Martin C. Evans

Archive for February, 2011|Monthly archive page

Vets Hammer Mangano for Yngstrom’s Ouster

In Uncategorized on February 28, 2011 at 12:15 am

Saying politics rather than qualifications led to the ouster of Veterans Service Agency director Pat Yngstrom, veterans from across Nassau County plan to descend on the Nassau County Legislature in Mineola at 10 a.m. today (Feb. 28) to voice their displeasure.

Veteran leaders said Yngstrom had run a competent agency that has aggressively helped veterans identify and apply for unclaimed benefits, and which has successfully organized volunteers and solicited donations to help veterans get needed services.

Veteran leaders say competence within the agency is crucial to helping the thousands of troops who are battling PTSD, joblessness, family problems and other challenges after returning to Long Island from Afghanistan and Iraq.

One vet leader, who asked not to be identified by name, expressed dismay at the thin resume of Mangano’s choice for Yngstrom’s replacement, Michael Kilbride, and wondered pointedly whether Kilbride’s family ties to Republican Party boss Joe Mondello is the real reason for Kilbride’s sudden ascension.

Kilbride has no college degree and no management experience, according to his resume. He worked under Yngstrom as a veterans claims counselor, a job he has held since the mid-90s. Before that, he served a single enlistment in the Marines, during which he served in Desert Storm.

In contrast, another counselor in the agency is a bilingual graduate of Texas A&M and former Army Ranger with deployments to both Iraq and Afghanistan, who was hired two years ago to run the agency’s jobs program. The counselor is working on a masters degree in public administration at Baruch College.

But an aide to County Executive Ed Mangano, Brian Nevin, said the executive chose to oust Yngstrom because Mangano does not consider Yngstrom to be a competent manager.

Nevin forwarded to Newsday what Nevin said was a transcript of a Dec. 15, 2005 e-mail to Yngstrom from John W. Kavanaugh, an American Legion officer who oversees the Legion’s claims handling operation at the Veterans Administration office in downtown Manhattan.

In the e-mail, Kavanaugh said paperwork Yngstrom’s office had prepared on behalf of veterans was so filled with errors that it was slowing American Legion claims processors who worked on them in the VA’s Manhattan office.

“We are e-mailing your office almost daily with questions, corrections and omissions on the submissions,” the e-mail read. “Another concern is the responses are not timely…”

Nevin said no other member of the agency staff had expressed interest in the $82,000 per year job, and that Mangano had not searched outside the agency for a possible replacement because he wanted to encourage the staff to seek promotions.

Nevin dismissed assertions that political connections helped win Kilbride the job.

“That is a complete fabrication,” Nevin said.

Afghanistan 69th Vet a Smithtown Fatality

In Uncategorized on February 27, 2011 at 4:34 pm

Seamus Byrne survived a bomb explosion while serving with the 69th Infantry Regiment in Afghanistan. But the father of two could not dodge death early Sunday on Smithtown’s Main Street.

Seamus Byrne, receiving Purple Heart at January 2009 ceremony at Bay Shore armory. (Newsday photo, Charlie Eckert)

Byrne was hit by a passing car moments after leaving Napper Tandy’s, a local bar where he had spent several hours celebrating his 33rd birthday with his wife and friends, Newsday is reporting. He was pronounced dead at Stony Brook University Medical Center at 1:45 a.m..

In January, 2009, Byrne returned from a deployment in Afghanistan, during which he earned a Purple Heart for a concussion and other injuries suffered when a suicide bomber attacked the Humvee Byrne was riding in.

“There are a lot of other guys that deserve this kind of recognition,” Byrne said then during a medal ceremony at the National Guard armory in Bay Shore. “But it’s an honor.”

Byrne was struck near Lawrence Ave. shortly after leaving the bar, when he turned back across Main Street to say goodbye to someone. The driver of the car, Michael Armentano, 24, of Smithtown, has not been charged.

Word of Byrne’s death shook members of the closely-knit community of soldiers and family members associated with the 69th Infantry, which has sent soldiers to both Iraq and Afghanistan from armories in Huntington, Bay Shore and Freeport.

Eric Farina, a former 69th sergeant, said he felt he got to know Byrne particularly well when the two men shared conversation during a guard shift in Afghanistan.

“He revealed himself to be a passionate patriot, father, husband and family man,” recalled Farina, of East Northport. “He loved his wife and (children) with an uncommon intensity and seemed fiercely protective of them both.”

Jean Dudenhoffer, who had helped care for the spouses and children of deployed troops while serving as an organizer of the regiment’s Family Readiness Group, was stunned when told of Byrne’s death. Byrne had a son, aged 10 and a daughter, 3.

“I just can’t talk right now,” said Dudenhoffer, whose son Mark served with Byrne during the Afghanistan deployment. “He was one of the boys.”

Terrelonge Never Flew Combat, Researcher Says

In Uncategorized on February 22, 2011 at 10:56 am

Victor Terrelonge, 1922-2011

Update:

The chairman of a research committee that verifies involvement in the Tuskegee Airmen said an early organizer of the group never flew combat missions in Europe as he had claimed.

