Martin C. Evans

Archive for March, 2011|Monthly archive page

LI Marine Badly Injured

In Uncategorized on March 31, 2011 at 6:31 pm

A Long Island Marine who two years earlier surprised a Rocky Point second grader with a flag and combat wings was seriously injured in a military helicopter crash that killed a fellow crew member and injured two others on the north shore of Oahu.

Sea Stallion

Cpl. Ronnie Brandafino, 23, of Farmingville, suffered injuries to his leg and pelvis late Tuesday when the CH-53 Sea Stallion crash-landed on a sand bar near Marine Corps Base Hawaii, according to members of his family.

His parents, Frank Brandafino and Darlene Claus, and his brother, Derek, arrived in Hawaii early Thursday to be at his bedside, said Brandafino’s stepmother, Michelle Brandafino, of Nesconset.

Michelle Brandafino said she had been relieved when Brandafino returned safely from seven months in Afghanistan in October. He also served a 2008 tour of duty in Iraq.

“He was supposed to be coming back home for good in April because he’d done his five years,” Michelle Brandafino said.

The twin-engine, heavy-lift helicopter had left the base — located just outside the beachfront village of Kailua where President Barack Obama has spent the past three Christmas vacations — for a 7 p.m. training mission.

It was flying at about 300 feet when it issued a mayday call, Marines spokeswoman 2nd Lt. Diann Olson said.
The 24,000-pound Sea Stallion, a helicopter that was dubbed “Jolly Green Giant” when its model first came into service during the Vietnam War, made a crash landing before coming to rest on its side.

Olson confirmed Brandafino, a crew chief with Marine Heavy Helicopter Squadron 363, Marine Air Group 24, was among those who were injured. He was in stable condition Thursday at The Queen’s Medical Center in Honolulu, as were the pilot, Maj. Clinton J. Collins, and the co-pilot, Capt. Kevin F. Hayles, Olson said.

Killed in the crash was Corporal Jonathan D. Faircloth, an aerial observer with the squadron.

Two years ago, Brandafino surprised a second grader at Frank J. Carasiti Elementary School in Rocky Point, Heather Kuhn, when he presented her with an American flag and combat wings at a school assembly in Kuhn’s honor.

Kuhn had sent Brandafino a care package filled with gloves, snacks and other treats while Brandafino’s Marine unit was stationed at Al Asad, Iraq.

“It’s pretty rough not being with your family,” Brandafino had said then. “So it lightens up your day getting these packages.”


After Making History, Left Behind

In Uncategorized on March 28, 2011 at 1:35 pm

By Martin C. Evans, Newsday, March 27 – When you see him around town, it is hard to distinguish Lee Hayes from the many retired black Long Island farm workers who came up from the South to find work, then toiled all their lives to keep their families fed.

Though he lived mostly in obscurity, Lee Hayes once was among America's best. Newsday photo by J. Conrad Williams

You can find him most days at a local senior citizen center, where $2.50 hot lunches stretch the Social Security check that accounts for most of his income. Sometimes, you can spot him in front of the down-at-the-heels home he shares with his daughter outside of East Hampton, where wild turkeys cut across his front yard.

Hayes, 88, has never had much. Over the years, he has picked potatoes on East End farms, hauled glistening slabs while working at an ice house, pushed mops at Brookhaven National Laboratory and sold life insurance. When an injury forced him to retire at nearly 80, he was still framing houses on construction crews.

But the soft-spoken, bespectacled man once was among the most skilled aviators in America.

Hayes, still hale despite years of physical work, is one of the famed Tuskegee Airmen — 996 black men who broke the military’s color bar when they were commissioned as pilots during and immediately after World War II.

Lee Hayes, second from left on top row, in a photo taken around the end of World War II.

Beginning in 1943, he apprenticed at airfields across the South, first winning certification as a bombardier before being sent to an experimental program for black aviation cadets at Tuskegee Army Air Field in Alabama. He won his certification as a bomber pilot in January 1946, five months after the war’s end.

