By Rockland County Executive Ed Day
One in 25 Rockland County residents – four percent of our county’s 320,000 citizens – have served in our nation’s armed forces. Now ranging in age from their early twenties to over 95 years old, they defended the freedoms we hold dear, both during times of conflict and times of peace.
The veterans among us are in every walk of life: police officers and small business owners, teachers and doctors, college students and retirees. They are proud to have served our country and state. With their sacrifice, they have earned a level of gratitude from us that we can never adequately meet.
This coming week, I will hold a thought and a prayer for my youngest son, Michael. After graduating from Iona College, Mike joined the U.S. Army and achieved the rank of sergeant, assigned to the Special Forces Group. As Michael and his brave comrades deploy to Afghanistan, it will again be a vivid reminder that there are hundreds of Rockland County residents currently serving in our military – and that behind every soldier, sailor, airman and Marine is a caring family here at home.
During the past few weeks, I’ve been proud to honor several local veterans from several different generations.
In late January, New City resident, Spring Valley police officer and former United States Marine Corps Sergeant Joseph Brown received the county’s 2015 Buffalo Soldier Award, presented annually to an outstanding African-American veteran who lives in Rockland. Officer Brown went from serving our nation to serving our neighbors.
On February 20,I recognized two local Marine veterans who fought on the Pacific island of Iwo Jima 70 years ago. Ninety-one-year-old Francis Duffy of Pearl River and 91-year-old Gene Iaconetti were honored during a special luncheon hosted by the Rockland County Marine Corps League in Pomona. After successfully taking the island in a battle that killed 6,800 Americans, Iwo Jima provided the U.S. airstrips to launch attacks against Japan.
Five days later, on February 25, County’s Veterans Service Agency Director Jerry Donnellan and I presented Pomona resident Maureen F. Morgan with the third annual Rockland County Freedom Award for her outstanding service to our nation as a Petty Officer in the United States Navy. The prestigious award is presented in advance of Women’s History Month and honors one local female vet for her sacrifice and unending commitment to our nation.
And on May 8, I will gather with our surviving World War II veterans at North Rockland High School to commemorate the 70th anniversary of V-E Day. Also known as Victory Day, V-E Day marks the formal acceptance by the Allies of World War II of Nazi Germany’s unconditional surrender of its armed forces, thus ending the war in Europe. North Rockland students and ROTC members will honor veterans who now are the ages of their grandparents or great-grandparents, but who often were only just out of high school themselves when they enlisted.
I continue to work with Director Donnellan and our state and federal lawmakers to push for new benefits and protections for current and former members of the military. Proposals under consideration will make it easier for troops who are deployed to vote in elections back home; provide greater educational and career opportunities to returning veterans; help to return military medals that have been unclaimed to their rightful owners or heirs.
I also fully support state and local programs to encourage local employers to hire veterans, and to recognize the efforts of those employers. Our businesses should give first consideration to veterans when they have job openings. Employers will know they’re not just helping those veterans, but also getting a leader who is trained, disciplined, and who will work hard.
Veterans Day is observed each year on November 11, the date in 1918 when the First World War ended. It was a war in which Rockland County residents bravely fought and died. All the veterans from that war have passed on, with one of the last being A.W. Rittershausen, former Nyack High School Principal, a few years ago.
The veterans among us today – whether they fought in the Kasserine Pass or Kandahar Province – are living treasures. This year, I hope you will join me in taking time to let the men and women who have served know that we greatly appreciate and admire what they have accomplished and what they have sacrificed on our behalf.