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Giving Thanks To Local Veterans 

U.S. Captain Thomas J. Kehoe Jr. and Corporal Damon N. McMullen unveil a memorial to Iraq and Afghanistan veterans in Northport Village Sunday.

As Northport Village residents paid tribute to the veterans of wars waged in Iraq and Afghanistan by unveiling a monument to their service Sunday, a new conflict was weighing heavily on the minds of many in attendance.

“Please know that our thoughts and prayers are with you, all members of Congress and the President, as you wrestle with the difficult issues surrounding Syria and the toughest imaginable decision faced by an elected official – that of sending our men and women into combat,” said U.S. Army Captain Thomas J. Kehoe Jr., who served in Iraq in two tours of duty in the mid-2000s.

The monument is a stone and plaque surrounded by plantings at the foot of Northport harbor. Once the withdrawal of American forces from Afghanistan is complete, the memorial committee will begin compiling the names of all veterans of those wars from the Northport-East Northport School District community and add them to the display on separate stones.

In his keynote address before the monument was unveiled, Kehoe Jr. said that Northport knows all too well the sacrifice and commitment tied to military service, and paid tribute to three servicemen – John W. Engeman, Nate Bruckenthal and Christopher Scherer – with local ties who died in the line of duty. Engeman, for whom the village’s theater was named, was a chief warrant officer in the U.S. Army who was killed in Iraq in 2006. Bruckenthal, a petty officer in the Coast Guard, was killed in 2004 while patrolling the Persian Gulf. Scherer, a U.S. Marine Corporal from East Northport, was killed in Iraq in 2007.

“They’re why we’re here today, to recognize a special kind of public service – that of military service,” Kehoe Jr. said.

The thought of another possible conflict may weigh especially heavy in Northport, a community which Kehoe Jr. said has a long tradition of military service. It’s certainly on the mind of Trustee Damon McMullen, whose son and nephews served in Iraq; his nephews were both injured during their tour of duty.

“I’m truly grateful for the support our community has given our fighting men and women,” McMullen said. “It is my hope that in a year’s time when the names of those who served are added to this stone, that there are no more wars or conflicts that our community needs to dedicate a monument to.”

Deputy Mayor Henry Tobin said the act of memorializing service to America, as well as the community’s gratitude, has been a Northport tradition dating back 125 years.

Mayor George Doll said Tobin was a driving force in creating the memorial, which was paid for by private contributions. Donors of time and money include American Legion Post 694 and the Great Cow Harbor 10K.

“An event like this doesn’t just happen – it takes a lot of organizing and a lot of work,” Doll said.

The new monument represents a simple gesture of gratitude that is vitally important to fighting men and women stationed overseas.

“It is having this love and support that gets you through the toughest days when you find yourself on very little sleep taking cover from mortar rounds,” Kehoe Jr. said. “I’ve been there, and I know how immensely important that love and support is.”

Recalling a recent meeting with American Battlefields Monument Commission Chairman Max Cleland, a Vietnam veteran who lost both legs and part of his right arm, Congressman Steve Israel (D-Huntington) said the mission of honoring service will bring awareness to future generations.

“He said, ‘Do you know what keeps me going? Somebody once said, ‘Dying for freedom is not the worst thing in the world. Being forgotten for dying for freedom is,’’” Israel recalled. “Forgetting the Engemans and the Bruckenthals and the Scherers is. So today, we remember, and more importantly, we make sure that children remember and their children remember.”

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