03/17/13 5:25pm
03/17/2013 5:25 PM

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The Riverhead Veterans of Foreign Wars post broke out the green beer and corned beef as their St. Patrick’s Day celebration lunch was revived for the first time in years Sunday afternoon.

Volunteers with the group and its Ladies’ Auxiliary made corned beef sandwiches, homemade coleslaw and potato salad, and pickles for dozens of visitors ready to celebrate the luck of the Irish. The post also held a 50/50 raffle as part of the fundraising festivities

The VFW post hostef St. Patrick’s Day and other cooking celebrations in the past, but hadn’t done the gatherings after in recent years after the passing of several older members

“We used to do lots and lots and lots,” said Dottie Minnick, vice president of the Ladies Auxiliary, “We’re just trying to revamp, bring people out, bring people back.”

All proceeds from the St. Patrick’s Day event will go toward the club’s veterans relief fund, which helps local veterans in need with medical and other expenses. As of 4 p.m., about 60 people had turned out for the lunch.

The post’s next event will be a roast beef dinner night on April 12 from 6 to 8 p.m.

[email protected]

02/04/13 9:00am
02/04/2013 9:00 AM

BARBARAELLEN KOCH PHOTO | The ballfields at EPCAL will be named after two soldiers who died in Afghanistan, Jonathan Keller and Anthony Venetz Jr., both of Wading River.

A pair of new ballfields at the Enterprise Park at Calverton will be named in honor of two highly decorated Wading River soldiers who gave their lives defending their country.

The Riverhead Town Board is planning to name one of the two fields at the new park after U.S. Army Sergeant First Class Anthony Venetz Jr, and the other field after U.S. Army Sergeant Jonathan Keller.

The Town Board in December voted to name the entire park complex being built at EPCAL as “Veterans Memorial Park,” citing the fact that the property was owned by the U.S. Navy for many years and the Grumman Corporation built and tested fighter jets there.

In addition, the individual fields at the park also will be named after individual veterans from the area.

“We have four fields there and we’re going to name them all after veterans,” Councilman George Gabrielsen said.

The long-planned park is expected to finally open in April, he said. It had been delayed for many years by requirements from both the county health department and the state transportation department, officials said.

The Town Board plans to vote on resolutions naming the two fields after SFC Venetz and Sgt. Keller at its meeting Tuesday, and has yet to decide on names for the two other fields.

“That’s so nice,” SFC Venetz’s mother, Marion Venetz, said of the town’s plans. “I’m just honored they decided to do that. What a nice tribute to my son. I think it’s a very nice way to honor the veterans.”

“We are honored that the Riverhead Town Board and the community would recognize and pay tribute to our fallen sons,” said Martin Keller, Sgt. Keller’s father. “We hope everyone enjoys this Memorial Park and its facilities as it brings the community together.”

The first two soldiers being honored by the town grew up on the same block in Wading River, where they were one grade apart in school. Both died of injuries suffered while serving in Afghanistan, and they both died on nearly the same day, two years apart.

Sgt. Keller, a 1998 graduate of Shoreham-Wading River high school, had first served in the U.S. Navy during Operation Iraqi Freedom, and then joined the New York State Army National Guard Reserve’s “Fighting 69th” in 2004.

In late 2007, he was called to serve in Afghanistan and was assigned to the 172nd Airborne in Kabul in early 2008. It was there, while engaged in battle with Taliban forces, that he sustained critical gunshot wounds that led to his death on Jan. 24, 2009.

He received a Purple Heart, an Army Commendation Medal and the Army’s Meritorious Medal.

SFC Venetz is a 1999 graduate of Shoreham-Wading River high school and joined the Army in 2001. He became a special forces engineer sergeant and served twice in Iraq and later in Afghanistan. He died from injuries sustained while on his second tour of duty in Afghanistan on Jan 28, 2011.

He was given two Bronze Star Medals, including one with valor, two Purple Heart awards and four Army Commendation Medals, two of which were for valor.

[email protected]

12/12/12 11:30am
12/12/2012 11:30 AM

JOHN MOORE/GETTY IMAGES | A U.S. Navy honor guard salutes over the casket of Navy veteran David Maxwell, 66, before his burial at Calverton National Cemetery Monday.

More than one month after he was found drowned in his Midland Beach home, the last of Staten Island’s victims from Superstorm Sandy was buried at Calverton National Cemetery Monday afternoon.

David Maxwell, 66, a Vietnam veteran was found Nov. 9, 11 days after the storm hit. Neighbors who knocked on his door after the storm passed thought he had evacuated, according to the Staten Island Advance.

He had been living alone after his partner, James McCormick, 72, suffered a recent stroke and was forced to move into a rehabilitation center, the Advance reported.

A Navy veteran, Mr. Maxwell was buried at the national cemetery, accompanied by honor guards from the Catholic War Veterans and the Patriot Guard Riders.

