Thousands of Long Islanders streamed into Burn Park in Massapequa recently for the Town of Oyster Bay’s annual Salute to America concert featuring Dean Karahalis and the Concert Pop Orchestra with fireworks by Grucci.
The event paid tribute to veterans, past and present, and honored three deserving honorees: Guillermo Torres, Robert Reahl and Barbara Tortorice.
Torres is the winner of the Town’s Veteran Lifetime Achievement Award. A Vietnam veteran and Purple Heart recipient, Torres was wounded while on maneuvers. He later served on veteran organizations for more than 17 years, including the board of directors of the Vietnam Veterans of America Chapter 82 for 10 years, and is the senior vice commander of the William Gouse Post 3211 of the Veterans of Foreign Wars. He is also the senior vice commander of the Military Order of the Purple Heart Chapter 417.
Robert E. Reahl, a Plainview resident, was the recipient of the Town’s Veteran Volunteer of the Year. A Navy veteran of the Korean War, Reahl is a member of the American Legion Post 1812 in Plainview and is past commander of the Nassau County American Legion. He was the Post Legionnaire of the Year 2014-2015. Reahl volunteers at the VA nursing home and hospital as well as the Salvation Army Homeless Shelter. He has been involved in collecting items needed for the soldiers in Afghanistan and Iraq. He has been very active in the community reaching out to those veterans and families who are in need.
Barbara Tortorice is the winner of the Non-Veteran Volunteer Award. She is a member of the American Legion Auxillary Archie McCord Post #86 in Bethpage. She has volunteered as committee chairperson for many projects benefiting veterans, soldiers and children, both for the Archie McCord Post in Bethpage and the Nassau County American Legion Auxillary. She regularly attends the “Stand Down” which helps veterans receive assistance securing benefits, job counseling, legal advice, clothes, food, haircuts, medical screening and enrolling in the VA health care system.
Each honoree was awarded a gold medal from town officials along with a proclamation by the town officials.
Prior to the event, Paul Masi of Bethpage, a marine who served in Vietnam, shared these thoughts of how the town of Oyster bay treats it veterans.
“They are all behind us and its great to be loved by a lot of people in our community,” he said. “Nassau County has well over 100,000 vets. That’s a large number of people who served and sacrificed. For me as a Vietnam vet, I am glad to see that they are supportive. Back then, we were public enemy number one to the people who didn’t like what was going on. You are only serving your country and doing your job and no one knows what is going to happen. We did what we had to do and the Vietnam Veteran Memorial is built and that honors all of us who served and died.”
Legislator Michael Venditto and Assemblyman Joseph Saladino handed out awards and later mingled with the crowd handing out flags, thanking many veterans for their service.
“On this beautiful evening we are here to honor these men and women who served and sacrificed their lives so we can enjoy our lives,” said Venditto. “The only reason why we are here tonight and able to enjoy all of our concerts and all of our freedoms in the town is because of their efforts.”
Saladino praised the efforts of Venditto for bringing these concerts and entertainment to the community.
“The music tonight is fabulous and everybody is very happy to have an inexpensive way to stay home and enjoy this world class entertainment and fireworks,” he said. “It’s great to be home in Massapequa and the freedoms we enjoy are because of our wonderful veterans.”
Robert Lane of Massapequa Park was manning the booth for AMVETS and explained that this is the only organization in Nassau County that accepts all veterans, both those that served in foreign wars and stayed stateside.
As the sun slowly settled on the horizon and the full moon rose, Teddy Roosevelt, aka James W. Foote., a Navy Veteran (1968-72) from Sea Cliff walked among the crowd.
“I have been dressing up as Teddy Roosevelt for 32 years and this is how I make my living,” he said. “I do this because I look like him and I enjoy history.”
The sky darkened and the crowd was treated to a spectacular display of Grucci fireworks along with patriotic songs played by the Concert Pops Orchestra, marking another spectacular event put on by the Town Of Oyster Bay.