Younger veterans will be honored March 10 at Polish Hall

BARBARAELLEN KOCH PHOTO | Polish Hall will be hosting the first-ever Riverhead event honoring U.S. military veterans from the Persian Gulf war through the present.

Veterans from Riverhead Town who have served in the military since the Persian Gulf war of the early 1990s to the present will be honored March 10 at a special dinner at Polish Hall.

The event, the first of its kind in Riverhead, is being called “Operation Forever Grateful,” and will be held that Saturday from 5-10 p.m. at the Polish Town catering hall and social club. It’s open to the public and tickets are selling for $27.75, but must be purchased in advance.

The ticket price covers the cost of the event and nothing more, said Councilman John Dunleavy, who is helping to organize the event and wanted to emphasize that it was not a fundraiser of any sorts.

Mr. Dunleavy served in the U.S. Navy himself from 1957 to 1962 and says he wants to do something to honor local veterans.

“They really did a lot for this country,” he said at a recent Town Board meeting.

Liz Stokes of the Riverhead Free Library and Riverhead Town Board coordinator Linda Hulse also are helping to organize the event.

Ms. Hulse said invitations have been sent out to 50 local veterans, as well as to the families of two local veterans who died as a result of injuries suffered in action. That would be Jonathan Keller and Anthony Venetz Jr,  both of whom lived on the same street in Wading River, and who died almost within a year of each other in 2010 and 2011.

Ms. Stokes said organizers are expecting 300 people total, including guests of local veterans.

The idea came up in November, Ms. Stokes said, when she and Mr. Dunleavy were helping unload food and blankets for homeless veterans at the Suffolk County United Veterans in Riverhead, which works to aid homeless veterans. Ms. Stokes has organized a food drive every dinner for the past few years at the library. It initially collected food for local food pantries, but in recent years has expanded to collect food and clothing for homeless veterans.

The Riverhead Chamber of Commerce, which is making gift baskets from local merchants, the Riverhead Rotary Club, and the Riverhead Veterans of Foreign Wars and American Legion chapters also are involved in the dinner, Ms. Stokes said.

“Every part of this dinner is being sponsored,” she said.

Ms. Stokes and Ms. Hulse said they are aware that some veterans who served before the Gulf War are upset that the event isn’t honoring all veterans, but they said those veterans are still welcomed to attend, if they pay the admission fee, and that it would be impossible to find a venue big enough to honor all the veterans in Riverhead Town.

“We have to start somewhere,” Ms. Stokes said.

Ms. Hulse said there are more than 2,500 veterans in Riverhead Town and getting their names is difficult due to privacy regulations. They said they have had difficulty just getting the names of the Gulf War-era vets.

“We just had to pick a time frame,” Ms. Stokes said, adding that they hope to be able to honor additional veterans in the future.

Anyone interested in attending or who knows a veteran who should be honored can call either Linda Hulse at 727-3200 ext. 253 or Liz Stokes at 655-3263.

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