The Bridgehampton School rolled out the red carpet on Friday, November 9, as it invited four veterans of the Vietnam War and an airman who is on active duty with the Air National Guard’s 106th Rescue Wing at Gabreski Airport in Westhampton Beach to its annual Veterans Day celebration.
To the accompaniment of the school band, which played several lively marches, the veterans were each given a white rose and escorted into the packed gymnasium, where the school choir sang “The Star-Spangled Banner” and a bagpiper and drummer performed “America The Beautiful” and “Shenandoah.”
“The servicemen being honored today come from all walks of life, but they share several fundamental qualities,” said principal Michael Miller, citing their desire to serve their country and dedication to duty as he
introduced the guests.
Airman First Class Bailey Sullivan of the 106th Rescue Wing was joined by four representatives of the Everit Albert Herter VFW Post 550 in East Hampton: Ken Dodge, a former Navy corpsman; Jerry Hodgens, who served in the Marines; and two Army veterans, James Lubetkin and Gerard Denkus.
After a short presentation on the history of Veterans Day, which replaced Armistice Day marking the end of World War I on November 11, 1918 — 100 years ago — Airman Sullivan showed a brief video describing the 106th Rescue Wing’s mission, which ranges from rescuing soldiers and pilots behind enemy lines to providing evacuation aid during hurricanes and other natural disasters.
Elementary school students presented the men with thank-you cards and asked them questions about their service.
Asked if they were scared while in combat, Hodgens replied, “Yes, very scared, but not all of the time.”
“If I said I wasn’t scared, I’d be lying,” said Denkus, who saw action during the fierce fighting of the Tet offensive during Vietnam. Lubetkin added that being “surrounded by people you trust” helps ease the tension.
Sullivan said he joined the service because of his desire to serve his country. The 106th Rescue Wing “is all about saving lives,” he said, describing his pride in helping the victims of Hurricane Florence, which devastated parts of the Carolinas earlier this year.
The others agreed that service to their country motivated their decision to enlist, although Denkus said he was drafted during Vietnam. “I got a letter from President Johnson that said, ‘Welcome. Report to your recruiting center,’” he recalled.
Dodge, who enjoyed a long career as a physician’s assistant in East Hampton, said he had always had an interest in emergency medicine, which helped direct him to the Navy, where he was deployed with the Marines.
“I’m a Marine; that’s different than a soldier,” Hodgens said. “I joined the Marine Corps because the Marine Corps is the best.”
“I joined because I felt it was the right thing to do,” said Lubetkin, who added he was influenced by President John F. Kennedy, who famously urged Americans to “Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country” in his
The men agreed that their military service changed their lives. “The most important way is it made me grow up,” said Dodge. Denkus said the biggest difference was in the level of discipline required. “It turned boys into men — quickly,” he said.
Lubetkin said his service “gave me an appreciation for this country that is much deeper than if I had not served,” and Hodgens said his service had given him a greater appreciation for the freedom Americans enjoy. “That is something most of you
have no real idea of because you have never been without it, but there are a lot of people in the world who don’t have the freedom we have,” said