Most artifacts get thrown into the dustbin of history. But other links to the past have enduring meaning to successive generations.
The Village of Westbury could not have chosen a better place to store and exhibit military artifacts left behind by its veterans. In 2014, the village accepted the donation of the headquarters building from the leadership of the Cpl. James F. Walsh VFW Post 945. The post building at 403 Maple Ave., erected in 1948, became the depository for its Westbury Military Historical Collection.
Mayor Peter Cavallaro presided over a ribbon cutting of the building’s new collection on Veterans Day. The exhibit was titled, “Westbury Area Patriots & Their Service Experience From World War I to Present.”
“In 2014 the village was approached and had discussions with the remaining members of the VFW post about the future of this building,” Cavallaro told a crowd assembled for the opening. “The members were concerned about the building being lost like so many other VFW posts. Many of these buildings have been sold off. We did not want to see this happen to this building.”
Cavallaro said the members were also concerned about what would happen to the contents of the building that had accumulated over the decades. The most important artifact inside the building is a wall of honor that lists more than 2,000 names of residents of Westbury, Old Westbury and Carle Place who served in WWII.
“Many communities erected those walls during WWII and many dismantled them and lost them to history,” Cavallaro observed. “But the community and the veterans here in Westbury decided they wanted to preserve it. That’s been on the wall here for many years.”
“That was one of the driving forces” for accepting the building, he added.
To Preserve And Protect
The mayor said the village made a commitment to the VFW members that it would maintain the building. It replaced the awning—ripped during a recent storm— with a new one emblazoned with the name of the post. It also repaired the 30mm anti-tank gun of WWII vintage that has stood near the corner of the building. It was damaged earlier this year when someone hit it with a car. Cavallaro singled out the village’s DPW for restoring it to near its original condition.
“The plans are to open the building several times a year, with open houses on Veterans Day and Memorial Day. Maybe on the Fourth of July,” Cavallaro said. “And then making it available for school groups and Scout groups and others that may come and see it as an educational tool.”
The mayor added, in a follow-up newsletter, “In the future, we intend to further develop the collection; better catalogue the building contents and donated materials; make the building available to local veteran groups to meet; open the building by appointment to interested persons and groups; and develop an introductory video about the building for visitors. Thank you to Trustee Steve Corte, Ray Muntz of the Westbury Historical Society, the members of the Historical Collection Committee and village staff for working with Gail Slotnick in making this museum a reality. We are eternally grateful to all of the men and women of Post 945 for trusting the village, by making the donation of the building to the village, to create a fitting tribute to the legacy of their service to our nation, and that of all of their comrades from the greater Westbury area.”
In the same newsletter, Cavallaro stated, “It was essential that we preserve this important cultural asset for future generations, so I believe that [the museum] opening was a momentous occasion in the life of our village.”
Slotnick is a village employee who works on special projects and was the curator for the museum’s collection.
“Gail spent an enormous amount of time sorting through the material that was in the post when we took it over, as well as what was donated,” Cavallaro said. “And all of the placards and explanation cards were done by her, thanks to her research.”
“I’d like to thank all of the veterans and their families who were here, for your service and your sacrifice,” Slotnick said. “Thank you to the donors who are supporting this collection. I’m really honored that I’ve gotten to know so many of you and we get to showcase things that are near and dear to you and your family.”
Trustee Corte, whose father Louis was the last commander of the post, stated, “This is a special day for us. You’ll see a lot of terrific things inside. This is our history, as kids growing up here. Gail [Slotnick] did a terrific job. I thank everybody for the donations that you have made. I know we’ll find more as time goes on. Please enjoy this. It’s one of the greatest wonders in our village.”
Machinist 3rd Class Louis R. Corte, his son told the Westbury Times, was a Navy Seabee, its version of the Army Corps of Engineers. The Corte family donated his uniform to the collection. He served aboard the carrier Hornet (CVN-12) and was stationed on Guam and Saipan from 1944-45.
Corte told the story of his father crossing the Pacific on the carrier when it ran into a powerful typhoon.
“And he said, first of all, it’s an unbelievable sight to see a couple of thousand guys all throwing up at the same time. It was mass chaos,” the trustee related. “The force of the typhoon was so strong that it actually broke the bow of the ship.”
Corte saw a picture of the broken and bent bow of the flight deck in a Time Life book. His father told him it was 2½-inch thick steel, and it just buckled.