“His records show he never went overseas,” said George Hardy, chairman of the Tuskegee Airmen, Inc.’s Harry A. Sheppard Research Committee. “He was a cadet, but only for three months. He washed out in primary training.”

The Airman, Victor Terrelonge, 88, died Monday at Nassau University Medical Center of complications of a stroke.

Records forwarded by Tuskegee Airmen, Inc. suggest that Terrelonge was an Army air cadet at Tuskegee in 1943, but never completed pilot training before his Army discharge after WWII’s end.

Nonetheless, the longtime Roosevelt resident gave frequent interviews to area publications and school and college audiences, offering first-hand accounts of aerial combat.

“I didn’t shoot down any planes, but I sent a few back home for repairs,” he told the Jamaica Gleaner newspaper in 2008. Two months later, upon hearing that the Tuskegee Airmen had been invited to attend the inauguration of President Obama, Terrelonge told Newsday he flew p-51 Mustang aircraft during five bomber escort missions over Germany.

Doubts about his accounts began to ripple through the remaining ranks of Tuskegee Airmen in recent years, troubling even some of his longtime friends.

“I kind of let it alone because he’s a good guy and he’s a friend,” said William Wheeler, a Tuskegee pilot from Hempstead. “But I never flew with him and I never met him while we were in Europe.”

But Hardy said because Terrelonge did train with the racially segregated cadet corps during WWII, he is properly considered a member of the Tuskegee Airmen. Members of the group were awarded the Congressional Gold Medal – the nation’s highest civilian honor – in 2007.

Hardy said he never spoke directly with Terrelonge during a yearlong inquiry into his claims, and does not know whether the discrepancy between the record and Terrelonge’s accounts represent a failure of memory or a willful effort to deceive.

Terrelonge, a native of the West Indies who immigrated from Jamaica to New York City in 1937, studied aeronautical engineering at City College. But when he tried to enroll in the Army’s pilot training program in the early 1940s, he was turned away because of the military’s policies of reserving coveted specialties for white personnel.

His fortunes changed because of an experimental training program for black pilots that had been put in place in 1941 by President Franklin Roosevelt. Terrelonge won admission into the program by passing a written test, then chugging water before his physical to meet the minimum weight requirement.

Hardy said Terrelonge claimed to have flown with the 332nd Fighter Group’s 302nd Fighter Squadron. Hardy said the 302nd disbanded in March, 1945, a month before members of the 44I class of Tuskegee cadets Terrelonge claimed to have graduated with arrived in Europe.

A daughter, Patt Terrelongue, is president of the Claude B. Govan Tri-State Chapter of Tuskegee Airmen, Inc., an organization that promotes the legacy of the nearly 1,000 pilots plus thousands more crew members who originally trained at Tuskegee. She also expressed doubt about her father’s wartime service.

Family members describe Terrelonge as a calm and understanding father, who often displayed a quietly mischievous streak. “My mother would say our house was a three ring circus, and that my father was the ringleader,” said daughter Nadine “Toni” Barts, of Raleigh, N.C.

Wheeler said Terrelonge’s death leaves only himself and three other Tuskegee aviators known to have residences on Long Island – Roscoe Brown, of Sag Harbor, Humphrey Patton, of Hempstead and William Johnson, of Glen Cove. Spann Watson, of Westbury, died last April at 93.

In addition to his wife, Barbara, and daughters Barts and Terrelongue, survivors include his first wife Yvonne Plummer, of Raleigh, and their daughers Sheila Wilson, of the Bronx, and Michelle Long, of DeSoto, Tx., Also, the children of his current wife: Jeanne Hayward, of Jamaica; Walter Craig Matthews, of Tampa Bay; Donna Lynn Matthews, of Bayside; and Jodi Smith-Bennett, of Sharon, Mass.

A memorial service is planned for 10 a.m. Saturday, at Memorial Presbyterian Church, in Roosevelt. He will be cremated.

NY Guard Compiling Soldiers’ Stories

In Uncategorized on February 18, 2011 at 2:19 pm

In the memories of the 6,000 New York Guard troops who have served in battle since 9/11 reside tales of courage and cowardice, determination and despair, loneliness and loss.

Now, Guard officials want those soldiers to contribute their personal accounts and photographs to a digital archive of the New York Army National Guard’s role in Iraq and Afghanistan since NY Guard troops were first sent there in the winter of 2003.

 

Members of the NY Guard's "Fighting 69th," during a St. Patrick's Day Parade in Manhattan.

 

 

 

Dubbed “Remember My Service,” the project is financed by the National Guard Bureau and is designed to help gather detailed historic information for inclusion in Army National Guard official records.

The Guard will send e-mails to current and former Guard soldiers who served active duty beginning in the winter of 2003, including more than 300 Long Islanders. The e-mails will urge soldiers to submit photos and personal stories on line and in person during project meetings at selected armories around New York.

While all deployed units will be included in the project, it is being built around specific units, including  the 1st Battalion 69th Infantry (“Fighting 69th and Task Force Wolfhound”), which deployed in Iraq in 2005, and Guard aviation units, including the 3rd Battalion, 142nd Assault Helicopter Battalion, based at MacArthur Airport in Ronkonkoma.

