Sgt. Jerry Lee landed in France on D-Day Plus 1. Two decades later, Spec. John Fackre was a specialist in war-ravaged South Vietnam.
They are comrades "two wars apart" now, said Fackre, 67, of Williston Park. And, they are are more than that. Lee, 87, is an elder at Grace Community Church in Westbury where Fackre now belongs. These days they pray together and have become friends.
They had just attended a "birthday party" for Nassau County's seniors born during the month of March. County Executive 's monthly event at the drew 300 people on Wednesday who danced to swing music and dined on barbecue chicken sandwiches with cole slaw.
The Fairgrounds Buidling, a restored wooden barn-like structure at the county-operated historic site, was filled with Nassau seniors and buzzing with activities. The seniors uniformly praised the affair, its food and the music. Mostly, they had stories to tell:
Lee landed in France on June 7, 1944, attached to U.S. Gen. George Patton's 3rd Army. He marched across France and through Germany to Berlin. "Patton liked to keep moving," Lee said, wearing a baseball cap that proclaimed him a veteran of WWII. "He was one of these generals who never stopped."
Fackre returned from Vietnam to a divided America, and tried to put his service behind him. Not anymore: He can still fit into his "Class A Uniform," from that era, and now wears it proudly on Memorial Day and at other veterans events.
He told of dodging death in Vietnam. He spoke of how the Viet Cong would enter a village and kill the elders, "just to show the village who was boss," he said.
It is men like Fackre and Lee who are the elders of our communities, all with remarkable stories that need telling:
Chuck Gehrman and Ralph Fleishman married sisters, but they were friends before and ever since. The men were celebrating not only the March birthdays, but Fleishman's actual birthday as well. They keep healthy by playing raquetball together regularly. "Be thankful for what you have," said Fleishman.
Robert Harlow, an Oceanside attorney, was dancing cheek to cheek with his wife, Millicent. The couple beamed as the band played Cole Porter's "Night and Day." You could tell they knew each other's moves.
Linda Mangano, wife of the County Executive, played hostess for the event, speaking with scores of seniors, hugging many of them, and joining them on the dance floor. Nassau County's vivacious First Lady stayed to the end of the two-hour event, long after her husband's departure.
At one point, Mrs. Mangano performed a kick line with two seniors as the band played "New York New York." She didn't miss a beat:
"What I learned from them was that they are so appreciative of being appreciated," Mrs. Mangano said. "They have such great stories, and they just want someone to listen, to say thank you to them for their lives and service."
The county plans to host these free luncheons monthly for seniors who celebrate birthdays during that month. All will be held at the 200-plus acre historic site that recreates a 19th Century Long Island community.
The remaining 2012 dates are April 25, May 30, June 27, July 25, Aug. 29, Sept. 19, Oct. 24, Nov. 14 and Dec. 4.