Tom Fitzgerald was the last to arrive and the last to leave the annual Korean War Memorial Ceremony in Massapequa Park on Sunday.
As the veterans and spectators - about 150 in total - filed out of the small memorial park for a luncheon to follow the ceremony, Fitzgerald remained and took a moment to gaze quietly at the wreaths that had been left there to honor the veterans.
“I didn’t know this was happening,” said the 59-year-old Massapequa Park resident. “I was just out riding my bike and I saw this going on and I thought I would stop and pay my respects.”
Even though his father was a Korean War veteran, Fitzgerald said he didn’t know that this week was the 59th anniversary of the signing of the armistice that ended the fighting during the Korean War.
Fitzgerald said his father, also Thomas Fitzgerald, rarely discussed his experience, but since he died a few years ago, Fitzgerald has been learning more and more about the horrors his father must have seen.
As he came upon the memorial service on Sunday, he couldn’t help but cry.
“It’s pretty emotional,” said Fitzgerald, who has six brothers and sisters. “Anything that touches on what he went through, and also what’s going on today in the world, it’s very sensitive to us.”
Richard Begandy, commander of the Peter F. Colleran VFW Post 7763, who began organizing the annual memorial service when he became commander in 2004, said the Korean War is widely called “The Forgotten War,” which this ceremony aims to change.
“This war started in 1950, World War II ended in 1945,” said Begandy, 76, a Korean War veteran himself. “It just seemed America had enough of war.”
Though he said Korea veterans were not treated as badly as Vietnam veterans upon returning from war, they experienced many of the same horrors of battle, which still went mostly unnoticed. He said the war rarely made the news, and plays a small role in modern history books.
Richard Magee, 79, of Massapequa Park, fought in Korea for two years with the U.S. Army, and said he knows that they did something very special for this country and others around the world.
“What we did was keep communism from spreading,” he said.
At the ceremony, Magee read a poem he’s cherished for years that he said perfectly describes what it was like to be in the war. It was written by an unknown soldier stationed in Korea.
“No one cares if we’re living, no one gives a damn,” Magee read from the poem. “So we are the sons forgotten, though we belong to Uncle Sam.”
Begandy said as he stood at his community’s modest Korean War memorial Sunday, listened to the poem read by Magee, and looked at the faces of all those that had gathered, he felt humbled.
“When I look out at these men and flash in my mind to when they were young -- when I was young -- and what they did,” he said, mentioning the veterans from each war. “I thank God for them, otherwise this country would be not what it is today.”