While living in Ozone Park, Queens, many of Frank Fontana’s friends enlisted in the US Army, so Frank followed suit. He was flown to Fort Sill, Oklahoma for training. Frank was a Sergeant, however one of his house boys fired Frank’s weapon unbeknownst to him and because of this incident Frank was demoted back to Private. He eventually worked his way back up the ranks to Corporal. Frank served in the Korean War – he remembers being stationed in Pusan and then traveling up North. He was in the chemical mortar battalion. Frank remembers seeing combat, sadly there were many fatalities in his unit, and at one point a mortar blew up right in front of him, throwing his body back. He was injured and sent to a hospital in Japan. He says he is lucky to be alive now! Frank received a purple heart award due to this incident.
When Frank returned after the war, he was discharged honorably. At this point he went back to school at Queens College and NYU for landscaping architecture. Frank states that the lifestyle of being in the Army and in war was not for him, and he was glad to come home and pursue school, a career, and his life. Frank went on to get married and had 1 son. Frank is now living his life to the fullest at The Arbors at Islandia East. He keeps himself busy with recreation activities, including Veterans Voices program with the local school children.
First Sergeant, Earl Douglas Brown, affectionately known as Doug, was born to a military family in Cherokee, North Carolina. He is proud of his Cherokee and Irish ancestry, but he is a true American through and through. Doug’s father and brothers were all military men, so at the age of 19 he enlisted in the U.S Marine Corps, which would lead to a decorated military career.
Doug served in Vietnam from 1964-1965 and again in 1967, 1968 and 1969. In Vietnam he served in a special unit called the “Force Recon Rangers.” He would assist with secret patrols across the border and special operations while stationed in Vietnam.
In 1962, before his 1964 descent to Vietnam, Doug was a Presidential Honor Guard to President John F. Kennedy. He would guard the oval office and make sure no one got to the president. “Every morning I would open those big oak doors to the oval office for the president.” When asked what he thought of President Kennedy, he spoke fondly of memories of him. “I thought he was a great guy” “His children- Bobby and Caroline- use to roll across our shoes with their strollers”
Doug recalls the first time he was sent overseas. “I was afraid” he stated, but that fear soon disappeared. On March 8th 1965, by order of President Johnson, his company was sent to guard a U.S Air Force base. “It was 112°. It was hot! The mosquitoes could pick you up and fly away with you” he accounted.
Doug has received many accolades and awards during his military service. 2 Bronze Stars, 4 Purple Hearts, Combat Action Ribbon, Navy Achievement Award, P.U.C- Presidential Union Citation, N.U.C Navy Unit Citation and 5 South Vietnam Awards.
After the war Doug applied to be a firefighter, he took a written test and then was sent to school in Pine Bluff Arkansas. While stationed in billings Montana, he flew airplanes during forest fire outbreaks. He eventually was transferred to Governors Island where he remained for 15 years until his retirement at Fort Hamilton in December of 2004.
Doug married Mary (Marie) Mea in August of 1964. He had met her while he was working at the White House and she was a college student on tour. They have one daughter whom Doug loves with all his heart. He also has 1 grandson and 2 granddaughters, ages 16, 14 and 6. Doug has lived a tremendous life, full of heroism and devotion to his country. Doug enjoys the quieter pace of life now, while residing at The Arbors at Islandia West. He is active in our veteran affairs, and was even in combat with Pat our veteran liaison, in Vietnam. Doug also enjoys chatting with friends, and sharing his experiences with staff.
Richard Brennan has served our country well with the US Army. He joined the Army as a teen and remembers vividly his experiences in World War 2, the Korean War and Desert Storm where he was a Convoy Commander. Richard remembers “These were hard times but it was an honor serving”. Richard Brennan has enjoyed living at The Arbors at Hauppauge since 2018, has made many friendships and keeps busy with many recreation activities daily.
After serving in the Army Richard drove a school bus and enjoyed making custom fishing rods. Richard has been married for 60 years. His passion is fishing and would love to show you some of his favorite catches. He has caught a tiger shark from Fire Island, a bass from Cape Cod and blue fish from Sunken Meadow all hanging in his room. Richard attends the Arbors monthly Vets Chat, sharing stories with other veterans. He enjoys socializing with his friend while getting fresh air on the patio. Richard will definitely get up and cut a rug when we have live entertainment; he especially loves 50’s music.
Peter Infanti joined the US Army at the young age of 18 years old. He served as a Corporal during World War 2 and spent 2 years in the service. Peter was married for 40 years and has one son. He grew up in Howard Beach until he wed and moved to Hempstead, Long Island. For 32 years Peter was a delivery driver for Nabisco. His hobbies included being a part of a bowling league and going to the casinos. Peter has resided at The Arbors at Hauppauge for 4 years and enjoys the many daily activities and has made many friends.
James Rizzo grew up near the Brooklyn Navy Yard. Maybe that had nothing to do with his wartime fate, but when he was drafted into the military in 1942, at age 20, he landed in the army.
After basic training at Camp Crowder in Neosho, Missouri, Jimmy Rizzo and a band of wilderness-savy Louisiana boys were assigned to the Fifth Army’s 96th Infantry Division.
In 1943 the men boarded a Liberty ship for Algeria and there were transferred to the British transports Banfour and Oriana, referred to by some as “coffin corners” due to their vulnerability to enemy planes. The nickname proved darkly appropriate when a German bomb sank the Oriana in the Mediterranean. Rizzo, luckily, was on the Banfour, which was spared.
