In Calverton, many ways to remember on Memorial Day
On the day to remember Americans who died while in the armed forces, Michael G. Picerno motioned out toward 1,000 acres of freshly cut grass, thick-leafed trees and stone-colored grave markers, each adorned with a small American flag.
"Look around," said Picerno, Calverton National Cemetery's director. "There are more than 200,000 reasons to remember."
More than 1,500 people attended a ceremony at the vast, solemn cemetery for Memorial Day 2014. They listened to patriotic speeches, prayed with a group of mothers who lost a son or daughter in battle, and visited the burial place for a loved one sent to fight who never came home.
"I, as a mother, never forget," said Cyndi Ventura of Selden. "But it's important to know that others remember and honor their sacrifice."
Her son, Jerome D. Ventura, a Marine Corps corporal, died in California on April 23, 2011.
A little more than three years later, Ventura, president of the local chapter of the Blue Star Mothers, joined several other group members at the cemetery for Monday's observances. Blue Star Mothers is a nationwide support group for mothers of military personnel on deployment.
Ventura is also a member of Gold Star Mothers, a group for mothers whose sons or daughters died while in the military.
For Lynn Sheehy of Levittown and other Blue Star Mothers, who have children in the service, "it's not 'happy Memorial Day.' It's Memorial Day -- when we honor those who have sacrificed. It means everything."
Sheehy's son, Zachary Sheehy, a corporal in the Marine Corps, is serving at the U.S. Embassy in Bogota, Columbia. She hasn't seen him since March 2013.
She and other Blue Star Mothers described Memorial Day as another day to worry about their sons and daughters in uniform. The mothers keep phones charged and next to bedstands. They dread the prospect of the strange car that pulls up in front of the house. They look on Facebook's chat area for the green dot, which means their child is online and alive.
"You live for the green dot," said Sandy Seitz, of East Islip, whose 30-year-old son has been in the Air Force for eight years.
Hank Sipila, 82, a Korean War veteran who lives in Rocky Point, came to Calverton with his VFW chapter.
"We were the lucky ones," said Sipila, who worked in Army intelligence, referring to veterans who have made it home from far off battlefields. "I come here every year to appreciate those who didn't make it."