By Paula Katinas
Brooklyn Daily Eagle
Brooklyn veterans ranging in age from senior citizens who fought in World War II to young men in their 30’s who served in the recent wars in Iraq and Afghanistan enjoyed a big breakfast of eggs, French toast, sausages, bacon and fresh fruit at the Bay Ridge Manor Friday morning, and state Sen. Marty Golden picked up the tab.
Golden does it every year and said he doesn’t mind getting stuck with the bill.
As a pre-Veterans Day celebration, Golden sponsors a breakfast for local veterans as a way of expressing gratitude for their service to the country. “We are in the presence of American heroes,” Golden said. “We remember our veterans and their service. Thank you for what you have accomplished and what you have done for America. We have fought communism, Nazis and terrorism,” he said.
Veterans Day is Nov. 11, but Bay Ridge, a community which has the US Army Garrison at Fort Hamilton as its neighbor, doesn't wait for the actual holiday to salute veterans,
Friday morning wasn’t just about coffee and toast and verbal thank you’s. Golden also presented a state senate certificate of appreciation to Barry Berger, a veteran who joined the army in 1960 and who now volunteers his time as a veterans advocate. “I try to make sure guys who get hurt get what they deserve,” he said.
Golden had planned to present Howard Dunn, a World War II navy veteran, with a certificate, but Dunn was in the hospital and could not attend the breakfast. Dunn, a member of the Amity Post of the American Legion, is famous in Bay Ridge for his efforts over the years to plant US flags in front of stores on the neighborhoods commercial strips: Third Avenue, 86th Street, Fifth Avenue and Fort Hamilton Parkway.
Golden said he would give Dunn his certificate at a later date.
The annual breakfast means a lot to the veterans, according to Michael Connors, chairman of the Kings County Chapter of the Catholic War Veterans of the US. “The veterans appreciate when someone says ‘thank you.’ It means a great deal to get that recognition,” he said. A large contingent of catholic war veterans came to the breakfast.
“We appreciate that Senator Golden hosts this breakfast for us each year,” said Lou Mastandica, a Vietnam era veteran and commander of the Catholic War Veterans Post at the Basilica of Our Lady of Perpetual Help in Sunset Park.
“We’re here to celebrate Veterans Day,” Anthony Testaverde, a navy veteran who serves as Golden’s liaison to veterans, told the gathering.
World War II Navy veteran Raymond Hughes said he comes to the breakfast every year and wants to continue doing so. “And I’m 90!” he told the Eagle.
The appreciation demonstrated by Golden and other elected officials toward veterans helps those who served in the military during the Vietnam War in the 1960s, when the country was torn apart, heal their emotional wounds.
Herb Morales, who lives in Marine Park, served three tours of duty in Vietnam and helped secure China Beach as a soldier in the 1st Infantry. He was met by protesters when he landed at Kennedy Airport upon his discharge from the army. “It was demoralizing,” he told the Eagle. “We were treated like aliens,” he added.
Another Vietnam veteran, Mark Ginsburg, was in Vietnam during the Tet Offensive. “It was quite terrifying,” he recalled. He was a member of the 25th Infantry and was in a camp 20 miles south of Saigon when the Viet Cong attacked on Tet, a the Lunar New Year celebration.
Morales and Ginsburg both said the anti-war protesters aimed their objections against guys like them, who were just doing their duty, instead of aiming their insults at politicians. Both men said it took a long time to get rid of the anger they felt toward the protesters. “But most of the guys I served with still hate Jane Fonda,” Ginsburg told the Eagle. The Academy Award winning actress visited Hanoi at the height of the war.
“It means a lot to us that we can come to this breakfast. It feels good to have someone say ‘thank you.’ It never gets tired,” Morales said. Ginsburg nodded in agreement.
“Ladies and gentlemen, we pause and remember the ultimate sacrifices made by so many,” Golden said. “And at the same time, we pray for those who are in combat zones right now, fighting to defend the United States of America, and ask for them to return home safely,” he said.