As was typical for Army veteran Hank Kiesche, he had brought a crowd to the Oceanside Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 5199. A 45-year member of the Oceanside Knights of Columbus, as well as the American Legion Post 246 in Baldwin, Kiesche has a lot of friends.
Unbeknownst to him, however, this night on Aug. 13 was being held in his honor. After roughly ten years of service to Post 5199, he was being recognized for his commitment to the hall and its veterans.
“[I had] no idea,” Kiesche said of the surprise award. “They got me really good. What an honor.”
A chronic organizer, Kiesche, 77, said he enjoys the social aspect of getting involved in local veterans and charity clubs. He has run the annual ‘50s Dance at the Knights of Columbus for 44 years and helps set up its Italian Night and New Year’s Eve party.
“Me and my wife like to party,” he said of his partner of 55 years, Pat. “[We] like to dance, [we] like to do things.”
For eight years he has helped organize Post 5199’s biannual veterans’ dinners, taking care of cooking and entertainment for local veterans in hospitals, according to VFW auxilliary treasurer Georgianna Miller. And in the Knights of Columbus, he helped spearhead a wounded warriors program, providing housing and entertainment for injured veterans, while enlisting the help of the VFW in the endeavor, Miller said.
Additionally, he was president of Post 5199’s men’s auxiliary, also for eight years, and ran various fundraisers for a veterans’ home in Northport. “He’s done a lot of work for the veterans,” Miller said. “He’s done a lot of work for the community.”
“He’s just one of those laid-back guys,” she added. “He just does the work and he doesn’t pat himself on the back.”
Kiesche became involved with the Oceanside VFW through his friends at the Knights of Columbus and Baldwin American Legion. He would come with them and help at various VFW events until he thought he might as well join.
He served in the United States Army at Fort Devens, Mass. as a heavy weapons specialist from 1961 to 1963. “Hank’s sense of service, for his country and now his local community, is truly admirable,” State Sen. Todd Kaminsky, who stopped by the post to congratulate Kiesche on his award. “I am humbled by his contributions to local projects and honored to call him a friend. He deserves the recognition, and it was heartwarming to see so many of his friends celebrate him.”
Despite his strong social life, Kiesche lamented the drop-off in participation among younger veterans, and called on them to get involved. “It’s hard to get new members,” Kiesche said. “Anybody out there that’s a vet, please come and join the VFW.”
Who knows, they might have as much fun as he has had making so many friends through the clubs. “There’s only one time around,” Kiesche said of making the most out of our time on Earth. “Life is too short.”