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Northport celebration honors wounded vets

Bill Hannigan of Northport, awaits his turn in

Bill Hannigan of Northport, awaits his turn in the Big Mable, one of the water tubes that were donated during the Cow Harbor Warrior Weekend in Northport. (September 8, 2012) Credit: Johnny Milano

Even a threatened tornado couldn't stop a celebration in Northport on Saturday honoring more than two dozen wounded veterans.

The Cow Harbor Warrior Weekend kicked off with a parade Friday night and culminated in a clambake at Crab Meadow Beach last night.

Saturday, about 700 people laced up for a 4-mile morning fun run. Dozens participated in golf and fishing tournaments; 100 more flocked to Steers Beach to show their support.

Twenty-six veterans, joined by their families, swam, innertubed, barbecued and kayaked.

Rocco Donnino, of Northport, said he and other Cow Harbor Warriors organizers wanted to "go big or not at all" in staging the new community event.

"Now that one war is over and one is winding down, to me it's never enough to just say 'thank you,' " he said.

Cow Harbor Warriors, a Northport-based veterans support group, worked with the national Wounded Warrior Project and its health and wellness coordinator, Bill Hannigan, to bring veterans from the tri-state area to Long Island.

Donnino said any money left over will be donated to Wounded Warriors.

Hannigan, an Army vet from Ronkonkoma who lost the use of his legs in a 1995 car crash, underscored the importance for veterans and their spouses of talking to others who understand what they're going through.

"I think anyone put in harm's way in conflict will have some form of PTSD," Hannigan said.

James Van Thach, a retired Army captain from Queens, was severely wounded in an explosion and rocket attack in Iraq. Van Thach, 36, who came home to New York City and felt alone, said: "The darkest days was me alone on the subway in the city, not knowing where I was going, contemplating suicide . . ."

But Van Thach said he's found needed support in the Wounded Warrior Project and at the Northport Veterans Affairs Medical Center.

"The camaraderie I feel -- it's like a university alumni association, like a fraternity," he said. "It just feels good being with fellow vets."

Jaime West, of Bayonne, N.J., said she was "astounded" by the community support for her husband, Joseph, who was medically discharged from the Army after serving in Iraq.

"It wasn't like somebody died, it was just to honor him, and it was very special," she said.


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