More than 1,700 veterans call Valley Stream their home, having served during a variety of conflicts and peace times, in locations all over the world.
In an effort to support the men and women who have served to protect the United States and its citizens, the village created a Veterans Advisory Committee earlier this year. Members have been meeting for several months, and the fruits of their labor will soon pay off with a Veterans Day ceremony and information fair set for Monday at the Valley Stream Community Center.
Representatives from a variety of organizations will be on hand to assist veterans and their families. Anyone searching for veteran personnel records for themselves or a family member can come and get help. There will be information on property tax exemptions, help for sleep apnea and Pets for Vets.
Jack Sharkey, a member of the committee who served in the Air Force from 1949-53, said the purpose of the group is to help veterans get services they are entitled to, but might not know about. “I think we’re taking a new approach,” he said, “and I think that’s always an exciting thing to do. Hopefully we will be able to have success with it and I think we will.”
Sharkey has been the emcee at the review stand on Rockaway Avenue for the Memorial Day parade for nearly three decades and belongs to American Legion Post 854. He is joined on the committee by George Fox, Jay Hunter, Marty Kielawa and Peter Restivo.
Hunter is the only member of the committee who is not a veteran, but his father, James, served in Vietnam. As vice commander of the Sons of the American Legion and manager of Post 854’s banquet hall, Hunter has a history of supporting area veterans, which is why he was tapped for the committee.
At 48, Hunter is the youngest member of the committee and said he can bring a unique perspective to the group. He especially wants to reach out to the men and woman who have served more recently.
“I think a lot of people think of veterans as older guys,” he said. “There are a lot of guys coming home every day that are veterans that are in their 20s and 30s and 40s, that put it all on the line for our way of life.”
Kielawa, who was in the U.S. Army during Vietnam, has been a member of the American Legion for 34 years and serves as the adjutant. He said that Monday’s ceremony and information fair will be the first of many initiatives for Valley Stream veterans.
One of the biggest challenges, Kielawa said, is identifying people in the community who are veterans, so he hopes that opening the Community Center’s doors to them will help.
Fox, who is retired from the village’s Sanitation Department, fought in Vietnam as a member of the U.S. Army and belongs to both the American Legion and VFW Post 1790. He said he hopes veterans take advantage of Monday’s program. “It’s to their benefit to come out and see if they’re entitled to anything,” he said.
For example, Fox said, many people might not know that there is a Veterans Administration facility right in Valley Stream. Restivo, also a Vietnam vet from the U.S. Army, noted how lucky local veterans are to have a full-service medical center for them right in their own community.
Restivo, who was asked to join the committee by Mayor Ed Fare, said he is pleased that the village is taking notice of veterans and the sacrifices they have made.
Veterans Day is always marked on Nov. 11. It was originally known as Armistace Day, first celebrated in 1919, on the first anniversary of the end of World War I, and it was made a legal holiday in 1939. Fifteen years later, it became Veterans Day to remember those who served in all wars.
Kielawa noted that the meanings of Veterans Day and Memorial Day often get confused — Memorial Day is to remember those who have died in combat, while Veterans Day is to honor all those who have served. He said he always gets a “thank you” call from his brother on Veterans Day.
Hunter said when he was younger, his idea of honoring Veterans Day was to put his flag out. But as he has gotten more involved in the American Legion and gotten to know many area veterans, he has gained a deeper appreciation for the holiday. “If you see a vet, acknowledge it,” he said.
For Fox, he hopes that citizens will take time out of their day to contemplate what veterans did for their country. Sharkey hopes that many people will come down to the Community Center for the 1 p.m. ceremony on Monday to pay tribute to the men and women who served the United States.
“Veterans Day,” Sharkey said, “is the day that we should remember that all the veterans that served in all parts of the world, at many, many different times, should be remembered and thanked for their service.”