11/11/12 7:55am
11/11/2012 7:55 AM

Below is a list of Veterans Day-related ceremonies taking place on the North Fork today:

Annual Veterans Day Ceremony presented by Combined Veterans of Riverhead, 11 a.m. at the World War I Monument on the Suffolk County Historical Society grounds, 300 West Main St., Riverhead. Refreshments follow at American Legion Post, Hubbard Avenue.

Calverton National Cemetery Veterans Day ceremony, A patriotic ceremony honoring military members and veterans is scheduled for 1 p.m. at the cemetery at 210 Princeton Boulevard in Calverton.

Ceremony to dedicate Southold Town Volunteer Firefighters’ Memorial, 1 p.m. at Jean Cochran Park, Peconic Lane, Peconic, hosted by Southold Town Fire Chiefs Council. Seven members who died in line of duty will be commemorated: Eugene Lessard (Mattituck), James Parker Wickham (Cutchogue), Keith Purcell (Southold), George Matthias, Richard Sycz, and Edward Bellefountaine (Greenport), and Frederick Gagen (East Marion).

JOHN NEELY FILE PHOTO | Brian Smith of Post 2476 of the V.F.W. at last year’s Veteran’s Day Ceremony in RIverhead.

11/11/12 7:30am

AMBROSE CLANCY PHOTO | Vietnam vets Joseph “Butch” Klenawicus, left, and James “Mac” McGayhey, find the name of fallen comrade James Wilson Jr. at the Vietnam Memorial.

Every weekend, if the weather’s good and the toll of his 89 years and the severe wounds he suffered permits it, the World War II veteran likes to sit outside with his wife.

Not an unusual experience for the quickly dwindling generation of servicemen who fought and sacrificed so long ago. But former Senator Robert Dole doesn’t sit in a garden or a leafy park. He places himself at an entrance to the World War II Memorial in Washington, D.C., with his wife, former Senator Elizabeth Dole. One thing Senator Dole, now frail and handicapped, never lacks for is company.

Without announcement or ceremony, his fellow comrades-at-arms visiting the memorial always find him and he’s constantly surrounded by them. They’re immediately drawn to say a few words and get a few words back, to share smiles of recognition from strangers — yet brothers — who once made history together.

It’s Senator Dole’s memorial in many ways, not just for the wounds he suffered and still bears from a firefight on an Italian hilltop 67 years ago, but because he was the official who spearheaded the congressional effort to build the glittering marble rotunda, which opened in 2004.

On Saturday, October 20, nine Shelter Island veterans who went to war in the 1940s claimed their ownership of the memorial. They paid respects to Senator Dole and received his acknowledgement in return, as well as from countless uniformed others visiting the memorial. They were part of a tour organized by Honor Flight Long Island, the local chapter of a national nonprofit group dedicated to bringing World War II veterans to the memorial on the National Mall. That October Saturday there were, including Shelter Island’s, eight Honor Flights to Washington from around the country.

But equal credit for the successful day goes to Police Officer Tom Cronin, who came up with the idea to pay tribute to his own hometown vets. The tour’s guiding spirit every step of the way, he coordinated with Honor Flight and organized the raising of $13,000 that paid for all expenses for 24 veterans. Along with the nine Greatest Generation vets were men who served during the Korea and Vietnam eras, and those posted to Beirut, Lebanon and the first Gulf War, plus 18 people who accompanied them.

First-hand information about World War II is fading fast, considering that its U.S. veterans, once 16 million strong, are now dying at the rate of 740 a day, according to the U.S. Veterans Administration. That fact is one reason P.O. Cronin was inspired to provide the trip for the vets. His father, who died in 1998, was a Navy veteran who never talked about his service. “And I never asked,” P.O. Cronin said. Hooking up with Honor Flight Long Island, and organizing the trip to Washington, was a chance to be with and learn something from the veterans of his father’s generation, he said.

An exhilarating and sometimes exhausting one-day excursion, it kicked off at 5:30 a.m. at the American Legion Hall and wrapped up there around 11 p.m. In between were two plane trips, three bus rides and visits to four memorials in the nation’s capital. Also included were meals, honor salutes, a welcoming reception by Naval Academy midshipmen and some misty eyes mixed in with laughter along the way.

Meeting Senator Dole in the informal session at the World War II Memorial was the high point of the day for many who made the trip.

“I was shocked when I saw him because he didn’t look well,” said Robert Strugats, the same age as the senator, who flew 15 combat bombing missions in the South Pacific — each one consisting of 16 non-stop hours in the air — beginning when he was still a teenager. “I said to him, ‘Senator, thank you for this memorial.’”

Senator Dole told Mr. Strugats that he was the one who deserved thanks for his service.

Later, thinking about the long day that sparked memories to the surface, the Army Air Corps vet summed up the emotions of many of the heroes: “Words can’t begin to describe how I felt.”

AMBROSE CLANCY PHOTO | Police Officer Tom Cronin, second from left, who organized and guided the Shelter Island Honor Flight, with his son Pacey, World War II Vet Howard Jackson, and Honor Flight officials Virginia Bennett and Bill Jones at MacArthur Airport.

