Jim Uvena, 100 years old, never will forget how harrowing and important it was to have driven a tank in France as a follow-up to D-Day.
Nor does the French government, whose president awarded Uvena the Chevalier of the Legion of Honor for helping to liberate that nation.
Nor do his family and friends in his lifelong home of Huntington, who honored him Thursday on the 75th anniversary of D-Day with a luncheon and a round of golf at Huntington Country Club.
“Scared? We were scared from the day we got over to France,” he said in an interview on the clubhouse patio. “But you know what? It was something that got built up into you and it was something that you had to do. You got so serious driving the tank, not knowing if any Germans were going to be there with bazookas.”
Back then, he had no idea if he would see his 26th birthday, let alone his 100th (March 23). He relished this homespun commemoration of D-Day, sitting at a table with May, his wife of 66 years, and two of their three sons (the other lives in Nevada) as well as close friends. Several other veterans stopped by. Uvena grew emotional when Huntington Town Councilman Mark Cuthbertson presented a proclamation in his honor.
Wearing a cap that said “12th Armored Division Association” on the front and “Hellcats” on the side, the veteran shared stories of waiting across the English Channel for the Normandy invasion to take place, of serving under General George Patton (“He came along with his little whip,” Uvena said), of serving in a division that captured 70,000 Nazi troops, of seeing the joy in gaunt faces of liberated prisoners at the Dachau concentration camp.
“There are some things you like to remember and some things you don’t,” he said. “When you were in the service and there were five men in the tank, you were closer than brothers and sisters.”
His unit’s post-D-Day work was so influential that French officials invited him to a ceremony at their New York embassy five years ago. “They tried to get ahold of everybody who was alive,” said his son Brian, former longtime wrestling coach at North Babylon. “He didn’t want to go because he didn’t think it was much, so they mailed it to him. It turns out it was their medal of honor. They said they’d be speaking German if these men didn’t do what they did.”
Holding the event at a golf course was fitting for the man whose first job — before he was a grocer, door-to-door vegetable salesman and liquor store owner — was as a caddie at the now-defunct Halesite Country Club. “I was 11 years old,” Uvena said. “We got 50 cents for nine holes, a dollar for 18.” He added that he carried for Tom Heeney, a boxer who once fought Gene Tunney for the heavyweight crown at Yankee Stadium.
On Thursday, the group played nine holes. Jerry Wood, the club member who organized the tribute, said Uvena was given the luxury of having to take no more than two putts on any hole — a last little salute on a day that everyone present will always remember.
Park returns a champion
Annie Park of Levittown, earner of many distinctions in her golf career, enjoyed a new honor this week. For the first time, she returned to an LPGA tournament as the defending champion. A year after she won the Shoprite LPGA Classic in Galloway, N.J., she was the featured guest at the first pre-event news conference.
“When I think about that day, I just remember making long putts, and I always think back and wish I could do that again,” she said. “But it's crazy. I mean, thankfully my family was there to witness it with me, and I think it was very memorable and just to look back on that Sunday.”
Seven years ago, she won the Nassau high school boys championship with a record score. Exactly one year later, she won the NCAA women’s individual title and led USC to the national championship.
Harry Benisatto, Village Club of Sands Point, 14th hole, 153 yards, 7-iron
Peter Kelly, Eisenhower Red, fifth hole, 150 yards, 9-iron
Holly Feinerman, Old Westbury Overlook, eighth hole, 140 yards, 5-hybrid
Michael Forte, Dix Hills GC, seventh hole, 121 yards, 7-iron
Suri Sun, Timber Point White, third hole, 136 yards, driver
Sam Ginzberg, Engineers CC, 14th hole, 116 yards, gap wedge
Chris Towers, Wheatley Hills GC, sixth hole, 220 yards, 4-iron
Thomas Berkery Jr., Wheatley Hills GC, eighth hole, 143 yards, 9-iron
Vic Longaro, Rolling Oaks GC, 10th hole, 10th hole, 135 yards, 8-iron
Evan Katz, Hamlet G&CC, eighth hole, 158 yards, 8-iron
Stephen Sheridan, Huntington Crescent Club, sixth hole, 177 yards, 3-wood