Honoring Long Island's veterans

World Ware II veteran E. Mc Kelvin, left,

World Ware II veteran E. Mc Kelvin, left, and Vietnam War veteran John Sharpe in North Amityville. (Feb. 21, 2012) (Credit: Heather Walsh)

On its website the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs says Nov. 11 is "a celebration to honor America's veterans for their patriotism, love of country, and willingness to serve and sacrifice for the common good."

Long Island is home to thousands of veterans, men and women who have served and fought in conflicts spanning the decades, including the nation's most recent wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Though outwardly proud of their service, some veterans have been unwilling to share that part of their lives with loved ones and have spent years guarding the details from those closest to them.

Kristine McDonald, whose father, Rick Serynek, 64, served in Vietnam, finally managed this past July to draw his military past into the light.

"My father and I have an incredible amount of things in common," she wrote, "including a deep-rooted stubbornness and a small set of patience."

For years she had not pressed her father, who grew up and still resides in Huntington, about his Army service. He enlisted in 1968 and was a helicopter crew chief. But in July during a visit to Long Island from her home in Warrenton, Va., she said her "acceptance of my father's silence changed." McDonald, 38, asked him about his time in Vietnam and the day he was injured in a helicopter accident, and, to her surprise, she said he sat down with her and her younger sister and began to answer their questions.

She learned that the helicopter he was aboard was hit by a rocket-propelled grenade and that the subsequent explosion sent her father tumbling 50 feet to the ground. He lost his right eye, sustained multiple fragment wounds over his entire body and had several metal plates sewn into his head. Doctors treating him in Vietnam sent a Western Union cable to his parents telling them their son might not survive.

"It is difficult to express through written word the change I felt in emotion toward my father after learning what happened to him in Vietnam," McDonald wrote. "For my whole life, he had just been my dad -- a simple and regular person. . . . That day in July was the end of my conversation with my father about his time in Vietnam, but it was the beginning of a new measure of respect for a man and a soldier that I'm proud to call my dad."

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