Veterans wishing to participate can register at www.rmsrollcall.org A link to this site can be found at the Division of Military and Naval Affairs website at http://dmna.state.ny.us/index.php.

The project will be run in part by Story Rock, a Utah-based company specializing in collecting and organizing archival information. Story Rock has already completed similar projects for  Guard units in other states and  some active duty Army units.

The stories will be compiled on commemorative compact discs, which are scheduled for release during ceremonies at armories around New York in May 2011. They will also be included in the Guard’s archives at the New York State Military Museum and Veterans Research Center in Saratoga Springs, and in the  National Guard Bureau’s national archives.

 

War’s Images Confront Adelphi

In Uncategorized on February 17, 2011 at 7:15 pm

Young Iraqi photographed by journalist Brian Palmer, August, 2004

America’s bloody involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan can seem a faraway inconvenience on today’s college campuses, where students devote more energy arguing over parking spaces than they do pondering whether we should be at war.

But an exhibition of more than 70 photographs plus video shot in Iraq by a former CNN reporter has brought glimpses of the war’s reality to Adelphi University, including Marines hunkering during a mortar attack, Iraqi children peering from behind barbed wire and the severed hand of a dead Iraqi policeman.

The severed hand of Iraqi Police Captain Thamood Hassan Haj al-Janabi, who was killed by a roadside bomb during a routine patrol in 2005.

“I was really emotionally effected, and it was obvious that everyone in the room was,” said Drew Facklam, a 22-year-old political science and art history major, who saw the show.

The show is the first Adelphi exhibit to focus on war in recent memory, according to Eliz Alahverdian, Adelphi’s director of exhibitions.

Children peek around a blast wall in Haswa, Iraq.

“We thought it would be an eye-opener for the Adelphi community,” she said of the exhibit. “I wanted people to know there is still a war going on, and we shouldn’t dismiss it. This is just a little reminder, very neutral, very powerful.”

The images, some of which are included here, are those of Brian Palmer, a Brooklyn photojournalist and former Beijing bureau chief for U.S. News and World Report. Palmer embedded with members of the First Battalion/Second Marine Regiment, 24th Marine Expeditionary in Iraq on three occasions between 2004 and 2006, a time of some of the war’s fiercest fighting.

Photograph of SGT Edgar E. Lopez of First Battalion/Second Marine Regiment on the wall of the home he shared with his wife and two children. Lopez was killed in Aug., 2004.

The exhibit ends Sunday, but Palmer will return to Adelphi’s campus for a March 29 public discussion of his work.

In an interview, Palmer, who witnessed the shooting deaths of Iraqis, and who survived a mortar attack during which a Marine was killed, described what he called the “tragic improvisation of 19-year-olds put in an untenable situation in which they had to do the best they could.”

Palmer said he was unnerved by his own reaction under fire.

“As with most traumatic events that occurred then, my brain would be activated but my heart would turn off,” Palmer said. “When the bullets are flying and the mortars are falling, you just survive. The fear and the wrenching moral and ethical stuff came later.”

Gallery hours are from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Friday, and from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. Adelphi is located at 1 South Steet, in Garden City.

SSgt Robert Moyer, First Battalion/Second Marine Regiment, 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit. July, 2004.

Yngstrom Out As Nassau Vets director. Rufrano Alive and Well in Oyster Bay

In Uncategorized on February 15, 2011 at 10:14 am

A respected acting director of Nassau County’s Veterans Services Agency has been forced into retirement and replaced by an appointee with little formal education and no managerial experience, but with political ties to Nassau County’s Republican Party.

Michael Kilbride, who has worked as a claims counselor for the agency since 1995, was tapped by Republican County Executive Ed Mangano to replace acting director Pat Yngstrom.

Yngstrom developed a loyal following among leaders of area veterans groups, who say his ability to focus government and volunteer services has helped veterans access homeless services, job counseling, federal veterans benefits and other support.

But Mangano forced Yngstrom into retirement and replaced him in the $81,500-per year position with Kilbride, whose only job since a four-year hitch with the Marines has been helping veterans fill out benefits claims as a $61,500-per year veterans counselor for Nassau County.

And aide to Mangano said Kilbride was chosen for the position because the county executive wanted a director who could expand the reach of the agency. But when I asked Kilbride to describe his vision for the agency and what direction he would like to take it in, Kilbride demurred, saying “I really wasn’t prepared to answer that question.”

Kilbride’s resume says he studied at Nassau Community College, but does not indicate when he attended, or whether he got a degree. It does not indicate any further education, or any experience running a government agency.

Meanwhile, I screwed up in my article in Newsday when I said that a past director, Mathew J. Rufrano, died last year. Not so. I spoke to Mr. Rufrano this morning. He told me he left the Nassau agency suddenly because of a serious heart condition, but has fully recovered and is handing veterans issues for the Town of Oyster Bay.

I apologized to Mr. Rufrano for the worry my article caused his friends and family. I must also apologize to my readers, who depend on me for accurate information.