Two weeks after graduating from Locust Valley High School Angelo Cervasio shipped off to boot camp to join the Air Force. He served with the U.S. Military during Operation Southern Watch, designated as a First Class Airman. According to his mother, Virginia Cervasio, her son was always “for the community.”
“He loved being in the military, he loved his country,” she said.
In 2006, not long after his deployment, Angelo took his own life. He was 24.
From the irrevocable tragedy of losing her son, Cervasio, a resident of Glen Cove, founded Heroes Among Us, a nonprofit organization dedicated to providing assistance to veterans and their families so they may live life to the fullest.
Cervasio said it’s what her son would have wanted. “I basically just picked up where he left off,” she said. “He was always very giving.”
Each year, Heroes Among Us holds a charity dinner to raise money for its services. All proceeds raised during the event will benefit veterans across Long Island. “We want to help veterans and their families with whatever they may need in order to live a healthy life,” Cervasio said. This includes financial assistance to pay for rent, food, clothes and other necessities.
Veterans attend the event free of charge, and a select few are recognized each year. Five World War II and Korean War vets will be honored with the Knot Board, and the event’s special guest of honor is Glen Cove resident William Joe Johnson, a Tuskegee Airman, one of the first black aviators to serve in the U.S. military.
Johnson recalls growing up in Glen Cove during the Great Depression. While tending to his parents’ garden, he would look up and see planes as they passed overhead. “I knew there were no black pilots flying those planes, and I resented it,” he said.
Johnson made it his mission to qualify for the Air Corps upon his entrance to the army in January 1944. He took tests on “aeronautics and what not” through high school, and majored in math and science. He arrived at Tuskegee Air Field in Alabama on June 6, 1944 — “D-Day” — to begin pilot training.
Flying, Johnson said, was “a wonderful experience,” but what was more important to him was getting the chance to “fight for America just like everybody else.”
Korean War veteran Willibe Wilson Jr., of Glen Cove, will be receiving the Knot Board recognition. “It’s a great honor to represent all those who have served in Korea, and all other wars,” he said.
Wilson’s companion, Shirley Tinckney, has attended the charity dinner with him in prior years, and is consistently blown away by the efforts of the organization to support local veterans.
“This is something that should be publicized more,” she said. “A lot of people don’t realize what these veterans have gone through and are still going through. It’s great to fly your flag on certain holidays, but people should be thankful every day.”
Cervasio’s hope is to fund even more programs through Heroes Among Us, specifically an initiative aimed at supporting children of veterans, called Heroes’ Kids.
“I can’t say enough for our veterans,” Cervasio said. “We owe them everything.”
For more information about the charity event, or to sponsor a veteran to attend, visit http://www.heroesamongus24.org/