Fallen airman’s dad, Zeldin among throng; visit protested

Supporters, Critics Greet Trump At Gabreski

President Donald Trump made an entrance not soon to be forgotten on the East End.

The commander-in-chief was greeted by supporters and critics alike after Air Force One touched its wheels down fashionably late last Friday, August 17, at Francis S. Gabreski Airport in Westhampton and further afield in Southampton Village outside the Halsey Neck Lane home of hot dog king Howard Lorber, who was hosting a fundraiser for him.

The father of fallen Air National Guardsman Master Sergeant Christopher Raguso, who was among seven 106th Rescue Wing servicemen killed in Iraq in March, was among the throng of 150 supporters to greet Trump. The president, who was visiting the East End to attend a fundraiser for his campaign and the Republican National Committee, exited Air Force One to cheers, waved, and then gritted his teeth and gave the crowd of servicemen and women of the Air National Guard 106th Rescue Wing, their families, and friends, a big fist pump.

As he reached the bottom of the stairs rolled out to his plane, he was greeted by John Raguso, U.S. Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley), Westhampton Beach Mayor Maria Moore, and Brookhaven National Laboratory director Doon Gibbs. Others in attendance were Suffolk County GOP chairman John Jay LaValle and student leader Quintin Palifka from Rocky Point.

Raguso rode along with the others in a guest limo to the fundraiser at the home of Lorber, a former campaign advisor and executive chairman of Nathan’s Famous and chairman of Douglas Elliman Real Estate. They stayed at the fundraiser for about an hour before returning to the airport to see the president off.

“I think my deceased son would have had a smile from ear to ear to see me hanging out with the president,” said Raguso, who lives in Jamesport.

Raguso said he had a special moment with the president during his visit, in which he presented him with a special cap in memory of his son, a firefighter, by his colleagues in the Fire Department of New York, as well as patches with the insignia of the FDNY, the FDNY Pipe and Drum Band, and the Commack Fire Department, where he also volunteered. Trump told him that he would place them in a “very special place” to remember his son. The president also wrote a letter of condolence to his son’s wife, Raguso said, adding, “I thanked him from the bottom of my heart.”

Supporters — some wearing “Make America Great Again” hats or touting similar banners — clamored to shake hands or exchange high fives with Trump, and snapped photos as he greeted them. After about 10 minutes, the president gave another wave and a thumbs-up sign before being whisked away in his famously fortified armored limo, known as “The Beast.”

Master Sergeant Adam Shene was one of the dozens of airmen who lined up inside a barricade waiting for the president to arrive in a show of support.

“He is making things happen for everybody,” he said, noting that he believes the president has given people of all walks of life a hope for a new beginning. “I just think he has made huge strides and he really makes me feel like he is doing something.”

Not everyone was pleased with Trump’s visit, though. Protestors gathered across the street in front the airport and down the street from the luncheon, which was expected to generate about $3 million for his campaign coffers. Critics armed with signs challenging Trump’s immigration policies picketed across the street from the airport and were countered by supporters, some carrying American flags.

One person had a lifesize cutout of Trump’s likeness holding a sign referring to his 2016 campaign with the phrase, “Get over it, snowflake.” Protesters, meanwhile, chanted “Dump Trump” and “Not Our President,” and also chided Zeldin, who is up for reelection this November, as the president’s motorcade made its way to the venue.

East Quogue resident Julie Sheehan, who attended the Westhampton protest, said she turned out to the event because she is appalled at the president’s policies and wanted to make her voice heard. The two opposing groups had a “moment” where they both chanted the same phrase — “USA, USA, USA.” Despite the two groups’ differing views, Sheehan said, “I felt like we were all one as a country.”

The Southampton Village protest, which also drew counter protesters supporting Trump, drew about 150 people — between both groups — to the intersection of Hill Street and Halsey Neck Lane, according to Southampton Village police. The event was peaceful and went off without incident, police said.

Zeldin’s support of Trump drew further criticism from Democrats, who have set their sights on his seat since earlier this year. Democratic challenger Perry Gershon took a pot shot at the sophomore congressman.

“Lee Zeldin and President Trump showering themselves with rich people’s money is a reminder that Zeldin is working for the interests of the corporations those people run,” said Gershon in a statement. Gershon went on to say that his campaign is getting overwhelming support with an average contribution of $85 and that while Zeldin “attends fancy parties,” he is traveling all over the 1st Congressional District listening to working Long Islanders. Gershon said he plans to “fight for in Washington to guarantee access to healthcare and restore property tax deductions.”

In response to the protests, Zeldin campaign spokesman Chris Boyle said it would be “critically important to note that there were exponentially more people lined up along the motorcade route in support compared to those opposed.” He continued by saying that while Zeldin is “willing to work with the president and anyone else on either side of the aisle to defeat MS-13, combat the heroin and opioid abuse epidemic, secure our borders, and so much more, it is greatly unfortunate that some have chosen the path of obstructing, resisting, impeaching, and opposing everything and anything.”

“That is not the best path forward for our country,” he added.

While Trump was in town, motorists experienced a slight hiccup in traffic, with roughly five-minute delays on roadways, according to Southampton Town Police, and airspace and mail delivery was reportedly restricted for a period of time as preventative security measures.

peggy@indyeastend.com