Men representing three generations of Americans who fought in wars abroad lined up as a single unit in the American Legion Hall in Williston Park on Thursday night to be recognized with citations for their service by state Assemblyman Thomas McKevitt.
McKevitt, whose father is a U.S. Army veteran, praised the 14 veterans from local VFW and American Legion organizations honored during the ceremonies for the selfless sense of duty they demonstrated.
“These are truly heroes as far as I’m concerned. As teenagers, they left their homes and went overseas, willing to give their lives for their country,” McKevitt said.
The event, which was titled Veterans Hall of Honor, was sponsored by McKevitt.
Keynote speaker Ned Johnson, past Nassau County American Legion commander, praised the sacrifice the veterans in the hall had been willing to make.
“When these men signed on for military service, they signed a blank check to the United States of America,” he said. “That check was for anything up to, and including, the ultimate sacrifice.”
The veterans represented different eras of combat service, including World War II, the Korean War and the Vietnam War.
As they saluted the American flag at the beginning of the ceremony during the presentation of the colors and joined in singing the national anthem with soloist Nicole Dalto, they expressed the common spirit they share. That was particularly evident as they joined hands while singing “God Bless America” at the conclusion of the ceremonies.
World War II veterans represented half of those honored on Thursday night – one of them, Robert Rudkin of Garden City, posthumously.
Among the World War II honorees was John DaVanzo, a U.S. Navy veteran who survived the sinking of the destroyer he was serving on during the D-Day invasion. DaVanzo was a radioman and was among the last to abandon his ship after destroying the radio equipment and code books.
In the intervening years, DaVanzo, 90, has built a legacy of public service as former deputy mayor of Mineola and a member of many civic organizations, earning him the nickname of “Mr. Mineola.” He’s a member of Pvt. Adolph Block VFW Post 1305 in Mineola.
“It’s a wonderful honor and really humbling to know that people think about you. It’s very gratifying,” DaVanzo said.
Stanley Sichel, a member and former commander of G&E Linder Post 8031, flew B-17s and B-29s while serving as a pilot in the 883rd Bomber Squadron in the 73rd Bomber Wing of the 20th Army Air Corps in the South Pacific during World War II. He flew 25 missions from Saipan to Japan and back – a 15-hour round trip – and once had to make an unscheduled landing on Iwo Jima after losing one of his bomber’s engines.
“I feel like I’m the king around here,” Sichel said smiling with his family in attendance at the ceremony.
Thomas Zarella, a member of Garden City Park Post 120, was drafted into the U.S. Army shortly after his 18th birthday in 1944. He served in an armored division, learning to drive tanks, jeeps and other vehicles, and shipped out to join in the invasion of Japan. The peace treaty was signed while he was en route, and his ship was diverted to the Philipines where he became an MP policing the islands, and also served as a quartermaster and, finally, a supply technician in the 12th Airborne Squadron.
“I feel great. I have my family here and it’s an honor to be here,” Zarella said.
Among the Korean War veterans was Charlie Boyd, who served as a sergeant in the 1st Division of the U.S. Marine Corps during that conflict. He participated in fighting during the aftermath of the Battle of the Yalu River and was among the marines who held the line at the 48th parallel.
“It was cold. It rained for months. You didn’t get your clothes changed,” Boyd said, recalling his year in Korea.
He currently serves as commander of the Nassau County Council VFW and frequently makes trips to bring other veterans for treatment at the Northport Veteran’s Affairs Hospital. He is also former commander of Williston Park VFW Post 1688 and American Legion Post 144.
William Urianek, a third generation Marine who served during the Korean War era, was also honored for his service. Urianek has been particularly active in support of fellow veterans like Army Ranger Christopher Levi of Holbrook, who lost both legs in a roadside bomb explosion in Iraq. Urianek collected more than 70,000 cans and bottles along with monetary donations, raising $11,000 to help retrofit Levi’s home. He’s also raised money for American Vet Dogs, an organization that provides companion dogs for disabled vets.
Manny Grilo, commander of VFW Post 1305, was among the Vietnam veterans honored at the event.
Grilo earned three Purple Hearts as a member of the U.S. Army 1st Division, 2nd Battalion, 28th Infantry Recon.
A member of several vets’ organizations, including Disabled American Veterans and Vietnam Veterans of America, Grilo is a vocal advocate for veterans’ right and a self-effacing person.
“It was nice, but there’s guys who do a lot more,” he said about the evening’s observance. “I do what I do and that’s it.”