Tag Archive | "Roger King"

Group Helps Vets Adjust to Life on the Home Front

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Roger King, left, with Hunter, and Sean O’Donnell, with Kuno, are members of a new veterans support group in Sag Harbor.

By Stephen J. Kotz

U.S. Marine Lance Corporal Roger King was stationed at an outpost in Fallujah, Iraq, on July 31, 2006, when a patrol returning to the base was ambushed near the front gate. Lance Corporal King, who was nearby, ran to get his weapon to return fire. It was the last thing he remembered.

“I was hit by a sniper in the helmet,” said Mr. King, who was knocked unconscious by the bullet’s impact. After three days of medical treatment, he was back on duty, showing no apparent lingering effects from his head injury, and chalking up his lucky escape to his modern helmet.

But Mr. King, a Sag Harbor native, who had been planning to reenlist when his tour of duty ended, knew something was wrong several months later when, during a training mission, he had to play the role of a soldier who had been shot and killed by a sniper. “It led to me getting nightmares and the post-traumatic effects of getting shot,” he said.

Mr. King said he eventually concluded that he could not fulfill the duties expected of him as a marine and reluctantly chose to leave the service. Once back home, though, he continued to do battle with his nightmares and was eventually referred to Katherine Mitchell, a licensed clinical social worker, by a friend at the Veterans of Foreign Wars post in Sag Harbor.

“It became pretty clear, early on, that it was important to have something available to him, beyond just talking to me,” said Ms. Mitchell, who began meeting with Mr. King in June 2013 and thought he would benefit from talking about his readjustment to civilian life with fellow veterans.

After a little research, Ms. Mitchell discovered the PFC Joseph P. Dwyer Peer Support Project, a joint initiative of the Suffolk County Veterans Service Agency and the Suffolk County United Veterans.

The project is named after Joseph Dwyer, an army medic from Mt. Sinai, who, suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, committed suicide after his return from Iraq in 2008. The program, which was championed by State Senator Lee Zeldin, is funded by New York State and has now been expanded to a dozen counties statewide.

By September, the project had agreed to launch its first peer support group on the East End, one that now meets weekly at Ms. Mitchell’s Noyac office.

Although Ms. Mitchell said post-traumatic stress disorder is a major concern and that the number of veterans committing suicide has reached epidemic proportions—a recent Veterans Administration study found that as many as 22 veterans kill themselves each day—she stressed that the support group is available to serve all veterans.

“Anybody who serves in the military is changed by it, it’s a change of culture,” she said. “It’s not just about PTSD and guys freaking out. There are a lot of things to come to terms with while readjusting to civilian life.”

“With peer support, we are trying to provide an alternative to group therapy,” said Sean O’Donnell, a sergeant in the Army National Guard from Patchogue, who now serves as the facilitator of the Noyac/Sag Harbor group. “We are trying to catch the guys who fall through the net” and might not actively seek out more traditional forums to discuss their problems.

Mr. O’Donnell said he had his own difficulties readjusting to civilian life. In Iraq, he served on a security detail for convoys of 50 to 100 18-wheel semi-tractor trailers that would barrel from Kuwait into Iraq.

“We didn’t have a lot of fire fights, but there were plenty of close calls,” said Mr. O’Donnell. “Plus, there was the constant tension, the constant threat of a truck rolling over or getting blown up. My job was to sit up and be on the alert.”

When he got home, he found himself suffering from a condition known as hyper vigilence in which he would notice absolutely everything along the road, from the clothing other drivers were wearing to pieces of debris on the shoulder. It got to the point, he said, where he would make his wife drive and he would sit with his eyes closed in a fully reclined passenger seat to try to avoid the stress it caused.

Mr. O’Donnell, who now runs four different meetings in Suffolk County each week, said that another aspect of the PFC Joseph Dwyer Project is that the program is willing to offer veterans non-traditional services that run the gamut from yoga to acupuncture.

It just so happens that Ms. Mitchell shares office space with Mikal Gohring, an acupuncturist, who is offering free treatments to the members of the support group following a model that was developed by volunteers treating victims of Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans. Mr. Gohring said that many veterans the group in New Orleans treated for storm-related stress issues, raved about the results, leading it to expand its offerings.

“I’m looking forward to it growing,” he said, noting that he planned to offer demonstrations at the Sag Harbor VFW and American Legion.

Mr. O’Donnell, whose German short-haired pointer, Kuno, recently sired puppies, has added yet another offered to the mix in the form of a therapy dog program that he leads on weekends. One of his puppies, Hunter, will be going to Mr. King.

“We pretty much offer the whole spectrum,” said Mr. O’Donnell, “from alternative treatments to offering outings for guys who want to go out and go on fishing trips or go kayaking.”

There’s food too. Jordan’s Initiative, the charity started by JoAnn Lyles, whose son’s Jordan Haerter was killed in Iraq six years ago this week, delivers free meals to the veterans on meeting nights.

The director of the PFC Joseph P. Dwyer Peer Support Project, John Schulz, is also veteran, who served in the Marine Corps in Iraq.

“These guys are coming back, especially the reservists, with very little debriefing,” he said. “They are released back into the world and a year later they could be called right back up again.”

“The groups usually start by word of mouth, veterans talking to veterans,” he continued. There are now seven active groups in Suffolk County and he said he expected two or three more to be up and running by summer. “Sag Harbor seems to be a successful. We’d like to set them up in Southampton and East Hampton.”

Mr. Schulz said the project likes to keep the groups small. “We try not to have more than four or five guys,” he said. “One the group gets too big, people sit back and let the other people do the talking or they just get overwhelmed.”

“I do what I can, but this is really about peer support,” said Ms. Mitchell of the meetings at her office. “I’m always on the fringes of it.”

She added, though, that it’s not always just veterans. “They have had a couple of meetings where they have invited significant others so family members get an idea of what their loved ones have experienced.”

“It’s not just talking about your problems,” added Mr. King, who is training to become a facilitator himself as the program expands. “It’s about talking to other vets, bouncing ideas off of them, and pretty much the idea of having that best friend and comrade who is willing to say, ‘Hey, this is what works for me.’”

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.”