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Veterans honored in spirit of Martin Luther King Jr. in Wheatley Heights

Charles Dawson, 67, of Wyandanch, receives a citation

Charles Dawson, 67, of Wyandanch, receives a citation and a pin from Pleshette Shelton, president of the community service-based sorority Sigma Psi Omega, which held a recognition ceremony for local veterans in honor of Martin Luther King Day at VFW Post 2912 in Wheatley Heights. (Jan. 21, 2013) Credit: Erin Geismar

The sight was familiar. Men and women in their freshly pressed military uniforms and Veterans of Foreign Wars patches walked proudly up to a line of people who presented them with tokens of their appreciation and thanked them for their service.

Typically, the scene unfolds in May or July or November, when this country pauses to remember those who have been lost at war, celebrate its own freedom and honor veterans who have worked to protect it.

But Monday, in honor of legendary peacemaker Martin Luther King, Jr., a group gathered at the Wheatley Heights VFW Post 2912 to spend time with veterans and express their gratitude.

Sigma Psi Omega, the local arm of the national Alpha Kappa Alpha sorority, joined about 50 veterans for lunch at the VFW on Monday before presenting them with citations for their service from Islip and Babylon towns and Suffolk County.

“Today we are honoring our veterans in many different ways,” said Michelle Richards, 33, first vice president of Sigma Psi Omega, a community-service sorority. “We thought it was very appropriate, in honor of Martin Luther King, a man who gave of himself and who was a servant leader.”

Richards of Wheatley Heights, along with Suffolk County Legislator DuWayne Gregory and Babylon Town Councilwoman Jackie Gordon, handed out the citations. Richards also presented a citation to Gordon, who recently returned home from Afghanistan, where she served her fourth tour of duty with the U.S. Army Reserves.

Gordon, who is also a member at the Wheatley Heights VFW post, told the crowd that she was proud to be associated with the other veterans, especially those who suffered after returning home from Vietnam or were “forgotten” after Korea.

“The whole face of how veterans are viewed has changed,” she said. “I just want to thank you, especially Vietnam veterans and Korean veterans, it’s on your shoulders that I stand.”

Anthony W. Ruff, 51, of Wheatley Heights and a service officer for Wheatley Heights VFW Post 2912, said the fact that the event took place on MLK Day made it special.

“For this particular occasion on this holiday, it seemed to be that much more appropriate being a day of service and the theme being honoring America’s veterans based on what they’ve done for this country,” said Ruff, a sergeant who has served three tours in the Middle East with the Army and the Army Reserves. “It really makes a difference. It makes it that much more of a special occasion.”

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