Frank Soliwoda served his country during World War II.
Monday, at the Momentum at South Bay for Rehabilitation and Nursing in East Islip, where Soliwoda lives, staffers applauded as he received a citation from the New York State Assembly, honoring him as one of Long Island’s oldest veterans.
It was a scene like many other Veterans Day tributes at nursing homes across Long Island over the past several days — employees pausing to recognize the elderly Americans in their care, both men and women — who served in the armed forces.
“I am so excited by all of this,” said Soliwoda, 100, a World War II Army veteran who went ashore at Normandy to fight the Nazis, and took them on again later in the Battle of the Bulge.
Soliwoda is among the estimated 130,000 veterans living on Long Island. Out of the 18 million American veterans in 2018, half are older than 65, according to the United States Census Bureau.
Veterans Day originated as “Armistice Day” on Nov. 11, 1919, as America honored the first anniversary of World War I's end 12 months earlier. In 1954, Congress changed the name to “Veterans Day,” to honor all who served in the U.S. military.
Soliwoda entered the Army a year before the U.S.entered World War II after the Dec. 7, 1941, attack on Pearl Harbor by Japanese forces.
He survived the war, despite threats and mishaps that began even before he was of sight of his native Brooklyn.
As the troop ship carrying him to Europe left New York Harbor, it collided with another vessel, returned to dock as a precaution, and never caught up with the other ships in the protective convoy for the trans-Atlantic trip.
Chosen to participate in the bloody D-Day invasion of France, Soliwoda did not reach Normandy until the day after, sparing him the worst of the fighting.
He even survived the Battle of the Bulge, a desperate struggle in a brutal winter that veterans alive in 2018 who were there nearly 74 years ago often recall with dread.
“I don’t like to think about it,” Soliwoda said of the storied battle in late 1944 and early 1945 between allied forces and Adolf Hitler's German army.
He lowered his eyes, his voice grim.
“It was extremely cold,” Soliwoda said.
Joseph Siringo, 88, who also lives in the East Islip nursing home and served in the Army Air Corps, never saw combat. But just like every American who has worn a military uniform, he is a veteran, too.
Like many vets, Siringo said his military service gave him a broader view of the world than the one he had growing up in Bensonhurst.
He recalled taking a train west with about a dozen fellow recruits, when two of his comrades, who were African American, were refused service in the dining car.
“My military service taught me a lot of lessons, especially about prejudice,” said Siringo. “So we all ate together in the back of the train.”
Soliwoda served every day of the war, and remembers his reaction when word reached him that his nearly five years in the Army were over.
“Like everyone else, we threw our caps in the air, fired a salute, and wished everyone a good journey home,” he said. “Just surviving the war was a big plus.”