To finish the week off on a cold and rainy Friday evening, East Meadow’s veterans returned to a place on April 16 that for many is like a second home — the American Legion Post 1082 headquarters.
Inside the post, which is located off Bellmore Road, members that are either veterans or family members of veterans, sat around a bar drinking beers and catching up, as the local news was quietly broadcasted on the television.
The commander of the post, Pete Wenninger, who wore a bright red shirt sold by the post with an American Flag printed on it, made a toast with all who sat around the bar, thanking the veterans older than he.
“Without any veterans, you’d have no country and with no veterans, there’s no freedom,” he said.
American Legion Post 1082 serves as almost a support group for local veterans and their families. “Having a house like this, a home like this, for veterans, by veterans, is a welcoming spot for many veterans coming back from the war front,” Wenninger said. “Be a veteran, be safe, talk to your brothers who went through hell and came back and did okay, better than OK, and prospered.”
“We went into battle together, let’s defuse together,” he added.
Like many businesses and organizations, the legion was deeply impacted by the pandemic. The post was unable to rent out its halls for parties and events as it usually did and now, although the events can take place, it must operate at limited capacity.
And while business has slowed, the bills have certainly not, Wenninger said. The monthly electricity bill is $400, on top of rent, cable and other bills. Members of the post have even returned to find that the lights were shut off.
Wenninger, who served in the Navy for six years after graduating from East Meadow High School in 1978, took over as commander in March, the same month that changed the lives of many Long Islanders.
“Covid hit and it hit hard,” he said, adding that the post was able to find some ways to save money during the pandemic when none was coming in.
Linda Heckman, madame president of the Women’s Auxiliary at the post, said all fundraisers and programs to help the veterans had to close down during much of last year. However, Heckman and fellow members did continue to check on members to ask if they needed anything.
“We’re trying to pick it up this year,” she said, referring to the fundraising efforts and programs. “We have money in our accounts so that we can make sure the food pantry, which is a very important thing, is full all the time.”
Helping to stay afloat, the post did receive fundraising support from local organizations like the East Meadow High School PTSA and was able to work on construction project during the pandemic.
“When we were in the service, we helped each other,” Wenninger said. “We didn’t look for outside help past that. We came home, we were taught not to ask for help. But at this point, especially with Covid, we’re asking for help.”
The post is currently looking to repair its bathrooms, the kitchen and the air conditioner.
“But all these things cost us money, time and energy,” Wenninger said. “So it’s great when the community backs us.”
The best way for the community to support the post, Wenninger said, is to first consider the American Legion Post 1082 when searching for a place to hold an event or party. Members of the community can also come down a buy a $25 locally produced t-shirt, simply donate or become a member, if they’re a veteran or are related to a veteran.
Richie Krug, the president of the East Meadow Chamber of Commerce, said the chamber often holds their events at the post, adding that it is a staple in the community.
Another staple is the Memorial Day Parade. Wenninger said he is in communications with the Town of Hempstead and Nassau County about holding a Memorial Day parade but so far, nothing is set in stone.
Last Memorial Day, members held socially distant services, but were unable to hold its annual parade. Wenninger said it was disappointing, but the right thing to do at the time.
“This year we’re hoping that a full parade will be allowed and that people will still stay socially distanced,” he said. “We’re hoping that the parade will come off, that people will still participate, that we’ll have marchers and that people will come out on our main street, Prospect Avenue.”
There could be less marchers than years past, Wenninger suggested, with social distanced maintained between them. “We’re hoping for a town permit,” he said. “Or maybe we’ll end up just doing a car, vehicle only parade at a very slow rate where people can still come out.”
The most important aspect of the day, he said, is that the soldiers who did not make it home are remembered.