In his first duty as new commander of G&E Linder VFW Post 8031, U.S. Air Force veteran Mario Obertis fired a three-volley salute to honor local military veterans who had fallen in battle or are otherwise deceased as part of the color guard during last Tuesday’s Veterans Day observance in New Hyde Park.
“I’m always proud to be a commander of the veterans group. I feel like it’s giving back,” said Obertis, a Korean War era veteran who had previously served as post commander from 2001 through 2005.
A planned ceremony to pass the American flag from retiring post commander Edward Smolenski to Obertis to symbolize the transition in leadership did not occur because Smolenski was unable to attend the observance.
Obertis, 81, said he volunteered to replace Smolenski, 88, who had recently decided to relinquish his responsibilities after a decade as post commander due to health issues.
It seemed appropriate that Obertis was part of the color guard last Tuesday since he has been chairman of the VFW post’s Memorial Day Parade Committee for the past 10 years, a duty he will continue.
U.S. Army Korean War veteran William Hothan, who Obertis said has been a “great asset” in planning Memorial Day observances, replaces Obertis as the post’s senior vice commander.
Both men praised Smolenski for his long service to the post. Obertis said Smolenski had been “very passionate” about the post’s program of annually awarding college scholarships to local high school students.
“He was a good ambassador,” Obertis said.
Smolenski joined the U.S. Navy during World War II at age 17. A member of the VFW post for the past 20 years, he served as grand marshal in last year’s Memorial Day Parade.
“You reach 88 years old, you’re not in the best of shape,” said Smolenski in a telephone interview on Tuesday.
Obertis became active with the VFW as the post’s chaplain after joining in 1994. He served briefly in Korea, but spent most of his service time with the 86th Fighter Interceptor Wing at Landstuhl Air Base in West Germany, where he secured parts for F-86 jets.
World War II veteran George Dormani, a longtime member of New Hyde Park American Legion Post 1089, was honored as grand marshal of the Veterans Day observance on Tuesday.
Dormani, 92, earned five campaign stars for his service during action in Normandy, northern France, the Battle of the Bulge, the Rhineland and central Europe.
After being drafted in 1943, he said he served as a member of the 115th anti-aircraft battalion equipped with high-tech 90-millimeter guns as part of Gen. George Patton’s Third Army.
“We shot down 54 German aircraft,” Dormani said following the Veterans Day ceremonies.
He recounted singlehandedly shooting down a German ME-109 with a 50-calibre machine gun while standing in the middle of a field in France. Dormani said he resisted the instinct to run as the plane strafed he and his comrades, recalling basic training instructions he had received. And he said he clearly saw the plane’s pilot as he fired at the fighter plane.
“He was an officer and as he turned he saluted,” Dormani said. “He gave me respect that I stood there firing.”
Dormani, who spent two years in combat, has been a member of the American Legion post for 55 years.
During the ceremonies, New Hyde Park Mayor Robert Lofaro said a “debt of gratitude” is owed to all veterans for their service.
“Let not the ravages of time dim the memories of our war dead or our deceased veterans,” said Deputy Mayor Lawrence Montreuil before the names of recently deceased local veterans was read.
Members of local Boy Scout Troop 298 stood at attention along with veterans and village residents in attendance as a member of the color guard laid a wreath at the Veterans Memorial in front of New Hyde Park Village Hall.
After the three-volley salute was fired, Marilyn Obertis, a member of the VFW Ladies Auxiliary, played“Taps” at the conclusion of the ceremonies.