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Sag Harbor Heroes Honored During Veterans Day Celebrations

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By Tessa Raebeck; photography by Michael Heller

In annual Veterans Day celebrations this week, Sag Harbor residents recognized that honoring village veterans is a year round duty, not a daylong event. Whether by visiting a monument, putting up a plaque or rubbing a gravestone, veterans and community members work to celebrate our heroes throughout the year, and those efforts were officially recognized with commemorative events Monday.

From Cub Scouts to World War II veterans, troops in uniform kicked off the holiday at the annual Veterans Day Parade through Sag Harbor Village Monday morning. After the parade, government officials and honored servicemen gathered outside the American Legion Chelberg and Battle Post 388 on Bay Street. Following speeches, about 40 residents headed over to the Ferry Road Cemetery in North Haven to hear village historian Joe Zaykowski present a lecture on the cemetery restoration and the lives of veterans resting there.

VFW Commander Roger King addresses the crowd at the American Legion

VFW Commander Roger King addresses the crowd at the American Legion.

At the American Legion Hall, Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 9082 Commander Roger King, who served two terms in Iraq, spoke of veterans’ “sacrifice for the common good,” and the symbolic significance of this year’s restoration of the federal holiday to November 11.

Veterans Day is always observed on November 11; however, in 2012, for example, the official federal holiday fell on November 12 because it was a Monday. King recognized the significance of the holiday returning to November 11 as it coincides with Armistice Day, which marks the settlement signed at the end of World War I on “the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month” of 1918.

Post Commander Marty Knab said the day’s events were intended not only to thank those who fought in battle, but also to thank and honor all who have served honorably in the military in any capacity, be it wartime or peacetime. While recognizing the ultimate sacrifice of those killed in battle, Knab hoped to also underscore the fact that all who served have made huge sacrifices for their country.

“Not all veterans have seen war,” Knab told the crowd. “But a common bond that they share is an oath in which they express their willingness to die defending this nation. Perhaps most significant in preserving our way of life are the battles that America does not have to fight, because those who wish us harm slink away in fear of the Coast Guard cutter, the Navy aircraft carrier, the Air Force Fighter Squadron, or the Army soldier on patrol.”

“Our country finds these men and women in the many small communities around our country, like our own Village of Sag Harbor,” he continued.

World War II Veteran Robert Riskin speaks in front of the American Legion

World War II Veteran Robert Riskin speaks in front of the American Legion.

Local writer and World War II veteran Robert Riskin, whose officer encouraged him to pursue a writing career, spoke of his visit in September to the World War II monument in Washington, D.C. Riskin’s trip was facilitated by the Honor Flight Network, an organization that honors veterans by transporting them to visit their memorials.

“I was not very excited about going,” admitted Riskin. “And then I thought, ‘Well, it’s free…so what the hell? I’ll try it.’”

Accompanied by Knab, Riskin enjoyed a motorcycle escort, bagpipe serenade and a welcoming reception from Naval Academy plebes on the daylong trip to Washington.

“I almost broke down, it was just such an incredible feeling of love,” he said, adding, “the memorial itself is just about one of the most fantastic things you’ll ever see … the emotions that it brings up are very, very strong.”

After the veterans’ speeches, New York State Assemblyman Fred W. Thiele, Jr. presented a proclamation, “the state’s highest honor,” he noted, to Sag Harbor Village Mayor Brian Gilbride and dockmaster David Thommen commemorating Sag Harbor’s heroic moment in the War of 1812. Two hundred years ago in July 1813, British troops stationed off the Long Island coast attempted to invade and pillage the small seaside village of Sag Harbor, as they had done to countless towns across the island. Greeted by a group of residents and militiamen on shore, the British quickly retreated, recognizing that whatever goods they could plunder were not worth a battle against the spirited community.

New York State Assemblyman Fred Thiele, Southampton Town Supervisor Anna Throne-Holst, Justice Julia Schiavoni, Sag Harbor Mayor Brian Gilbride and Sag Harbor Village Board Trustee Ed Deyermond honored David Thommen (second from right) for his work restoring the monument honoring the site of a Revolutionary War fort in Sag Harbor

Local officials honor Village Dockmaster David Thommen (second from right).

“We repelled the British. They never returned again until the British invasion of 1964,” Thiele joked, referring to The Beatles.

The assemblyman spoke of his own childhood playing around the old fort on High Street, but he never knew the story behind it.

“We all know it today and it’s because of the single-handed volunteer efforts of David Thommen,” said Thiele of the village dockmaster, who revitalized the fort – and the community’s knowledge of its own heroism — by dedicating a plaque and raising a flag there last July.

