Hank Sendlein remembers fighting in Normandy during World War II. And he remembers, with sadness, losing a colleague there within a week of the war's end.
On Friday, the 85-year-old from Wantagh was one of 17 Long Island veterans of World War II, Vietnam and Korea honored with New York State Service Medals at a ceremony at Merrick Library. It was hosted by state Assemb. David McDonough (R-Merrick).
Sendlein, who also fought under Gen. George Patton during the Battle of the Bulge, received the New York State Conspicuous Service Cross, and was elated by the recognition.
"I never knew that I could receive an award like this and it was a pleasant surprise when I found out," he said, saying how touched he felt when contacted by the assemblyman's office.
After his discharge, Sendlein went to college and graduated from the Pratt Institute with a degree in advertising/design. He remained in the business in New York City until retirement in 1994. "It was like being in the Yankees," Sendlein said of the thrill he experienced during his time in advertising.
Two other veterans, Roy Bronnekant, 61, of Levittown, a parachute rigger for the Navy during the Vietnam War, and George Brooks, of Bellmore, also received their high school diplomas at the ceremony. They had been unable to complete them when they were teenagers because they went off to war. Bronnekant was also awarded the state Medal of Merit.
Richard DeLucia, 67, also of Levittown, who served five years in the Marines and later in the Naval Reserve as well as 20 years for the Coast Guard, was awarded the Conspicuous Service Star. He welcomed the recognition for himself and the others, saying it was "well-earned."
Pete Kuchar, 60, of Bellmore, described the awards ceremony as a "very nice gesture," adding he "never expected anything like this." He received the Medal of Merit and Conspicuous Service Star. He fought in Vietnam in 1970 and 1971.
McDonough, a North Merrick Coast Guard and Air Force veteran, hopes to start a tradition by hosting yearly ceremonies honoring Long Island war veterans. "What we did gave them a good feeling," he said. "I could see that in their faces."