Events and tributes around the East End

Honoring Veterans




United States Army veteran Matthew Atkins, here with his family, was honored on October 26. Independent/Courtesy Westhampton Free Library

Hampton Bays Honors Local Vietnam Vet

In continuing its mission to take history out of the textbooks by honoring a local veteran each month of the school year, the Hampton Bays School District paid tribute to U.S. Navy veteran Timothy Fennelly of Hampton Bays by flying an American flag in his honor throughout the month of October.

“The district is proud to honor Mr. Fennelly for his bravery and service to the United States,” said Superintendent of Schools Lars Clemensen.

Fennelly was recognized at a ceremony October 18 at Hampton Bays Elementary School, where middle school students in the district read his biography. The event culminated with the raising of the flag on the school’s flagpole.

Fennelly was born in June 1946 in Dearborn, MI, and raised in Detroit. He recalls listening to Motown music from a young age as he grew up in a bustling household with seven brothers and one sister. In July 1964, just after graduating from Lincoln Park High School and deciding that his calling was to serve his country, he followed two of his brothers into the Navy.

In January 1965, Fennelly was assigned to the USS Newman K. Perry (DD-883), a refurbished Gearing class destroyer in the Boston Shipyard. The ship’s first assignment was to be the flagship for destroyer squadron anti-submarine operations (DESRON). Fennelly went from trying to serve on U.S. submarines to tracking and destroying enemy subs.

Fennelly returned from Vietnam in June 1967 and was honorably discharged from the Navy as an E-5 the following April. While visiting a shipmate from Riverhead shortly after returning from Vietnam, he met his first wife, Elizabeth, a Hampton Bays resident, and chose to stay in Hampton Bays rather than return to Michigan.

Upon arriving home, Fennelly joined the Suffolk County Sheriff’s Department, where he rose to the rank of sergeant as a park ranger. In 1972, he joined the ranks of the Southampton Police Department, where he served for 20 years before retiring as a detective. In his retirement, he started his own security company, which he ran for 37 years.

Fennelly married his second wife, Susan, in 2000. He has three sons, one daughter, and six grandchildren, and he is an active member of the Veterans of Foreign Wars and the American Legion, as well as the Rotary Club of Hampton Bays.

Atkins Is Westhampton’s Hometown Hero

In gratitude of his service and sacrifice, the Westhampton Free Library paid tribute to Matthew Atkins, a U.S. Army veteran, at a ceremony on October 26 as part of its Hometown Heroes initiative.

“It is so important to honor our local veterans,” said Westhampton Free Library director Danielle Waskiewicz. “They made many sacrifices and deserve to be thanked.”

According to Atkins, he wasn’t quite a model student when growing up in Riverhead, admitting, “I was a ruthless teenager.” However, he graduated high school in 1999 and stayed local while deciding what he wanted to do in life.

His first inclination was to join the U.S. Air Force, but because he wore glasses, the job he really wanted — fixing planes mid-flight — was not going to pan out. Instead, he opted for the Army.

In May 2001, Atkins entered basic training at Fort Knox in Kentucky. From there, he was sent to Aberdeen Proving Ground in Maryland for heating, ventilation, and air conditioning school. He graduated in November that year and enjoyed two weeks’ leave before being sent to a duty station in Heidelberg, Germany.

While in Germany, Atkins served with a United States/European Command Unit in the motor pool that included civilians. There, he gained additional skills while cross training with the mechanics. His time in Germany was cut short when, in March 2003, he received orders to go to Iraq and serve in a command unit.

“I knew that I would be sent to Iraq,” he said. “I just didn’t know I would be taken from my unit.”

While awaiting orders, Atkins spent a month in Kuwait. “We were told we couldn’t make phone calls, even though we were allowed,” he said of that time. “My mom was worried and called the Red Cross,” and they were able to reach him.

Two weeks later, and after two chemical attacks, Atkins received orders to head into Iraq. He made the 28-hour drive into Baghdad without wearing his full Kevlar gear. Just before leaving for Iraq, he had hit his head and needed stiches and bandages, which prevented his helmet from fitting properly.

“I wasn’t even in Iraq yet and was already injured,” he said, “but I drove with one eye open and one closed.”

In Baghdad, Atkins found himself stationed at one of Saddam Hussein’s palaces that the U.S. Marines had previously cleared out. What started as a small camp when he arrived turned into a full enterprise by the time he left.