“This is about the veterans from the first militias in 1620 to the returning soldiers today,” said Thommen, accepting the proclamation.

Following the ceremony, North Haven Village Historian Joe Zaykowski gave a presentation to a crowd at the Ferry Road Cemetery on Route 114. Zaykowski successfully restored the gravestones there and, in doing so, unearthed the stories of some of North Haven’s earliest residents.

North Haven Village Historian Joe Zaykowski

North Haven Village Historian Joe Zaykowski at the grave of Revolutionary War Veteran John Payne, Sr.

Zaykowski spoke of the life and lineage of John Payne, Sr., a veteran of both the colonial French and Indian War and the Revolutionary War, who died 200 years ago in November 1813 and was laid to rest on Ferry Road. Payne’s gravestone was ineligible, cracked and scattered until Zaykowski’s restoration.

Zaykowski spoke extensively on the history of North Haven, with specific knowledge of lineages, burial techniques and even houses — several of which remain in the village today. His brother-in-law, Philip Reynolds, played period music from the Revolutionary War era on his saxophone.

In 1781, Payne received nine pounds, 19 shillings and one penny for his service in the Revolutionary War, according to Zaykowski.

“I cannot tell you that John Payne was a so-called war hero,” Zaykowski, himself a veteran of the Vietnam War, told the crowd. “That’s not important; He served his country, served it well I’m sure.”

In attendance to hear Zaykowski’s talk was Alexandra Binder, who lives on Shelter Island with her fiancé Beau Payne, a direct descendant of John Payne. Eager to learn more of her new family’s extensive local history, Binder was ecstatic to have the aid of Zaykowski, who has traced the Payne’s lineage all the way back to England prior to the colonization of America.

Veterans Day Events Planned in Sag Harbor

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By Tessa Raebeck; photography by Michael Heller

Two hundred years after British troops attempted unsuccessfully to invade the small coastal village during the War of 1812, Sag Harbor will celebrate those who have defended it ever since with several events around town this Veterans Day.

At 9 a.m. Monday, November 11, the annual Veterans Day Parade will head from the Civil War Monument down Main Street and onto Bay Street, with an observance at the American Legion Hall immediately following.

The featured speakers, Roger King, Marty Knab and Robert Riskin, range in age from 28 to 86, but, having served in our armed services, they share an experience few can understand.

After graduating from Pierson High School, King served in the Marine Corps from 2005 to 2009, during which he completed two combat tours in Iraq. In 2012, he became the youngest commander ever appointed to lead Sag Harbor’s Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 9082.

Marty Knab is the Commander of the American Legion Chelberg and Battle Post 388 and an organizer of the Veterans Day commemorations. He served for 20 years in the Coast Guard.

The final veteran speaker is Robert Riskin, 86, who was drafted to World War II when he was 18 and completed basic training, although he was fortunate enough not to see combat firsthand.

Following the speakers, State Assemblyman Fred W. Thiele, Jr. will present a proclamation to Mayor Brian Gilbride and Dockmaster David Thommen honoring Sag Harbor’s heroic moment in the War of 1812 in commemoration of the 200th anniversary of the battle that took place in Sag Harbor, which was celebrated this July.

According to an official report written by General Abraham Rose, five barges carrying British troops landed in Sag Harbor on July 11, 1813. The barges were positioned off Long Island’s coast with the intent of blocking trade coming out of New York City. Lacking supplies on the stationed barges, the British troops would routinely invade, pillage and burn villages across Long Island.

When the British approached Sag Harbor’s shore, according to General Rose, they were greeted with “a reception so warm and spirited from our militia that they abandoned the operation and retreated.”

Due to the heroism of its residents, Sag Harbor was spared the fate endured by the island’s other villages.

Also on Monday, a different 200-year anniversary will be commemorated. North Haven Village historian and Vietnam veteran Joe Zaykowski will celebrate his restoration of the Ferry Road Cemetery, and the anniversary on which John Payne, Sr. was laid to rest in it.

A veteran of both the French and Indian War and the Revolutionary War, Payne was a resident yeoman (gentleman farmer) in North Haven. His father was among the first settlers of North Haven and his grandson built the hamlet’s first bridge.

“[Payne’s] stone was broken in half and it was quite illegible,” said Zaykowski, adding that due to his restoration, the cemetery is “quite spiffy now.”

Starting at 10 a.m., Zaykowski will give a brief talk on Payne, as well as his connections to those buried around him. Refreshments will be served and period music from the Revolutionary War days will be played.

