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WWII Veterans Honored June 6 at OBHS D-Day Canteen Dance

The 65th Anniversary of D-Day, June 6, 1944 Commemoration Event Series

The Oyster Bay Historical Society’s Canteen Dance held at the East Woods School on June 6, seems to have struck a chord with a great many people. The community responded to the event, chaired by Francis Leone, with great enthusiasm. They must have somehow known the music was going to be wonderful and when the moment came to get onto the dance floor, there was no hesitating. Their feet were made for dancing!

Throughout the evening, talking to people about their shared past during World War II, it appeared that everyone has a story to tell. Everyone has a memory to share, be it one of their own or one of a parent or loved one.

Jane Byrd McCurdy found a Red Cross cap her grandmother in Virginia wore when she rolled bandages during World War I. She wore it jauntily to the dance. Her mother was a volunteer with the motor pool in WWII, she said.

Grace Searby used a WWII magazine with the picture of a nurse on the cover to inspire her costume, a nurse’s white uniform and a navy blue cape. She is donating the magazine to the upcoming exhibit at the Oyster Bay Historical Society “Oyster Bay at War” which opens on June 28.

All around the room were veterans who were easily spotted because of the red carnations in their buttonholes.

OBHS Board President Maureen Monck, Ph.D. welcomed guests and asked for a moment of silence to remember those who lost their lives on D-Day, 65 years ago: June 6, 1944. Just a moment to remember what happened that day. It was a turning point in the war as the Allied troops invaded Normandy which was in the hands of the Nazi German troops.

John LoRusso shared a thought at the microphone saying the weather this year reminded him of the weather surrounding D-Day. Like here, the weather then, on June 5, was poor. Mr. LoRusso said, “The day before General Dwight D. Eisenhower [Allied Expeditionary Forces Supreme Commander] gave the okay to start the D-Day invasion he had to depend on the weathermen but he had to give the final word himself.” Just as the weather changed locally, it changed in 1944 and the landing was a success.

OBHS President Maureen Monck, Ph.D. thanked the East Woods School staff, Kevin, James and John for helping set up the gymnasium for the party. She thanked board member Barry Curtis Spies for designing the invitation which she said brought people out. It showed Uncle Sam pointing and saying, “I want you!” She said, “I think Fran Leone was extremely creative in planning the evening.” Hank Tiska said, “It’s nice that they really worked at making something different.”

Oyster Bay Historical Society Director Thomas Kuehhas invited people to come and see the exhibit “Oyster Bay Goes to War” as it opens on June 28. He said there will be extraordinary stories, artifacts, period photos and uniforms. He suggested people look at the 8 x 10 glossy photographs put up on the wall at the back of the gymnasium and see how many faces they could match up with the flesh and blood people attending the gala.

The pictures were of WWII veterans: Eugene Abbate, Nicholas Baldino, Robert Barnett, Ray Boffardi, Beatrice Weekes Cardinale, James Cardinale, Nick DiSantos, Joseph Doherty, Anthony Fabbricante, John LoRusso, Sam Lucchesi, James Mooney, Nicholas Rossi, Dominic Villani, Francis Bladykis, Anthony Simone, Harry Herman, Paul Noonan. Veterans of other wars were also present that night.

Fran Leone thanked Nick DiSantos for his help on the committee. “You were totally inspirational. Your energy was wonderful. Let’s have fun – we rock!”

That began an evening of musical performances starting with the International Barber Shop Society. They started with service anthems for the Marines, the Army, the Navy, the Air Force and then went into America the Beautiful.

The audience loved the songs the barber shop group sang – especially since they all have words the audience remembered like: Baby Face; Ain’t Mis-Behaving; You Made Me Love You; God Bless America. They sang Cabaret as an encore.

Going around talking to people you heard their stories. Ray Boffardi said in 1948 he served as the signal man on a Destroyer S-4 in the Atlantic; and in the Pacific in the Philippines and Okinawa. Mr. Boffardi said he published a book on his experiences in the Battle of Okinawa called Okinawa Diary about what happened to him for the three months he was there. He has given Tom Kuehhas copies of the book to sell at the exhibitition ($20).

The band played old favorites and the words were great to remember like: “There’ll be bluebirds over the White Cliffs of Dover tomorrow just you wait and see; and “Don’t Sit Under the Apple Tree with Anyone Else But Me!”

Debra Held sang I Love Paris; C’est Si Bon and La Vie en Rose. The food served in a “chow line” was comfort food of the period: meat loaf, mashed potatoes, mixed vegetables and soft rolls, followed by a dessert table of cookies and cake.

Only the sight of the cleanup crew was enough to get the stragglers out of the “dance hall.”

The next event is on Sunday, June 28, from 2 to 4 p.m. with a Roundtable Discussion at the Oyster Community Center followed by a reception at the Earle-Wightman House Museum.

Refreshments will be served at opening reception. The cost is $20 for members and $25 otherwise. Proceeds benefit the OBHS Building Fund and will be matched by the Dolan Family Foundation. For more information please call 922-5032.

“This is a wonderful opportunity to show your support for those who have served our great country, past and present, and to support the Oyster Bay Historical Society, too,” said Mr. Kuehhas.