“I got so good I could drop a bomb into a trash can from 1,000 feet,” said Hayes, who said he once persuaded a Tuskegee instructor to give him the controls when a stiff crosswind kept scuttling the instructor’s attempts to land.

But the arc of Hayes’ life, which in his childhood had been shaped by the Jim Crow South, would also be deflected by discrimination on Long Island.

Until he came to New York in 1930, when he was 8, he and his family had lived in a Virginia hamlet still strewn with the rubble of slavery. Hayes was born in Mannboro, Va., in 1922, just 57 years and 50 miles from where Robert E. Lee’s surrender at Appomattox ended the Civil War. Life had been strictly segregated as he was growing up.

“The school bus would go by with the white kids in it, and we would be walking,” said Hayes, who said heavy rains or winter storms would often force him to skip school altogether. “We would have to wade through streams and cut through the woods to get to school — it was five or six miles — and we would spend more time walking than we would spend in class.”

When the sawmill where Hayes’ father worked closed during the Depression, an uncle who had moved to Long Island years earlier found his father work in an East Hampton dairy, and the family moved north.

In doing so, they joined what became known as the Great Migration of 1910-30, during which 2 million blacks fled poverty and racial discrimination in the South in search of opportunities in the North. Many of these black migrants boosted their prospects by honing technical skills in factories or in the military.

Interviewed at his home earlier this month, Hayes he thought the improved schooling he received on Long Island and his technical training as an Army pilot would propel him into America’s postwar middle class. But although white World War II veterans typically were able to find good-paying work quickly on the Island, even after serving as an Army pilot Hayes found his life remained circumscribed by the color of his skin.

The fast-growing commercial airlines hired thousands of pilots in the decade after the war. But all of the Tuskegee pilots who applied — Hayes included — were turned away.

“After the war, we all put in applications with the airlines, but none of us got called,” said Hayes, who in the Army flew B-25s with the all-black 477th Bombardment Group. “I thought I had an advantage because I could really fly, that the airlines or some outfit would give me a job because I was good at it,” he added. “I was all over looking for work, but nobody would hire me.”

Blocked by discrimination from buying a house in East Hampton after his 1946 discharge, he bought a plot of land outside of town with $300 saved from Army pay. When a bank refused him a construction loan, he deeded his property to a lumber company as collateral, and with the help of relatives built the house he lives in today.

By 1948, he had married a Harlem woman, Marion Jones, who had come to Amagansett to work in a restaurant. He enrolled at what is now Farmingdale State College, hoping that a certificate in aircraft maintenance would improve his prospects with the airlines.

When it did not, he resigned himself to finding what work he could. He said he once was so disappointed over being passed over for promotions he felt he deserved at Brookhaven that he quit his janitor’s job after about five years. But he said he tried never to let disappointment over the lack of job opportunities get the better of him.

Lee Archer Hayes

“You don’t have time to feel bitter,” Hayes said. “You just try to figure out what to do next. You can’t give up.”

He said he finds much to be positive about. He and his wife, who died in 1985, raised a daughter who went to college, and a son who opened a moving business. He once encountered a black airline pilot who, upon learning of Hayes’ background, credited the Tuskegee fliers with inspiring him to seek an aviation career.

“That made me feel real good,” Hayes said, “knowing that someone else had advanced because of the sacrifices we made.”

Sen. Gillibrand Says Halt ‘Endless War’ In Afghanistan

In Uncategorized on March 15, 2011 at 1:59 pm

Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand during a November visit to a U.S. base in Afghanistan

Saying America cannot afford “endless war” in Afghanistan, Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand today called on the Obama administration to draft a clear plan that would lead to the withdrawal of U.S. troops by 2014.

“After nearly a decade of war, with still no equal commitment from the Karzai government, and after all the lives we’ve sacrificed and the billions we’ve spent on this war, it’s time to start bringing our troops home,” said Gillibrand, a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, in a release.

Nearly 100,000 U.S. troops are currently stationed in Afghanistan, including 96 from Long Island and 259 from New York City, according to figures provided by Gillibrand. More area residents will go when members of the New York National Guard’s 69th Infantry Regiment deploy to Afghanistan early next year.

