On Veteran’s Day, the primary message Manny Grillo, commander of Mineola VFW Post 1305, delivered was one aimed at raising the consciousness of fellow veterans who might not be aware of the benefits due them, or knowledge of veterans’ issues.
As the keynote speaker at the observance in Mineola’s Memorial Park, he recounted his own story as a disillusioned Vietnam veteran, feeling unwelcome in his own country when he returned from the conflict. And he told the story of how a former World War II veteran helped him with his medical problems and encouraged him to join veteran’s groups.
It was a slow process of acclimation, but Grillo eventually joined the Veteran’s of Foreign Wars, the American Legion, the Disabled American Veterans, the Society of the First Division and the Vietnam veterans of America.
“By being a member, you help other veterans,” he said, adding that membership in veterans’ groups also gives ex-military men and women leverage with politicians.
Noting that there are 15 diseases now associated with Agent Orange, he said lobbying efforts ultimately enabled Vietnam veterans to get the treatment they needed for those diverse medical issues.
“They’re really taking care of us now. It’s not like it was years ago,” Grillo said.
Afterwards, one veteran in the crowd of more than 100 people gathered for the observance, told Grillo he had convinced him to join one of the local veterans groups.
Mineola Mayor Jack Martins emphasized that veterans everyone shares a responsibility to help today’s combat veterans reintegrate to society.
“It’s up to us not to forget. It’s important that we remember that we have men and women who are in harm’s way half a world away,” Martins said.
“There’s nothing more to say other than ‘Thank you’,” said Trustee Paul Pereira.
Sal Cataldo, commander of Mineola American Legion Post 349, rang a bell 11 times to commemorate the original occasion called Armistice Day, that recalled the end of World War I at the eleventh hour of the 11th day of the 11th month. And then he rang it once more, for those currently in combat, he said.
He exhorted those present to make donations to veterans hospitals and Vet Dogs, a non-profit organization devoted to providing disabled veterans with companion dogs trained to assist them in daily life.
“Give as much as you can to the people who served,” Cataldo said.
“Freedom isn’t free lord,” American Legion Post member Carl Marchese said in the final invocation of the day’s ceremonies.
As the sound of taps faded in the bright morning air, veterans were recalling comrades and relatives who had made their final sacrifice in service to their country.
World War II Navy veteran Walter Hobbs said he was thinking of friends his father, a World War I veteran, had lost during that war, and his grandson, Jacob, who is in training for duty in the current conflicts overseas.
Korean War veteran Vito Stallone said he was thinking of his older brother Leonard, who was killed at age 19 during the Battle of the Bulge in World War II.
“What gets me is that people take us for granted. They don’t know the story,” he said.
One World War II veteran stared into the distance, overcome with emotion at recalling some of the men he served with.
“They’re all dead,” he simply said.