Veterans from around Oyster Bay and the surrounding communities gathered at the Life Enrichment Center on Nov. 10 to enjoy a meal with their comrades-in-arms at the center’s first Veterans Day Celebration since the coronavirus pandemic began. Veterans, their spouses and members of auxiliary groups were treated to a fine meal, a chance to relax and chat and a ceremony honoring the service of the brave men and women of the United States’ armed forces.
Veterans from World War II to Vietnam were greeted and signed in as they walked through the doors of the Life Enrichment Center. Many of them are familiar faces there, where they come for exercise, food and companionship during the rest of the year.
Among them was Dr. Richard Heinl of Syosset, a World War II Army veteran of the 94th Infantry Division, who fought on the Western Front in France and all the way through to Germany.
According to Heinl, he didn’t even realize that the center was holding a Veterans Day celebration that day. He just came in for lunch as he always does and was pleasantly surprised to find not just a Veterans Day party, but that he was the “Veteran of Honor” of the event, with a poster of his image and a brief recounting of his service standing in pride of place in the lunch hall.
“This is my senior center,” Heinl explained. “I was just coming in to eat, and all of a sudden I see this big picture of me over there and all these other veterans, so it’s pretty nice.”
Around 30 veterans, spouses and auxiliary members attended the lunch and ceremony, coming from Oyster Bay, East Norwich, Bayville and Roslyn Harbor. Some were members of their local American Legion and Veterans of Foreign Wars posts, while others hadn’t served but were members of auxiliary groups, which help organize and raise money for veterans’ organizations and are often composed of the children and relatives of veterans.
Several, such as Marine Corps veteran Joseph Messina, of Oyster Bay, expressed their appreciation to the Life Enrichment Center for their thoughtfulness in putting together such an event.
“It’s very nice that the locals honor their veterans,” Messina said. “This is the third year I’ve been here, and they’ve always done a really lovely job.”
Before lunch was served there was a brief ceremony led by Mary Frignani, from the Life Enrichment Center. She pointed out a lone table that sat in the center of the room, which she explained was the remembrance table, which is set up in honor of those brave men and women who either never made it home or had subsequently died and couldn’t join the festivities.
This was followed by a poem read by Katherine Gibson of Bayville, the editor of a resource manual for veterans and their caregivers called “Operation – Initiative.” Although not a veteran nor a member of an auxiliary organization, Gibson has spent the last 15 years of her life compiling information that helps veterans get access to support groups and resources.
The poem was entitled “A Soldier’s Faith,” and highlighted the dogged determination of veterans to keep their country safe against all the odds and challenged non-veterans to consider the incredible depths of their sacrifice.
“The question is to you, my people,” Gibson intoned. “How long will it take you to understand a soldier’s faith?”
The veterans where then each honored for their service in various wars, specifically World War II, Korea and Vietnam. The assembled group then sang the National Anthem, before digging into a delicious meal surrounded by family, comrades and the spirits of those whose memories they carry with them.