Last November, the freshman senator traveled to Afghanistan with several other U.S. senators, and voiced similar concerns about the country’s slow progress toward stability.

Gillibrand said today she agreed that the troop surge ordered last year by President Obama has helped stabilize parts of Afghanistan, but said the governments of Afghanistan and Pakistan “are not taking steps that are critical to the war effort.” Gillibrand said it is urgent that Afghani troops take responsibility for their country’s security given America’s needs to address terrorism threats in other parts of the world, particularly the Saudi peninsula.

Gillibrand’s call for a troop withdrawal came on the same day that the Washington Post published a poll showing that nearly two in three Americans say the war in Afghanistan is no longer worth fighting.

U.S. taxpayers have spent nearly $350 billion in military and aid spending in Afghanistan since 2001, according to Gillibrand. She said Congress is asking for another $124 billion for Afghanistan war spending – or nearly as much as the total New York State budget – for next year alone.

Gillibrand referenced a study that ranked Afghanistan as the world’s second most corrupt nation – far ahead of such regimes as Iran, Libya, Haiti or Zimbabwe – and said Afghanistan’s largest bank, which processes international aid and government salaries, is so rife with fraud that it is on the verge of collapse.

Gillibrand also said the Arabian peninsula is now the most significant source of Al Qaeda operations that could threaten America, and that withdrawing troops from Afghanistan would allow the U.S. to better husband its military assets.

“I am also concerned that the drain on our resources in Afghanistan may deteriorate our flexibility to address other global threats,” Gillibran said in a letter addressed to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Defense Secretary Bill Gates.

President Obama has promised to begin drawing down the number of U.S. troops in Afghanistan by this summer, and to transfer responsibility for security to the Afghan government by 2014. But critics have said that timetable is so flexible as to be relatively meaningless.

Guard Guys Going Again

In Uncategorized on March 4, 2011 at 10:36 am

It’s official.

Individuals from local N.Y. Army National Guard units will be back in Afghanistan in about 10 months, according to Guard headquarters in Albany.

The deployment will include members of two local units: the 69th Infantry Regiment, which has armories in Bay Shore, Freeport and Huntington, and the 258th Field Artillery, which has a headquarters in Jamaica, Queens.

They will be among some 2,200 soldiers who will deploy as part of the NY Guard’s 27th Infantry Brigade Combat Team.

Deploying soldiers will take part in a two-week training session at Ft. Drum this spring, followed by a longer combat training session in California in the fall.

The official mission of the Combat Team is to train and equip Afghani security forces during about 10 months in Afghanistan.

But they likely will see direct combat in a conflict that has been increasingly bloody.

Annual U.S. troop deaths in Afghanistan have increased every year since 2006, reaching 499 last year according to, a 57 percent increase over 2009. At least four Long Islanders were killed in 2010.

Court OK For Fringe Church Free Speech Angers Gold Stars

In Uncategorized on March 2, 2011 at 11:58 pm

Moe Fletcher knows the pain of burying a soldier son.

That is why Fletcher and many other members of Long Island’s “Gold Star” families are livid that the nation’s highest court ruled Wednesday that protest demonstrations targeting funerals are protected by the First Amendment.

Protesters at 2005 funeral of an Afghanistan War casualty from Massachusetts. (Life Magazine photo)

“This is extremely hurtful to people who have already gone through a lot,” said Fletcher, who called me within minutes of the Supreme Court ruling’s announcement in Washington.

Fletcher’s son, Spc. Jacob Fletcher, was killed in a 2003 IED explosion while serving in Iraq. Since then, the Island Park resident has been an active supporter of grieving military families.

The 8-1 ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court, which united liberal and conservative justices, upheld the right of members of Kansas-based Westboro Baptist Church to travel the country and stage quixotic protest rallies at military funerals.

Members of the church believe America’s problems stem from the increasing acceptance of homosexuals within mainstream society, especially the military. The church’s more than 600 protests in the past two decades have taken on a bewildering range of targets, from AIDS victims to the military to President Obama.