A LOT OF STORIES

A chartered bus was escorted from the Island before dawn to MacArthur Airport by the Long Island chapter of the U.S. Veterans Motorcycle Club. “Shelter Island has a special place in our hearts,” said Frankie Bania, president of the club. “We’ve always been there for the Kestlers and Theinerts.”

As dawn was breaking, the convoy rumbled through rolling fog into Islip’s MacArthur Airport, where Dr. John Rodgers, 87, who fought in the Battle of the Bulge as a 19-year-old, said of the group of travelers and their memories, “There are a lot of stories here.”

Dr. Rodgers himself was remembering another morning in 1944 when he went to Christmas Eve Mass in Marseilles, France and then soon found himself airlifted to frontline trenches in the Ardennes Forest. Describing just part of one of the many actions he fought in, Dr. Rodgers recalled trying to cross a river in rubber rafts under a withering crossfire. “The Germans had us zeroed in,” Dr. Rodgers said. “It was hell.” And the veteran left it at that.

Emerging from the jetway into the terminal at Baltimore-Washington Airport, the vets were surprised to walk down a long corridor formed by 40 midshipmen, students at Annapolis in their dress uniforms, applauding and whooping. Honor Flight personnel had handed out flags to onlookers who joined in the raucous welcome.

George Strom, 85, had tears in his eyes. Later, walking through the terminal to the bus with his wife, Marie, the Navy veteran was “surprised and astounded” by the greeting. Some of the midshipmen were female, which brought on a story he told with a smile, of shipping home after the Japanese surrender and docking in California. “We hadn’t seen a girl in months so we all ran to one side of the ship to get a look at the Red Cross girls who were there to greet us,” Mr. Strom remembered. “Then we got an announcement from the captain telling us to get on the other side because we were sinking his ship.”

KOREA AND VIETNAM

After the tour of the World War II Memorial, and the visit with the Doles, the Island Honor Flight group moved on to one of the most haunting sights in Washington, the Korean War Veterans Memorial. Walking up a slight incline, spread out and watchful, are 19 stone statues of American servicemen on patrol in full combat gear and rain ponchos, weary, marching though a bleak landscape created to reflect a vision of battlefield conditions in Korea.

William Krapf, 81, remembered the terrain, the battles and the unforgiving climate. “There was three months of solid rain,” recalled Mr. Krapf, who was 20 when he went to Korea as a Marine in 1951. He suffered frostbite to his left hand from the cold, 12 degrees below zero. “And in the summer, we changed positions with the Canadians and it was 120 degrees in the shade,” he said.

The most visited memorial in Washington honors veterans of Vietnam, according to the National Park Service. A visit with the Island Honor Flight proved it, with large crowds descending down to the center of the V-shaped wall, where the names of more than 58,000 Americans who died in Vietnam are etched in the polished stone.

It’s the most popular and also, at times, the setting for the most visible emotion. Joseph “Butch” Klenawicus, 62, James “Mac” McGayhey, 63, and Charles Wyatt, 67, looked for the name on the wall of a fallen comrade, James Wilson Jr., for whom the Route 114 traffic circle in the Center is named. All three men served in Vietnam, with Mr. Wyatt wounded in action and losing his right leg.

The name was found. The men paid their respects with silence. Then, with some catches in the throat, the stories began again. Mr. Klenawicus, originally reluctant to come on the trip, thanked Officer Cronin for encouraging him to join his fellow veterans.

“It’s unbelievable,” Mr. McGayhey said quietly. “All these names.”

“You know what bothers me?” asked Mr. Klenawicus. “You look down at this wall from up above and think, 58,000 men died, and for what?”

As the bright autumn day faded to long shadows, the tour went up a hill to the U.S. Marine Corps Memorial, also known as the Iwo Jima memorial, where another veteran confronted the sacrifices of war. Mr. Strom had been part of the naval fleet that supervised the Marine landings at Iwo Jima. “There was constant bombardment and constant battle,” Mr. Strom said. “It was just …” the Navy vet paused. “Just slaughter.”

A remarkable connection was made at the base of the memorial, when Mr. Strom discovered that Mr. Strugats, the Army Air Corps combat veteran, had crash-landed on Iwo Jima.

“We know each other, our wives know each other, and I never knew he was there,” Mr. Strom said later.

AMBROSE CLANCY PHOTO | Island vets greeted by a reception of U.S Navy Academy midshipmen as they arrive at Batimore-Washington Airport.

A FINAL SALUTE

Another warm greeting surprised the vets and their friends and family when their chartered bus with motorcycle escort returned to the Island after the long day. The fire department shot off water cannon salutes and draped an American flag from a crane high over the street at American Legion Hall.

As a four-piece brass band played, a crowd of about 50 residents turned out to welcome their veterans home.

Mollie Strugats, who accompanied her husband all day, was, like everyone on the tour, overwhelmed at her hometown’s reception. “Fantastic,” Mrs. Strugats said. “The motorcycles, all the people in Washington and everyone cheering when we got home. I could get used to this.”

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 [email protected] 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.

[email protected]

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.