During his first days in Baghdad, Atkins recalled, air support hadn’t come for about a week, leaving them with no water. “Being in the motor pool, we were able to go out for supplies,” he said. “By luck, we came across a water cooler and reconned it.”

He remained in Iraq for six months making numerous runs for supplies and parts before coming to the end of his tour. He arrived back on European soil in November 2003 for debriefing and was back home in the U.S. on March 11, 2004.

Atkins holds several accommodations from his service, including three Army Achievement Medals, a National Service Defense Medal, an Army Service Ribbon, and an Overseas Service Ribbon. He was also selected in 2002 to serve on funeral detail in Belgium for World War II soldiers, an experience he said he will never forget.

Back home, Atkins landed a job at Mendenhall Fuel continuing the same work he had been doing in the Army. Atkins and his wife, Becky, reside in East Quogue with their adopted daughter, Alora, whom they fostered along with a number of other children over the years. He is also a volunteer firefighter with the East Quogue Fire Department.

Westhampton Beach High School

In honor of Veterans Day, Westhampton Beach High School has invited local veterans to speak to its U.S. History students on Friday, November 8, from 7:30 AM to 1:30 PM. This allows students to learn history from those who lived it.

Roanoke Elementary School

In honor of Veterans Day, third-grade students at Riverhead’s Roanoke Avenue Elementary School will host their third annual Salute to Heroes on Friday, November 8, from 9:30 to 10:30 AM. Three local veterans will visit each third-grade classroom where they will share their stories with students about their experiences in the military. The third-grade classes will rotate to each room so all students will see and meet each hero and hear their stories.

Flag Ceremony In Montauk

On Monday, November 11, the Montauk Playhouse Community Center Foundation will hold its annual flag ceremony in honor of our veterans at 240 Edgemere Street, Montauk.

The ceremony will begin at 10 AM at the Suzanne Koch Gosman Flagpole Garden and will feature the raising of the flag by Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts and patriotic music, featuring local musician and WWII veteran Pat DeRosa.

Refreshments will be served following the ceremony in the Senior Nutrition Center dining room. Veterans, as well as the entire community, are invited to attend this ceremony.

To learn more about the Montauk Playhouse Community Center Foundation, visit www.montaukplayhouse.org.

Southampton Village Parade

The Commission on Veterans Patriotic Events will hold a short parade in honor of Veterans Day on Monday, November 11, at 11 AM, with a service immediately following in Agawam Park. Kevin Flike, a Green Beret wounded in the line of duty, will be the speaker.

Flike enlisted in the Army after college graduation, and after two years of intense training in the John F. Kennedy Special Warfare Center (Special Forces Qualification Course), he earned the Green Beret. In April of 2009, he was assigned to the First Special Forces Group (Airborne) at Fort Lewis, WA. He deployed twice to Afghanistan and participated in Joint Combined Exercise Training in the Philippines and Thailand.

During his second Afghanistan deployment, on September 25, 2011, Flike suffered a gunshot wound to the lower abdomen. This marked the beginning of a long and painful journey. He sustained a fractured hip, lost 20 percent of his colon, and suffered a damaged femoral nerve, resulting in permanent disability. After six surgeries, thousands of hours of physical therapy, and over 40 inches of scars, his health is progressing rapidly.

Flike has been married to his college sweetheart, Kim, since 2008. They have two daughters, Lilah and Everly. In the spring of 2016, Kevin completed dual masters’ degrees from the MIT Sloan School of Management and the Harvard Kennedy School of Government. Currently, he is the director of strategic projects for Threat Stack, a Boston-based cyber-security firm.

Honor Flight Reunion

Honor Flight Long Island will hold a gala reunion of 50 Long Island WWII and Korean War veterans who were flown to Washington, D.C. on September 21 for a free, one-day guided tour of WWII, Korean War, and other military memorials.

The reunion is Saturday, November 23, from 11 AM to 1 PM, at the American Airpower Museum, Hangar 3, 1230 New Highway, Farmingdale, NY. Long Island veterans, families, and friends are welcome to attend and applaud our “Greatest Generation” heroes during the Ceremony of Honors, as they receive tribute photo journals of their memorable day in the nation’s capitol. Attendance is free.

bridget@indyeastend.com