The court ruling stemmed from a case involving a 2006 incident, during which church members carrying banners that read “Fags Doom Nations,” and “Thank God For Dead Soldiers” picketed the Westminster, Md. funeral of a Marine killed in Iraq. The Marine’s father filed a lawsuit seeking damages, saying picketers had turned his son’s funeral into a “circus.”

Last year, church members threatened to picket the funeral of Joseph Theinert, an Army lieutenant from Shelter Island who was killed in Afghanistan. Though picketers never arrived, Suffolk legislators rushed through a law designed to bar demonstrations near funerals. Yesterday’s near-unanimous court ruling would appear to jeopardize that law’s constitutionality.

Chief Justice John Roberts, who drafted the majority opinion, wrote that the court’s decision hinged on the right of Americans to express opinions, even should they “…may fall short of refined social or political commentary.”

“….The issues they highlight – the political and moral conduct of the United States and its citizens, the fate of our nation, homosexuality in the military, and scandals involving the Catholic clergy – are matters of public import…” Roberts wrote.

But Fletcher says all but the court’s lone dissenter – Justice Antonin Scalia – got it wrong.

“These people desecrate the flag, drag it through the mud,” Fletcher said. “Gold Star families have already given so much. They shouldn’t have to go through something like that while they are burying a loved one.”

One of America’s Oldest POWs Dies

In Uncategorized on March 2, 2011 at 1:59 am

Arnold Bocksel, honored at a birthday celebration a few years ago at the American Airpower Museum in Farmingdale.

One of America’s oldest former prisoners of war died Sunday at a nursing home at the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Northport.

Arnold Bocksel, a Syosset resident and former Army Chief Warrant Officer who survived the Bataan Death March, was 98, and suffered from dementia.

He was born in 1913, the year before World War I began, and enlisted in February, 1941, when he was 27. Having earlier graduated from State University of New York Maritime College, he was stationed in the Philippines aboard the USAMP Harrison, a mine planter assigned to defend Manila Harbor from Japanese attack. He was captured when the nearby isle of Corregidor fell in May, 1942.

He survived the infamous 60-mile forced evacuation to Bataan that claimed the lives of as many as one in four prisoners. Often, those who could not keep pace or who were considered insubordinate were summarily beheaded.

Further evacuated to Manchuria, where he helped run the prison camp mess hall, Bocksel drew the admiration of fellow inmates when he angrily confronted their captors for the starvation rations provided.

“They could have killed you right then and there with the swords they all carried on their side,” a fellow prisoner, Vernon Stroschein, wrote to Bocksel in 1984. Stroschein died in 1988 in Arizona.

Bocksel was liberated by Soviet troops on May 17, 1945, his mother’s birthday.

“Mom, I made it,” Bocksel later recalled saying tearfully, as liberating troops arrived. He weighed an emaciated 98 pounds, was riddled with parasites, and spent two years recuperating in military hospitals.

After returning to New York, he got a job as a salesman with Coffin Turbo, a pump manufacturer that supplied shipbuilders worldwide. Bocksel used the Japanese language he had picked up as a prisoner to help make sales to ship builders in Japan.

“When I asked him where he had learned Japanese, he told me he had been a guest of the Emperor for three and a half years,” said his son, Robert Bocksel, of Manhattan. “He never bore any bitterness, never blamed the sons for the sins of the fathers.”

In addition to Robert, survivors include two other sons – Donald Bocksel, of Syosset, and Arnold C. Bocksel, of Manhattan, and a daughter, Merrie Hines, of Syosset. His wife, who was born Peggy Larkin, died in 1984.

A funeral Mass is scheduled for 9:45 a.m. today (Thursday) at St. Edward The Confessor Roman Catholic Church, in Syosset. He will be buried at Nassau Knolls Cemetery, in Port Washington.

He held the Bronze Star and the Purple Heart among other military citations. But he always insisted he was not a hero, family members said.

“He never thought he would survive the war,” Hines said at his wake Tuesday. “So he considered every day he had as a gift.”