As Maryanne Grey watched the banners that honored the veterans in her family hoisted up at the Franklin Square Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 2718, she began to tear up, feeling not only pride in her family’s history, but also gratitude toward her long-time friend Adrienne McKenna, who spearheaded Franklin Square’s Hometown Heroes Banner program.
“This project was Adrienne’s baby, and it took a lot to get it done, to the point where she was almost ready to quit a couple of times,” Grey said. “But she was able to get it done, and we thank her for it.”
The program, which took McKenna more than a year to organize, honored the memory of 17 Franklin Square residents who served their country, including Grey’s father, brother and brother-in-law. McKenna, a Franklin Square resident of more than 40 years, said she started the program after she learned that her daughter had worked on a similar project for veterans in New Jersey. Wanting to do the same for local veterans, McKenna introduced the Hometown Heroes Banner project to her fellow board members at the Franklin Square Civic Association, who immediately jumped on the idea.
Although everyone was willing to help, the project proved to be complicated. While McKenna had hoped to display the banners along Hempstead Turnpike — the most trafficked area in Franklin Square — the location was a bureaucratic challenge, as Hempstead Turnpike is a state road and required state approval. In the end, McKenna settled on working with the VFW post to display the banners there, and through the civic association’s website, veterans and residents could sponsor banners for $125 each.
“We’ve got people from the Air Force, Army and Marines, from every part of the military up there now,” McKenna said. “And the sponsors will be able to keep the banners with them once we take them down after Labor Day.”
Grey said that she and her family were excited to honor the heroes in their family as part of the inaugural banners. The banner for her father, Joseph Muscarello, meant a great deal to Grey, in particular. She explained that Muscarello, a World War II Army veteran who was stationed in Italy, will visit her home near the VFW for his 98th birthday in June, and the whole family plans to be there for the unveiling.
For Toni Croce, a fellow member of the Franklin Square Civic Association, the banners celebrate her late husband. After Robert’s death in January, Toni was heartbroken. Although she continues to miss him, she felt comforted by the banner flying her husband’s face and name at the VFW.
Robert had served in the U.S. Army from 1960 to 1963, finishing his service just before he was about to deploy to Vietnam. Toni said that Robert had always “felt bad about not fighting in the war with his friends,” so he spent his years serving his fellow veterans. He was a regular volunteer at the Northport Veterans Affair Medical Center and an active member of the Malverne VFW Post 44, where he was recognized in 2012 as one of three veterans who took special care of the American flags flying outside their homes.
Toni added that Robert loved to tend to their yard, and had even started a garden before he died. Toni plans to put Robert’s banner up by the garden once it’s taken down at the VFW, and she hopes to see the other banners up throughout Franklin Square as well.
“This is a chance for my husband and all the veterans who served to be honored and remembered in their hometown,” Toni said.
The Hometown Heroes project has expanded since McKenna embarked on it last year, with a second set of flags going up at Rath Park for first responders from Franklin Square. With help from the Town of Hempstead, there is space for 11 banners to be flown at Rath Park, including six sponsored by the Franklin Square & Munson Fire Department. Fire Commissioner Phillip Malloy said every firefighter with a banner at Rath Park represents someone who had died in the line of duty.
The banners pay tribute to Charles Dib, Paul Ryf, Daniel Strong, Paul Tritschler, Thomas Hetzel and Michael Kiefer. Hetzel and Kiefer were among the firefighters who died responding to the World Trade Center attacks on Sep. 11, 2001. Malloy, who was also deployed to the WTC site, expressed his gratitude to McKenna for including first responders in her project. He, like everyone else involved with the project, hopes the Hometown Heroes Banner program can become a staple in the Franklin Square community “for years to come.”
“People should walk by the VFW and by Rath Park and look at these banners,” Malloy said. “The community should know who these people are.”