ALBANY, N.Y. – New York National Guard leaders honored World War II veterans of the allied landings of Normandy on the 75th anniversary of the D-Day invasion with presentations of state medals at five veterans homes across New York State on June 6.
The visits to New York State Veteran Homes marked Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo's statewide "Salute to World War II Military Service Day."
"On the 75th Anniversary of D-Day I want to offer a sincere thank you to all our veterans and their families for their sacrifice and service to protect our freedoms," Cuomo said.
"For those we lost and the veterans who made it home, thank you. We owe you a debt of gratitude that can never be repaid,' the governor added.
The National Guard leaders were present at five locations, partnering with the New York State Division of Veterans' Services, New York State Department of Health, and the State University of New York.
The New York State Veterans Homes are located in Oxford, St. Albans, Batavia, Montrose, and the State University of New York, Stony Brook. The Long Island State Veterans Home at Stony Brook is run by the State University of New York, while the other four are the responsibility of the New York State Department of Health.
Key veterans who were present at the Normandy landings or went on to participate in the Battle of the Bulge later in 1944 received the New York State Medal for Merit.
Presenting the state medals were:
• New York Air National Guard Col. Michael Bank of the 106th Rescue Wing at the Long Island State Veterans Home at Stony Brook.
• Air National Guard Lt. Col. Paul Salas of Joint Task Force Empire Shield at the St. Albans Veteran Home in New York City.
• Army National Guard Col. Isabel Smith of the 53rd Troop Command at the Montrose State Veterans Home in the Hudson Valley.
• Col. Richard Goldenberg of the Joint Force Headquarters at the Oxford State Veterans Home.
• Lt. Col. Ernest Minichello assigned to the 153rd Troop Command at the Batavia State Veterans Home.
"This Medal for Merit recognizes your honorable service as part of America's greatest generation in direct support of combat operations while serving in the Army, Navy, Marine Corps, Army Air Forces and Coast Guard of the United States during the Second World War," said Noah Davis, the administrator for the New York State Veterans Home in Oxford.
"Today is about the Soldiers on the ground, the ones on the beaches or in the skies over Normandy," said Benjamin Pomerance, the deputy director of the New York State Division of Veterans Services.
The ceremonies included the presentation of 28 state medals for those veterans of D-Day.
"The ceremony was very nice, very impressive," said Louis Pompeii, an Army veteran of D-Day and former prisoner of war. "I'm just glad [D-Day] is over." He was at the Oxford ceremony.
It is important to recognize these WWII veterans and their families while we still can, Davis said.
"It was a beautiful ceremony, a really great tribute to these heroes," said Pompeii's niece, Judi Dean.
"The men and women of the New York National Guard who serve our state and nation are always inspired by the memory of the Soldiers who stormed ashore on Omaha and Utah beaches 75 years ago," said Maj. Gen. Ray Shields, New York's adjutant general. "Those of us who serve today are proud to follow in their footsteps."
The ceremonies also honored the service of all the World War II veterans and their families in attendance.
More than 900,000 New Yorkers served during World War II. Over 43,000 New Yorkers made the ultimate sacrifice in service over the course of the war.
Every World War II veteran at each of the State Veterans' Homes received a Governor's Proclamation commemorating D-Day and thanking them for their wartime service.
"We honor a day that changed the course of civilization and salute our World War II veterans across the state," said Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul, who spoke at the New York State Veterans Home at Montrose.
Hochul also honored World War II veterans in a similar commemoration at the Purple Heart Museum in New Windsor later in the day.
"I'm real privileged to be a part of this day," said Thornton Young, a veteran of the WWII Pacific Theater after receiving his proclamation in Oxford. "There were a lot of people that were there (in Normandy) that day, but I wasn't able to be there. But my brother was with me the whole time in World War II. We were together all the way through the South Pacific."
New York State Veterans Homes provide skilled nursing care and short-term rehabilitation to eligible veterans and their dependents.
The care is resident-centered and individualized, with a spectrum of support programs including memory care, social services, recreational activities, physical and occupational therapy and other rehabilitative services.
"Today's 75th anniversary of D-Day commemorative events are extremely important to our surviving World War II veterans and their families," said New York State Division of Veterans' Services Director Jim McDonough. "I'm glad New York continues to recognize and honor our greatest generation as we are today."