said Staff Sgt. Aguilera at a spaghetti dinner fundraiser for the event at the Southold firehouse Friday night. He said the 26 runners who will each take a roughly 15-mile leg of the race have already raised more than $26,000 to help soldiers returning from war and their families.

The runners, who will run two at a time while carrying the American flag and the Hope for the Warriors flag, will be accompanied by an entourage including escorts from police and fire services and two RVs, where the runners will rest between runs.

“If you see traffic screwed up out there, that’s because of us,” said Navy medic Bill Sukitch, who helped to organize the event. “It’s time for you to remember and honor this special group of people.”

At Friday’s fundraiser were three people who have special reason to remember this weekend. Hospital Corpsman Jeff Wiener, whose wife Maria and daughter Mikayla live in Ridge, was one of the 48 men who lost their lives in Iraq in 2005.

Ms. Wiener hadn’t been in regular contact with members of her husband’s battalion, but when she heard they were coming to Long Island, she wanted to honor her husband, whose birthday would have been today. Mr. Wiener’s mother Diana, who flies to Long Island from her home in Kentucky every Memorial Day Weekend to be with her son’s family, also came to the event. They plan to cheer on the runners on the roadside when they pass through Ridge.

Ms. Wiener said her husband was killed in a roadside ambush in a van in Haditha, just outside of a civilian hospital. He had been in the service for two years and had been in Iraq for two-and-a-half months.

“I want people to remember what was sacrificed for something better. His goal was to make sure his kid’s future was secure,” she said.

Chrystyna Kestler, mother of Army 1st Lt. Joseph Theinert, who died in Afghanistan in 2010, was the keynote speaker Friday night.

Ms. Kestler said she also wants people to remember that Memorial Day is about more than sales and barbecues. Her son Jimbo will run in the relay.

“Memorial Day was first called Decoration Day, when they’d decorate the graves of soldiers,” she said. “Try to take some time to remember how special this is. Take some time to remember what so many gave for us. He [Lt. Theinert] volunteered. He said yes. Less than 1 percent do.”

She said her family is still struggling to repair the hole left in their lives when Lt. Theinert died.

“It’s only in service to others that we can get beyond ourselves and heal,” she said. “Everybody in this room has helped repair that tear.”

The Marines began their run at the Orient ferry dock at 8 a.m. They will run through Greenport at the start of the Tall Ships festival at 10 a.m., then run up to Route 48 and along Sound Avenue.

Check out photos from Friday night’s fundraiser on suffolktimes.com.


03/29/12 6:00pm
03/29/2012 6:00 PM

A fundraiser for the Riverhead-based Suffolk County United Veterans raised about $1,200 last Thursday at the Southampton Publick House.

The nonprofit organization was founded in 1989 to help homeless veterans regain their dignity and independence. It provides housing, education and job training and has a food pantry in Riverhead and a 24-bed shelter in Yaphank called The Vet’s Place, according to executive director John Lynch.

“We’re not just a shelter, we’re a home,” said Wilkens Young, program director at the shelter.

“It’s about education, and life experience,” he said. “That’s what we try to teach the guys at The Vet’s Place. Guys caught in hard times have a tendency to fall by the wayside. What we provide them is support in order to be productive members of society.”

Mr. Young isn’t just the program director, he’s a former homeless vet himself, who lived at The Vet’s Place.

Mr. Young said he served in the U.S. Army from 1976 to 1978 and when he got out, he found himself dealing drugs and eventually spending six years in an upstate jail. After his release in 2000, he was homeless. He eventually ended up meeting Mr. Lynch and getting his life back in order.

“Through this organization I was able to achieve the goals I set for myself,” Mr. Young said.

Thursday’s fundraiser was organized by Chris Cuddihy of Riverside, who has organized several fundraisers for the nonprofit group in recent years, most of which have involved him in an endurance event, such as rowing around Long Island or running around downtown Riverhead for 24 hours. He said he plans to organize both events again this year.


03/11/12 4:00pm
03/11/2012 4:00 PM

JOHN NEELY PHOTO | U.S.M.C. Sergeant Michael Scalfani (right) with General Kropp.

More than 300 people packed into Polish Hall Saturday night to pay tribute to about 55 local veterans of the armed forces who have served since the Gulf War in the early 1990s.

The event, called Operation Forever Grateful, was hosted by Riverhead Town and organized by Councilman John Dunleavy, along with Liz Stokes and Linda Hulse.

“It’s been written that a nation is known by the people they honor,” said retired Major General Anthony Kropp of Mattituck, who interrupted a vacation in Florida to speak at the event. “Riverhead should be very proud.”

“It’s nice to see appreciation,” said Corporal Bobby Peeker of Aquebouge, a 2007 Riverhead High School graduate who served four years in the Marines, in an interview outside Polish Hall. “It’s better than what he probably got when he was in the service,” alluding to his father, Bob, who served in the Marines in the 1970s and is now a Riverhead Town Police Lieutenant.

“It was a different era,” Lt. Peeker said. “I served from 1976 to 1980. It was right after Vietnam. Everybody had a bad taste in their mouth.”

Unlike his son, Lt. Peeker served at a time when the country wasn’t at war. Corporal Peeker said he has been involved in direct combat in Afghanistan.

Lt. Peeker said his brother and nephew are also Marines and were also present Saturday.
“We’re a bunch of Jarheads,” he said.

Also present Saturday was Marine Corporal Alfred Grossklaus Jr. of Aquebogue, a 2005 Riverhead High School graduate who was shot in the back and badly injured during an ambush by insurgents in Afghanistan last June.

He’s up an walking, although he said he still has “some issues” from his injuries. A Purple Heart recipient, he was discharged from the military in December.

“We definitely know we’re appreciated, but it’s nice to have something like this,” he told a reporter.
“It’s nice to do something like this,” said Staff Sergeant Michael Sclafani of Wading River. He served in Iraq and actually was inside Saddam Hussein’s palace.

“I think with the support for the troopers with the past two wars, in Iraq and Afghanistan, with that flood of support, that the older guys are starting to feel the support again,” said. “Guys from Vietnam that didn’t get the respect, are finally getting their due. It’s overdue, but it’s finally happening.”

“This was spectacular,” said Army First Sergeant Tim Wiwczar of Flanders, who has served in Iraq and Afghanistan and been stationed all over the globe, in an interview.

One of the featured speakers Saturday was Army Sergeant Sam Cila of Riverhead. He joined the New York National Guard’s “Fighting 69th” shortly after Sept. 11, 2001 and was badly injured by a roadside bomb in Iraq on July 4, 2005, that eventually led to the lower part of his left arm being amputated.

He said he felt “lost” and suffered depression following his injury, but pulled out of it with the support of his family and “teammates.”

Sgt. Cila has become a successful endurance athlete who has competed in Ironman triathlons and who, along with other wounded veterans, was last year asked to participate in a 100 kilometer bike ride with former President George W. Bush in Texas.

He also now works with various groups that help other veterans and recently became president of the Long Island Chapter of Canine Companions.

“The turnout is what I expected it to be because Riverhead loves its veterans,” said Ms. Stokes Saturday.

While some Vietnam veterans were unhappy that the Operation Forever Grateful didn’t include older veterans, Ms. Stokes said other events are planned.

“This is dinner number one,” she said. “Stay tuned, because more in coming.”