Tuesday’s Flag Day installation dinner at American Legion Griswold Terry Glover Post 803 in Southold was a night of celebration. Honorees included new post commander Charles Sanders along with three 50-year members and three student scholarship winners. Past commanders were also recognized and new officers were officially sworn in.
More than 200 people attended the event, which was planned by Mr. Sanders, an Army National Guard captain and a Southold Town Trustee.
“I’ve never seen this many people here in the 15 years I’ve been retired,” said Maj. Bill Grigonis, commander of the local NJROTC and one of the night’s honorees.
Others who were there couldn’t help but notice the new energy in the building.
“We have new life in the post and I hope it will continue for many years,” said Robert Villa, a 50-year member. Mr. Villa said he grew up with the legion and his father served in World War I. On his tie he wore a small button he said belonged to this father from his charter member post in New Jersey.
The night began with Mr. Sanders talking about the meaning of the flag. He read from the American Legion Flag Day speech and stressed the importance of being a nation that celebrates its freedom. A moment of silence was observed for the victims of the shooting in Orlando.
Former commanders Earl Brock and George Sullivan were honored for their service to the veterans organization. Mr. Sullivan, who has been a member for 44 years, said Mr. Brock helped him after he suffered a heart attack last year by serving as interim commander while he was unable to fulfill all his duties. He said he really appreciates men like Mr. Brock and the others who were honored Tuesday.
“I’ve always been proud of being a member and it’s guys like that who keep me interested in being a member,” Mr. Sullivan said, adding that he knows a lot of posts, including 803 in Southold, are hurting in terms of membership.
“The legion will carry on, we have a great facility and it’s really a centerpiece for the town,” he continued. “We try to uphold the traditions of patriotism and loyalty to our country.”
In addition to Mr. Villa, Henry Santacroce and Ken Dickerson also received awards for 50 consecutive years of legion membership.
Mr. Santacroce said he remembers a time when the legion was thriving and there were dances, a lot of World War I members and it was a place for everyone to gather. He was taken by surprise when he learned he was going to be honored for his service.
“This is a great honor; I didn’t expect it,” he said before receiving his award. Mr. Santacroce began his military career in the Merchant Marine and later joined the Army, serving in the Korean War. Now 88 years old and still a legion member, he said he hopes it continues to receive the funding necessary to sustain it.
“I think it’s a valuable asset to the community,” he said. “We do a lot of help for the kids and the schools and I think it’s a great organization.”
Scholarship awards went to three high school seniors in the NJROTC program, who were selected based on their extracurricular activities and contributions to the community. The winners were Isabelle Wachtel from Greenport High School, Cece Stevens from Mattituck High School and Aidan Toy from Southold High School.
Mr. Sanders said he’s excited to be the new commander and was happy the night was a success.
“I was blown away and it was incredibly heartwarming that so many people showed up to it,” he said.
Photo: From left, Ken Dickerson, Henry Santacroce and Robert Villa at the Flag Day Officer Installation dinner. All three men were honored for their 50 consecutive years as members of the legion. (Credit: Krysten Massa)
American Legion Honorees
New Commander: Charles Sanders
Past Commanders: Earl Brock, George Sullivan
50 Consecutive Year Honorees: Ken Dickerson, Henry Santacroce, Robert Villa,
Outstanding Service: George De Long (for reporter), Ray Terry (for finance), Don Wagner (for membership)
Outstanding Service for Keeping Us Together: Robert Horton, Joe St. Pierre
Outstanding Service for Satisfying Palates: Bill Egan, Dan Melhado, Al Rava,
Executive Board Awards: Bill Grigonis, Charles and Felicity Turner
Student Scholarships: Cece Stevens, Aidan Toy, Isabelle Wachtel,
New Officers: David Braslow, service officer; Jeff Changon, first vice commander; David DeFriest, adjutant; Joe St. Pierre, sergeant-at-arms; Ray Terry, finance officer