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Vets Discuss Memorial Day Memories

Memorial Day is a vital national American holiday; the one day of the year when we as citizens take pause and honor those who have fallen while defending the principles and freedoms that have come to define us as a people.

It is on that day that many veterans of the military reflect upon both their great service to this country, as well as the ultimate sacrifices of the friends and loved ones who live on in their memories and hearts; this is something that members of the Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) Post 3211 of Hicksville each remember in their own individual ways.

Jack Hayne of Old Bethpage, Commander of the Jewish War Veterans of USA Post 655, has served both in World War 2 and the Korean War; he missed serving in Vietnam by only a year, he said.

“I had just left the service,” he said. “They called me back, and I had just started a job as an engineer at the Grumman Corporation in Bethpage, so I said ‘no, thank you.’ I had had enough by that point.”

Hayne was first drafted into the Army in 1943 and ended up assigned to an anti-aircraft outfit on Long Island. He attended West Point Academy and was married, but within a year of that happy event he found himself shipped off to Korea, where he spent the next 19 months in the middle of an active combat zone.

“I wasn’t happy and my wife wasn’t happy, either,” he said. “Most people ended up being rotated back to the States after a year or so, but I ended up spending 19 months there!”

With such a long career in the military, Hayne said that each and every Memorial Day serves to summon a great deal of emotion within him as he recalls days and friends long since past.

“I had lots of friends that got killed in Korea...I also had friends that I kept in touch with after I left the service that were lost in Vietnam as well,” he said. “I think of them most of the time when Memorial Day comes. I was in the service for 21 years, and those days have never left me.”

Hicksville resident Tom Basacchi served in the U.S. Navy from 1965 to 1972, and while he wasn’t a member of the armed forces during any official military conflict, he served during the Cold War.

“I was on a guided missile destroyer in the Mediterranean...in those days, Russia was our big enemy,” he said. “We would often watch the Russian and American battleships play chicken with one another...one ship would sail directly at the other, and at the last moment they would move out of the way. Looking back it was pretty frightening, but at the time I was 19 years old...what did I know? It was fun at the time.”

At the time that Basacchi joined the military, a draft was in full effect. He said that he joined the Navy as a pre-emptive means of avoiding being consigned into service with the Army, which was typically the default destination for draftees.

“I was going in one way or another because of the draft, so I just beat them to the punch,” he said. “I had originally tried to to get into the Coast Guard, but there was a two-year wait."

To this day, Basacchi said that his time in the military sticks with him.

“You always remember...I put myself out there, and I did my duty,” he said. “There were a lot of good guys there...my wife was also in the military for several years – she was in the Army – and we often share our memories of our service with each other.”

Robert Chiappone was drafted in 1966 on February 14 – Valentine’s Day – and was sent to Vietnam, where he spent the 15 months in the thick of combat, serving with a mechanized unit; at one point he sustained serious wounds that he said that put him out of action for over a month.

“I got hit with shrapnel; a huge piece went right through my arm, like a red-hot penny through butter. I was wearing a flack jacket at the time, which took most of the blast...if I wasn’t wearing it, I would have been killed,” he said. “I spent a lot of time in the hospital, which was in-country...it gave me a lot of time to think while I recovered.”

However, he said that he got off lucky compared to some of his comrades-in-arms; among them was a childhood friend of his whose life was tragically cut short on the Vietnam battlefield, although Chiappone said he didn’t find out about it until after he had rotated back to the United States.

“I lost my buddy, Mickey Johns...we grew up together,” he said. “My mother told me that he got killed over there after I got home. I didn’t even know he had died before that point because he was stationed up north and I was down south.”

Chiappone said that he spends a great deal of time with his fellow VFW members visiting local schools and talking to students about their experiences; he said that at no other time is this community service more important or poignant to him than when Memorial Day is approaching.

“Memorial Day means that we’re doing everything that we can for veterans...if you forget about them, that’s not the right thing,” he said. “My father-in-law is a Pearl Harbor survivor...he’s still alive at 95 years of age, and we keep him going.”

Bill Walden, who grew up in Hicksville, has been the Commander of VFW Post 3211 since 2001. He first enlisted in the Marine Corps on June 15, 1967, mainly because he wasn’t thrilled with college life; however, he said that he also did it to honor family tradition.

“I come from a family of Marines,” he said. “My father was a Marine and a Iwo Jima survivor, and a commander of this VFW post in 1957; We’re probably one of the first fathers and sons to ever command the same VFW.”

