Written by Rachel Shapiro Friday, 23 July 2010 00:00
They served in Vietnam, Korea, Germany, Austria, Iraq and other countries during WWII, the Vietnam War, the Korean War, Operation Iraqi Freedom and outside times of declared war, some many decades ago and some a few years ago. But when they assembled with their families at the Merrick Public Library, about a dozen veterans received an honor from New York State that State Assemblyman David McDonough said was “past due.”
McDonough held the NYS Military Service Recognition Awards Ceremony on Friday, July 16, to honor those veterans with medals from the state “to recognize the sacrifices made by the veterans who served and defended our country on behalf of our entire nation,” he said.
“Each one of you, years ago made the decision to give up the good life that came with being a teenager perhaps and in some cases, stalling your education, McDonough said the to veterans in the crowd. “We honor your life experience, and knowledge you acquired while in service and the sacrifices you were willing to make to ensure those who followed you would have a better, free country and a safer life.”
Harold Heitner, a Wantagh resident, served as a medic for U.S. forces in Germany during the Berlin Airlift immediately following WWII in the late 1940s. He said he’s lucky he was stationed in Fort Lewis for 18 months, waiting to be sent to Korea.
“Some people went, they picked a few,” he told the Levittown Tribune that day at the library. “If you were lucky, at that time and you didn’t go you would still be alive,” he said. “If I was in Korea during the war, I wouldn’t be here.”
Heitner was lucky enough, he said, to be one of those people who never got sent to Korea and was able to celebrate the day with his grown children and wife, Barbara, receiving the NYS Medal of Merit.
“We are proud of you and we are thankful for your service; fortunately God has blessed this land with a bounty of fine men and women who have risked and continue to risk their lives to preserve our liberty and our way of life,” McDonough said to the men who were being honored that day. “I happened to serve in the United States Coast Guard and the United States Air Force; I never was in combat until I joined the New York State Assembly,” he said to laughs from the audience.
McDonough said there were about seven or eight more veterans who couldn’t attend and they will be recognized privately either in their homes or in McDonough’s office.
Hank Sendlien, of Wantagh, was present with his wife Muriel, and he told of his service during WWII in Europe.
“I was not there on D-Day. I’m happy to say I came later,” he told the Tribune with a laugh.
Sendlien traveled through France, Germany and Austria for almost three years, he said, as a volunteer in the 13th Armored Division in General Patton’s Third Army.
“We ended the war in Austria, the birthplace of Hitler,” Sendlien said. “The Germans kept blowing up the bridges, so we had to walk.”
Sendlein relayed how he and other troops liberated American POWs on May 3 or 4 in 1945 from the Austrian Stalag 17B.
“Most of them were shot down,” from B17 bombers, a fact that Sendlien pointed out as ironic. “We asked them if anyone hurt them, we were ready to go after them but they said no. The Germans had them chopping down trees to block the road.”
Recognizing that many veterans were not as fortunate as those who came back unhurt and proud of their service, not to mention alive, McDonough presented Peter Plaia, a Levittown resident and recipient of a Purple Heart, with the NYS Conspicuous Service Star Medal.
Plaia was a sergeant in the 290th infantry from July 1944 to May 1946, serving in “the big one” as McDonough said, referring to WWII.
A veteran who gave up completing his education to serve his country was Roy Bronnekant, a Levittown resident, who served in the Navy during the Vietnam War and was awarded the NYS Medal of Merit as well as his high school diploma.
“Many people who went into service were unable to complete their education so we were able to obtain his high school diploma,” McDonough said.
“And I certify you got an A grade,” he said, as he handed the veteran his medal and diploma.
State Senator Charles Fuschillo was also on hand to thank the veterans for their service.
“I was sitting at the back of the room, watching the individuals come up here to receive their award and the families and friends are clapping so intensely to demonstrate how proud they are of all of you,” he said. “When I watch the national news, they demonstrate, they tell us almost every night what’s wrong with America, what’s wrong with our country…I just note when I see all of you up here receiving your medals, and your just due, it demonstrates to me that you are what’s right with our country and I salute you and thank you very much for the service you have given to all of us.”