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Long IslandLI Life

A faraway war is felt on the homefront

When he took office in January 1969, President Richard Nixon talked about peace, and many Americans hoped for an end to the Vietnam War. "For the first time, because the people of the world want peace, and the leaders of the world are afraid of war," he said, "the times are on the side of peace."

Yet, by that summer - 19 years after the U.S. first sent military advisers to aid the French in South Vietnam - the war escalated. So, too, did the protests back home.

The death toll of Long Islanders told a grim story: 1965 - 8; 1966 - 48; 1967 - 125; 1968 - 156.

On June 19, Paul Little of Huntington Station was the 89th Long Islander killed in Vietnam in 1969, and the year was not yet half over.

Long Island's war deaths spanned communities from Garden City to Sag Harbor, but most were from working-class neighborhoods. In 1969, 118 Long Islanders lost their lives in Vietnam.

Sal Fiteni, now 63, of Lindenhurst, was one of the lucky ones who made it home. An Army private first class, he was there 10 months when he was shot by a sniper while he was getting off guard duty. He was sent to an Army hospital in the country, and then to a hospital aboard a naval ship, and then to one at a U.S. base in the Philippines.

"When I got home, I thought there was going to be a brass band meeting me," he said. Instead, the reception he got made him feel like "I was the bad guy."

For some at home, the tragedy was not the certainty of death but a mystery without resolution.

Darlene McPhee Simeone of Garden City was engaged to a Navy pilot. In 1969, she flew to San Diego to see him off as he left on an aircraft carrier for Vietnam. Soon after, he disappeared while flying back from a mission over the Ho Chi Minh Trail. His remains were never recovered.

Simeone eventually married and is now a grandmother.

"My life, my future, and my innocent view of the world," she said, "was forever changed."

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