“The power of water,” Corte concluded. Click here for a story and photos of this incident.
Assemblymembers Michael Montesano and Charles Lavine spoke, with Montesano hoping that the collection would serve as a lesson for younger generations.
Lavine said, “What better day to perform this dedication than today?” and reminded the audience that there was something special about the area, mentioning that New Cassel was founded by Hessian soldiers—imported by the British to fight the Revolutionary War—who did not want to go back to their German homeland.
County Legislator Laura Schaefer of Westbury thanked the veterans in attendance, stating. “This wouldn’t be here without you. We wouldn’t have our freedoms without you.”
Town of North Hempstead Councilwoman Viviana Russell said, “This building is going to be so much more than just a building. It’s place where you can come for generations to come to celebrate the lives of your family members who fought for freedoms in this country.”
The ribbon was cut by Marion Pascarella, widow of 1st Sgt. Joseph Pascarella Sr. The lifelong Westbury resident served 28 years in the Corps and was also the head of the Nassau County Veterans Service Agency. Marion also donated her husband’s Korean War Era Marine Corps dress blues uniform to the collection.
Slotnick pointed to a picture of soldiers at Camp Upton, out in Yaphank. That’s where James F. Walsh, the namesake of the post, went for basic training. He was killed in July, 2018, the first Westbury resident to fall in the Great War.
“In my research, I found out that when these guys were training for hand-to-hand combat, the Army hired boxers to go out there and show them how to fight,” she said. “And because most of them grew up playing baseball, when it came time to throw hand grenades, they were aces.”
“There’s so many interesting stories behind the picture,” she added.
On the plaque listing the names of those from the area who served in WWI, she said, there are names of three women. It was the first war in which women were allowed to enlist and were considered soldiers as part of the U.S. Naval Reserves. They took on a variety of duties and were known as “yeomanettes” or “yeoman(F).”
Among the names were Westbury’s Kathrin Haney Daily, RN. U.S. Navy yeoman(F). Her discharge papers were displayed.
One of the living links to the past was on hand at the opening. Lt. Dolores Daily, RN, posed next to her Navy nurse officer dress uniform adorning a mannequin. Daily completed two tours of active duty in the Navy Nurse Corps during the Korean War Era. Kathrin Daily was her mother-in-law.
Patricia Ringkamp, 88, of East Meadow, donated items for an exhibit titled, “American Home Front.”
“I was nine years old when the war started,” she recalled of her childhood in Maspeth, Queens. “I belong to the Salisbury Senior Club. We meet in Levittown Hall. And somebody there announced that they were planning this museum and they were interested in military items or anything war related, and I had [them]. And they gave me Gail’s number and I called her and I had an appointment and went over there and she looked at my stuff.”
Col. Ted Blach, the former village clerk/treasurer, donated two uniforms. He served in active duty with the Army from 1980-84 and was in the Army Reserves from 1985-2006 and involved in planning for Operation Desert Shield/Desert Storm. One was a battle dress uniform from the Cold War era. The other was a desert camouflage combat uniform from the Gulf War era.
Joyce Wygand contributed an Army olive drab wool field jacket and trousers in honor of her husband John, a Korean War veteran, lifelong Westbury resident and Nassau County police officer.
Michael Nidositko contributed a U.S. Army field officers’ combat trench coat and summer service dress shirt and trousers from WWII. He was honoring his father Michael, who retired with the rank of major, and uncles Nicholas and William Nidositko and John D. Wygand. All were WWII veterans.
Michael Kennedy donated a Vietnam War Era summer white uniform. He served aboard the U.S.S. Cromwell from 1970-73.
Westbury was home to two members of the famed Tuskegee Airmen, Lt. Colonel Spann Watson (1916-2010) and Flight Officer/Pilot Douglas McQuillan (1923-1989). They and their fellow pilots were the first African American military aviators to be part of the Army Air Corps, precursor to the Air Force, and flew more than 15,000 sorties in Europe and North Africa during WWII.
“The two Tuskegee Airmen were friends, grew up next to each other,” Cavallaro told the Westbury Times. “And I knew one, Spann Watson.”
Doug McQuillan of Old Westbury was present to represent his father.
Slotnick welcomes donations and can also provide guided tours. Contact her at 516-334-1700 or email GSlotnick@villageofwestbury.org.