The late May sun beat down over a somber ceremony at Calverton National Cemetery on Memorial Day as more than 1,000 people came to remember those who made the ultimate sacrifice while serving their country.
A wreath was dedicated to Louis Bonacasa of Coram, a staff sergeant with the New York Air National Guard 105th Base Defense Squadron who was killed by a suicide bomber near Bagram Airfield in Afghanistan in 2015. The presence of his parents, wife and daughter at the somber one-hour event served as a reminder that while the day honors losses throughout American history, some wounds are still fresh.
“Memorial Day is about honoring our fallen,” said U.S. Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley), a U.S. Army veteran and one of the afternoon’s speakers. “How incredibly powerful is it that our Gold Star families are here with us today in our presence to let us know firsthand that they are aware of our love for them.”
Kelly Sullivan, the granddaughter of Albert Leo Sullivan, the youngest of five brothers killed in action while serving aboard the USS Juneau during World War II, delivered the keynote address. Sullivan stressed that the sacrifices made by her grandfather and his brothers — who were in part the inspiration for the 1998 Steven Spielberg film “Saving Private Ryan” — were for a greater good.
“My great-grandmother [Alleta Sullivan], the thing that she said that I always think about is, ‘my boys did not die in vain,’” said Kelly Sullivan, an elementary school teacher from Waterloo, Iowa. “And that is something that is so important.”
The brothers, George, Francis, Joseph, Madison and Albert, all died after the ship was struck by a Japanese torpedo on November 13, 1942. Although some have questioned why the U.S. Navy would allow the brothers to serve together, Kelly Sullivan said the young men had insisted on it.
“They wanted to be together,” Kelly Sullivan said. “That’s important for people to know. Those five boys chose to be together because of their love of family.”
The Sullivans’ story made Patricia Thiessen of the Bronx think about her late husband Dennis, a Vietnam War veteran who died last month and was buried at the Calverton cemetery.
“One [loss] was so significant, I can’t imagine losing five,” she said, adding, “I miss him.”
Sal Neglia of Ronkonkoma, who has attended the event every year since 1990, said the life of family friend Keith Bishop was on his mind during Monday’s ceremony. Bishop of Medford was an Army Green Beret who was killed in 2009 following a helicopter crash in western Afghanistan.
“I think about him every day,” said Neglia, who served in the Army and was stationed in Germany from 1971 through 1973. “That hit me really bad.”