After further travels, the boys of the 96th finally arrived at their post along the Burma Road. They reported to General Joseph Stillwell to serve alongside Chinese and Burmese soldiers. Rizzo worked as a warehouseman with the special operations group known as Merrill’s Marauders. His duty was retrieving supplies and packages by airdrop from dangerous jungles and terrains, ensuring these supplies arrived at their military and medical destinations on time and intact. His main job was to fix electrical equipment and deliver generators and other supplies. The job was a dangerous one, and during his time in Burma he faced two near-death situations.
Having been promoted from Private to Corporal and then to Sergeant, he was awarded the African and Burma Stars. For his service and sacrifice, our nation will always be indebted to Sergeant Rizzo, and his bravery and selflessness then and now continues to inspire us all.
In October of 2018, Congressman Lee Zeldin (R, NY-1) presented 96-year-old World War II Veteran Sergeant James Rizzo with a tribute the Congressman entered into the Congressional Record to honor his service and sacrifice. The ceremony took place at The Arbors Assisted Living in Islandia where Sergeant Rizzo currently resides
Angelo Panasci enlisted in the Army when he was 17 years old because that’s what all of his friends were doing! He was given the title of “Rifleman” and sent to Europe for training during World War II. While in Europe, Angelo met a fellow serviceman, Dennis, and the two became best friends – they were inseperable. Dennis grew up in England, and the two would often travel there to visit Dennis’ father, a Sea Captain, who would spoil them with fresh baked breads, meals, and whiskey! Shortly after he began training in Europe, Angelo remembers taking some sort of IQ test, and he scored so high that an officer told him he was too smart to be a rifleman and wanted to send him back to the states where his intelligence could be utilized best. Angelo argued this, stating that he wanted to stay in Germany with all of his friends. The officer told Angelo, “if you’re 6 feet under, you won’t have any friends.” Angelo took a long, awful boat ride back to the US, where he trained with a then, brand new computer company called IBM, whose equipment was used for cryptography by the US Army.
Once discharged, Angelo went on to follow in his father’s footsteps and began working in the Iron Union. He traveled all over the country with work – he states that after the war ended, the US was expanding and building exponentially, which offered him plenty of work. While on a job in Maine, Angelo met his future wife, Theresa, the thought of whom, still makes him smile today. Angelo keeps in touch with his best friend from the Army, Dennis, to this day – the two talk once every few weeks.
Born in the Bay Ridge neighborhood of Brooklyn, Tony Pelle grew up in Mount Vernon, The City of Trees in Westchester County.
Upon being drafted in March of 1943 into the Air Force, he trained as a mechanic on the ground crew and shipped off. He served overseas in North Africa and off Gibraltar. His outfit sunk 5 of 11 warships the German Air Force had stationed in the vicinity.
Altogether Tony served for 27 months, and returned to New York to work in the Stage Employees union. He enjoyed a long and exciting career working on both television and Broadway behind the scenes.
He married in 1950 and has been blessed with two children, three grandchildren and three great grandchildren. Now residing at The Arbors at Bohemia, Tony is grateful for having use of all his faculties and prays that the America he grew up in is experienced by future generations.
Ron Hegdahl was born in Minneapolis Minnesota; it was there that he grew to love planes. As a child he was always building model airplanes. Gluing tiny pieces together, painting them, and then going to swap meets and meetings.
Although, his father had joined the Army, he dreamt of joining the Air Force. Graduating from high school at 17, he couldn’t wait to enlist. He attempted to enroll, but was denied for being too young. He said waiting that whole year was “agonizing” but at 18 he officially joined.
Ron said he loved the armed forces. He spent 6 years stationed in Texas and described the experience as fun. He said boot camp was his favorite, because he had never shot a gun before. He also said by the time he enrolled in 1957/58, women were beginning to get involved too, and he thought that was “quite spectacular.”
Ron was an aircraft mechanic. While stationed in Texas he studied and worked on B52’s and B47’s. They were the up and coming aircraft at that time, and everyone was very excited about them as Ron remembers “they were going to be the future!”
After 6 years, Ron left the service, but continued to work for the government in the IRS wage and investment division. He was very proud to serve our country and continue his work in government.
Ron now lives a happy life at The Arbors where he enjoys socializing with peers, reading books and playing cards.
Ed Kissane served in the US Army during the Korean War. Prior to being drafted, Ed was working as a metal cutter for Burlington Mills which was located in the Empire State Building in NYC. Ed recalls that he was sent to Fort Dix, Texas for boot camp training shortly after being drafted. When asked what this training was like, Ed smiled and after much contemplation stated, “What was training like? Well, when that bugle blew at 6AM, you got up!” While in Texas, Ed remembers sleeping on the floor of the desert each night and ironically, it is not his bunkmates he remembers most about this time, it is the snakes that would crawl into their sleeping bags at night, stirring quite the commotion among the group. Ed also remembers being told to take his boots off, but refusing, since you never knew what would “cozy inside of them.” Ed’s fondest memory of boot camp is a Sargent who he got very close to and respected immensely. Ed explains that he ended up naming his first son after this man, Steve, who was fair and kind and took a liking to Ed.
Although Ed was in the Korean War, he was never sent to Korea. Instead, he was stationed in France, where his job was to monitor the infiltration of the Russians – if the Russians came through, Ed’s job was to get the women and children safely to the ships that were docked at the Port of Marseilles.
After the military Ed was about 23 years old and went back to work for Burlington Mills in NYC. He says “I got myself educated and found my career in teaching.” Ed went on to teach High School Social Studies for 30 years.