National guardsmen return to East Hills

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About 60 former Air National Guardsmen on Saturday returned to the Roslyn base where they once served to break bread and reminisce with comrades.

But the 52-acre property that used to house the base looked different than it did all those years ago, as it was acquired by the Village of East Hills from the federal government in 2000 and converted into its current park, complete with a theater, village hall and pool. 

“The base gave us an identity we never had before,” said Village of East Hills Mayor Michael Koblenz, who greeted the guardsmen and their wives during the afternoon luncheon.

The site was leased by the Army in 1942 on land that was once part of the 230-acre Harbor Hill estate of Gold Coast-era financier Clarence Mackay. 

In the time since East Hills took over the property, several buildings and other amenities like athletic fields have been added to the site. The park opened in 2005.

A roll call of each veteran’s name and rank was taken during the luncheon. A video displaying old photographs of the base through the years played on a television set. 

Skip Hein, who helped organize the reunion, helped Koblenz open a time capsule filled with memorabilia since the base was transferred to the village in December 2000.

“The village has been very good to us,” said Hein, 69, of St. James. “It had been about six years since our last reunion, and most of us are getting up in age now. You can see, we’re the next generation after the greatest generation. Most of these guys are Korean and Vietnam-era veterans.”

Koblenz said the base had also been used for CIA and FBI activity and to spy on Soviet forces convening at the former Russian embassy in Glen Cove.

“We found all these file cabinets of FBI files and we reached out to them and asked what they wanted us to do with them. They told us to get rid of them, and we came back to them and said, ‘sure, but let’s get something in writing,’” Koblenz said, receiving a chuckle from the audience. “They turned out to be nothing. Who knows what they were up to.”

The village purchased the property for $3 million under a federal provision which Koblenz said did not specify that the site had to be sold for market value. An appraisal at the time found the land was valued at close to $30 million.

Hein, who served at Roslyn from 1965-83, said notifying the former guardsmen was not difficult, as he drafts e-mail newsletters a few times each year.

“We’re more than service people, we’re friends. We went through different things together and these friendships form out of that,” Hein said. “The Yankee announcer who has that show ‘Center Stage’ always asks who you’d want to be in a foxhole with. I’d say it would be with these guys.”

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