Payne died on November 1, 1813, so “the timing is really awesome,” said Zaykowski, who was born and raised in Sag Harbor and co-authored a book on the early history of North Haven with his mother, Dorothy Ingersoll Zaykowski.

The celebration will also honor two other North Haven veterans from the period: Joseph Trowel, who was captured and held prisoner during the Revolutionary War, and Constance Havens II, who, along with Payne, is one of only two veterans from the hamlet to fight in both the French and Indian War and the Revolutionary War.

“I know the Payne family history and the Trowels and Havens as well as I do my own genealogy,” said Zaykowski, who first became interested in Payne while working on the cemetery restoration.

“Just discovering who’s stone that was over there that was so neglected and forgotten,” he explained, “I thought it would be nice to bring that to the surface again. Being a veteran myself, I thought that would be cool.”

Some Vets Not Benefit Savvy

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By Annette Hinkle


It used to be that when soldiers came home from the war, they knew what programs were out there for them. That was particularly true in the decades after W.W.II, when money for college, disability benefits and medical care through Veterans Administration (VA) facilities were widely available.

While those programs still exist, the truth is, there are many more benefits available today than veterans may realize. And things change quickly — from revised eligibility guidelines to innovative services, staying abreast of what’s current can be time consuming and overwhelming.

That’s why Marty Knab, Commander of the Chelberg and Battle Post 388, American Legion in Sag Harbor, has arranged a forum at the legion for next Wednesday. From healthcare to pension plans and programs for seniors, representatives from various organizations will be on hand to offer information at the federal, state, county and town level that could make a difference in the life of a veteran.

Knab, who served for 20 years in the Coast Guard, understands the need. He once had his own preconceived notion of what veterans benefits meant.

“They’ve had VA healthcare for a long time, but when I was in active duty, I thought for most eligibility you had to have been shot in the war, or lost a leg or arm — which was not the case.”

Knab hopes that all veterans and their families will stop by the legion next Wednesday to see what’s there for them.

“This is not just for legion veterans,” he says. “This is for regular guys who were in the service. Now they’re out and working, with no time to be part of the organization. They don’t realize what the government offers. You have to be in the know.”

Among those coming to Sag Harbor next Wednesday will be JoAnne Anderson, RN, MSN, FNP, the East End Health Coordinator for the Northport VA Medical Center which operates three community based outpatient clinics across Suffolk County, including one at the Westhampton Air Base. Anderson will bring information on veterans healthcare options to the legion, and she notes that on May 2, the Westhampton clinic will relocate to the County Center in Riverhead where it will offer expanded hours and a location easily accessible by public transportation.

“We have enjoyed the liaison on the military base, it’s been a wonderful experience, but we were only able to provide care there three days a week,” she explains, noting that the Riverhead clinic will eventually be open five or six days a week with some evening hours.

Also attending Wednesday’s forum will be Jonathan Spier from the Long Island State Veterans Home who will share information about his facility, which cares for veterans nearing the end of their lives.

“We’re different than the VA which is a federal hospital system,” explains Spier. “ We are a nursing home owned and operated by the state in partnership with the state.”

Spier notes his facility is unique among veterans nursing homes in that it is associated with Stony Brook University medical system.

“We’re a teaching nursing home. We have healthcare students and future health care leaders in our building. We really are full service. Our residents are getting the latest in advancements and cutting edge technology,” says Spier who notes that the vast majority of the facility’s 350 beds are occupied by the World War II generation.

“These guys left service at 19 or 20 and didn’t think about nursing homes or benefits down the road. Our facility is a special place for a special population,” adds Spier who hopes to reach those making the healthcare decisions in the family — often the adult sons and daughters of veterans.

“There are a lot of programs out there veterans don’t know about,” agrees Bob Hopkins, Suffolk County Veterans Service officer who will bring information on a federal and state programs to the legion including death or burial benefits and low income pensions for surviving spouses.

Hopkins notes that among recent changes in programs for younger vets is the education benefit, which has been expanded. He explains that veterans now have 15 years to use the program after leaving the service, instead of four years.

“It covers on the job training, pilot training, books and housing. It’s a great program,” says Hopkins. “It’s nice to see Marty having this. It’s good to get the word out.”

The workshop for veterans, surviving spouses and grown children of aging veterans will be held on Wednesday, April 20 from 7 to 9 p.m. at the Chelberg and Battle Post 388, American Legion on Bay Street in Sag Harbor. For more information call 725-9759.