Let the wedding planning begin.
Katherine Bertschi and Damen Weeks were announced Thursday as the winners of Peconic Landing’s annual Veterans Day Wedding Giveback.
The couple, both of whom are lieutenants in the U.S. Navy, logged into a Zoom meeting and gave each other a wave through their screens, thinking they were in for a second round of interviews for the giveaway. Ms. Bertschi, a Surface Warfare Officer, is the Basic Division Officer Instructor and Department Head at the Mariner Skills Training Center Pacific in San Diego and Mr. Weeks is an operations officer on the USS Mason based in Norfolk, Virginia, where he is responsible for the management of almost 100 sailors.
Instead, they were greeted by cheers and applause from Peconic Landing president and CEO Bob Syron, the panel that selects the winners as well as family members who congratulated them on the big news.
“I’m like, shaking right now,” Ms. Bertschi said, cupping her hand over her mouth in shock. “Mom! You didn’t text me back,” she said, noticing her parents in the frame.
They didn’t want to spoil the surprise.
Ms. Bertschi, a 2012 graduate of Southold High School, earned an ROTC Naval scholarship to study at Loyola University in New Orleans. Upon graduation in 2016, she was commissioned as an ensign aboard the USS Preble, an Arleigh-Burke-class guided-missile destroyer based in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii.
That’s where she met Mr. Weeks, 31, who was near completion of his three-year tour aboard the vessel.
“That was both of our first ships,” Ms. Bertschi, 28, explained. Just six months into their relationship, Mr. Weeks left Hawaii and has since been stationed in Newport, Rhode Island, Monterey, California and most recently Norfolk, Virginia.
“Since then, we’ve pretty much been doing long distance,” Ms. Bertschi said.
Ms. Bertschi said she enrolled in the NJROTC at Southold High School initially to make her father, a Vietnam veteran, proud. “Little did I know that the decision to join NJROTC would direct the trajectory of my life up to current day,” she said. “It’s really an honor that we get to have a wedding back where I grew up — and finally be together. The North Fork represents a safe-harbor and home to me.”
The pair were engaged on New Year’s Day near Mr. Weeks’ hometown of Magnolia Springs, Alabama.
This year marks the tenth that Brecknock Hall at Peconic Landing has held the giveaway, which provides current or veteran service members and their partners the chance to have a wedding on the North Fork on Veterans Day at no cost.
“Damen and Katherine’s love story is an inspiration to us all.”Bob Syron
It had been on hiatus for two years due to the COVID-19 pandemic, which forced many couples to cancel or delay their plans or pivot to host microweddings.
Last year, two healthcare heroes that worked on the front lines of the COVID-19 crisis got to have a fairy tale wedding at Brecknock Hall after winning the New York Tent’s Healthcare Hero wedding giveaway.
Peconic Landing joined that competition by offering their venue to the winning couple, Shaka Ballantyne and Shannon Nigg, who were wed on July 31, 2021.
“It’s our honor to be able to revive this opportunity for you,” Mr. Syron told the couple, noting that he and the panel were impressed by their service records.
The panel is comprised of Peconic Landing residents with military ties and judge based on the number of years served, special military honors and the couple’s story.
“Damen and Katherine’s love story is an inspiration to us all. That they found each other while serving our great country is amazing,” Mr. Syron said.
Both Mr. Weeks and Ms. Bertschi have earned the Earned Navy and Marine Corps Achievement Medal (NAM) and Navy and Marine Corps Commendation (COM) Medal, among others. The couple also spends time volunteering in the communities where they are stationed, including working at food shelters, building with Habitat for Humanity and organizing ship tours for children.
“I can’t think of two people who deserve this more,” Ms. Bertschi’s mom, Virginia Gilmore said, before the call ended.
In an interview Thursday afternoon, Ms. Gilmore said she’s ecstatic that her daughter will wed close to home. “[Mr. Weeks] is a wonderful person, I really love him,” she said. “And they really deserve it. They work very, very hard in the service and have made enormous sacrifices in their personal lives.”
Planning is now underway for the wedding, which will be held Sunday, November 13, 2022 in celebration of Veterans Day. The giveaway, sponsored by Peconic Landing, is made possible through contributions from local businesses and organizations who donate an estimated $60,000 worth of time, talents, and services to create a fairy tale wedding.