Walden was shipped out to Vietnam on January 15, 1970; he returned home on January 13, 1971, nearly a full year later. He spent most of his time in the service as a navigator while flying in Marine transport aircraft pulling night flare duty; while drawing enemy tracer fire, Walden’s aircraft would dispense flares to illuminate and expose enemy positions on the ground for American troops.

“We were only about 5,000 feet high when we were making out flare runs,” he said. “We didn’t even have parachutes, because if we were hit at that altitude, there’s a good chance that we’re not surviving. But we had it a lot easier than the guys down on the ground... they were in the thick of it.”

Walden noted that, while originally meant solely to honor those who had been killed in combat while defending America and its allies, had morphed over time into a holiday that encompasses a great deal more these days.

“We now recognize anyone who has served and is no longer with us,” he said. “That’s the difference between Memorial Day and Veteran’s Day...on Veteran’s Day we recognize everyone who has served and is still with us; on Memorial Day we recognize those who have served and have passed.”

The Hicksville VFW isn’t merely confined to those who have served in the American armed forces; Keith Adams is a member of the British War Veterans of America, an organization he said started back in 1919 by British-American immigrants returning home after defending the United Kingdom in World War 1.

“We’re all immigrants and ex-British service members...Army, Navy, Air Force, whatever,” he said. “I served in the British Army, and while I was conscripted for service, I ended up not doing so during any actual military conflict...I missed Korea by one year, and we were not involved in the Vietnam War. During most of my conscription, I worked as a mechanic.”

Adams has been an American citizen for 50 years; while he said that Memorial Day stirs the same feelings within him as it does for any veteran of military service worldwide, he noted that the British equivalent of the holiday – November 11, known as Remembrance Day – has an equally emotional effect upon him, as the number of his fellow vets from the United Kingdom seems to dwindle more and more with each passing year.

“We’re losing veterans every day, and I worry that people might not remember us,” he said. “But in London, at 11 a.m. on November 11 everything stops for two minutes...trains, cars, everything. They still do that, and that makes it go on...makes people remember, and it would be nice if they did that here in the States as well. That’s how they’ve kept the remembrance alive.”

News

The 7th annual Parish of the Holy Family Festival went off without a hitch and lit up the night sky on Fordham Avenue in Hicksville last week. Thousands of community members came and joined in the festivities.  

This year’s theme was the 1964-1965 World’s Fair that took place in Queens. Volunteer coordinator and 28-year member of the congregation Mary White said “We are having this festival to raise money and to offset the expenditures of the school and the church. Last year we had a record breaking 10,000 people attend and while all the numbers are not in yet, we are doing very well this time around too. The turnout has been great because the weather has been so cooperative.”

Matty’s Sports Deli, located at 107 Stewart Avenue, first opened its doors Nov. 12, and slowly but surely, it’s making a name for itself as the place to go to get good eats in Hicksville.

However, according to owner and Bellmore resident Matthew Burak, the main thing working against his slow climb up the hill of success is what any entrepreneur knows is vital to business—location, location, location.


Sports

Cantiague Park Senior Men’s Golf League had its fourth tournament on Thursday Aug. 7. We had 33 golfers and a record 8 who scored under 40. Low overall score was won by newcomer Ed Hyne with an impressive 33, his second low net in a row. Charlie Acerra scored a solid 35, and won low overall net with a 26; his best score in 4 years.

Competition on the nine-hole course is divided into two divisions. Flight A is for players with a handicap of 13 or lower. Flight B is for players with a handicap of 14 or more. The league is a 100 % handicap league. Any man 55 years or older is eligible for membership. We have many openings for this year, and you can sign up anytime throughout the the season. The league meets every Thursday at 7:30 a.m., but the formal tournament dates are only the first and third Thursday of the month through late October. We will have a final luncheon with prizes on our last meeting.

The fields of Kevin Kolm Memorial Park were filled with nearly 200 soccer players on Saturday for the annual ‘Soccer For A Cause’ event. The event was put together by the Mastermind Unit in sponsor of the Michael Magro Foundation, a nonprofit organization dedicated to assisting pediatric patients with cancer and their families.

“The Mastermind Unit is a non-profit organization that was founded by a group of guys who grew up playing soccer together in Hicksville,” said co-founder Bryan Alcantara. “This is our seventh annual  ‘Soccer For A Cause’ event at Memorial Park.”


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