Nassau County American Legions honor active-duty aviators at Military Ball

Rockville Centre veterans with Post 303 attend countywide celebration


American Legion veterans and auxiliary members all across Nassau County — including members of Post 303 in Rockville Centre — gathered at Leonard’s Palazzo in Great Neck on Saturday for the annual Military Ball and Post Commander’s Night.

This year’s celebration marked the first time that the American Legions of Nassau County hosted the 69th annual Valor Awards presentation for active duty service members of the American Legion Aviators’ Post No. 743.

The program also acknowledged several distinguished guests, including Department Commander Timothy Collmer, Vice Commander Michael Rodriguez, 10th District Commander James Trainor, Nassau County Commander Sean Hood, Suffolk County Commander Kenneth Dolan, Queens County Commander Casey Bileris and Nassau County Legionnaire of the Year Al Ficalora of Baldwin Post 246.

Members of the American Legion Auxiliary — the world’s largest women’s patriotic service organization — the Sons of the American Legion and the American Legion Riders were also recognized for their contributions and service.

The first Valor Award was presented in 1953 to United States Air Force General Henry “Hap” Arnold for his leadership during World War II.

Since then, it has become an annual tradition to recognize military aviators who performed a feat of valor, as determined by the Chief of Staff of each of the U.S. Armed Forces.

In recognition of their accomplishments in the line of duty, this year’s Military Ball and Post Commander’s night event recognized three esteemed aviators — U.S. Coast Guard Lt. Commander Zachary Bowers, U.S. Marine Corps and Coast Guard Lt. Lars Anderson, and U.S. Air Force Captain David C. Bennett — for their distinguished acts of valor.

Bowers, a fleet standardization flight examiner and instructor pilot from Sacramento, California, was presented with the 2019 Aviator Valor Award for a Medevac rescue in Dutch Harbor, Alaska, where he and his crew helped transport a 60-year-old man with respiratory failure and high-risk morbidly obese pregnant female who was at risk of bleeding out if she went into labor despite poor visibility, high winds, heavy rain and engine anti-ice failure. Both individuals were successfully transported to a hospital in Anchorage. The 60-year-old man was later diagnosed with tuberculosis. Had he not been transported to the hospital, he would have died. 

Anderson served with both the U.S. Marine Corps and U.S. Coast Guard as a flight instructor pilot. He was presented with the 2020 Aviator Valor Award for a non-maritime Medevac rescue of two men in Dutch Harbor, Alaska. Throughout the course of his military career he has accrued more than 5,500 flight hours and has received five Humanitarian Service Medals and numerous commendations for his service. He currently works as a commercial airline pilot and resides in Tennessee, with his wife, Kelly, and four kids Bengt, Hannah, Annika and Linnea.

Bennett, the operations flight commander of the 40th Helicopter Squadron at the Malmstrom Air Force Base in Montana, is a UH-1N pilot in support of nuclear defense operations. He was presented with the 2022 Aviator Valor Award for a search and rescue mission where he rescued an elderly man, who was suffering from a severe medical emergency in his remote mountain cabin. Bennett calculated an optimal fuel state to allow the crew to have largest amount of power to affect the rescue, which proved critical as whiteout and downdraft conditions in the landing zone required maximum torque available for takeoff. Coordinating with local emergency services, Bennett set up a transfer at the international airport, due to the inability to offload at Benefis Hospital. He has served as a resource advisor, chief of scheduling, executive officer and currently holds the rank of instructor pilot.

Hundreds of veterans and their families across Nassau County celebrated the accomplishments of these three men, who in the face of danger, showed unparalleled bravery and expertise.