Maspeth’s Candlelight Vigil Honors All Vets

A separate candle was designated for each conflict where American lives were lost. Photo: Iryna Shkurhan

By Iryna Shkurhan | 

At the intersection of Grand Ave and 69th Street, dozens of Maspeth residents paid their respects to all veterans at the 37th Annual Memorial Candlelight Ceremony on Monday evening. 

The event was hosted by the United Veterans & Fraternal Organizations of Maspeth, and organized by Chairperson Carole Stein, Eileen Hagen and Maspeth Federal Savings Bank. 

Following an invocation by Reverend Joseph Wilson, and the Pledge of Allegiance recited by attendees, this year’s Grand Marshall, Paul A. Feddern, delivered a speech on the purpose of Memorial Day. 

“Memorial day marks the beginning of summer for some people,” said Feddern, who enlisted to serve in the Vietnam War in 1967. “But just remember that is not the purpose of Memorial Day. We are here to honor all the people that have given their lives in sacrifice. Keep that in mind when you start your barbecue.”

Paul A. Feddern is a Vietnam War veteran and this year’s Grand Marshall. Photo: Iryna Shkurhan

Feddern, a longtime Forest Hills resident, says that he has attended the Maspeth vigil for over ten years. Following his deployment he was an officer in the NYPD. 

No war, veteran or victim was excluded from the vigil. In total six candles were lit and carried by representatives from various local chapters to the front of the ceremony. 

One candle each was lit for veterans of World War l, World War ll, the Korean War and the Vietnam War. A separate candle, honored by Francis Cardinal Spellman Council, Knights of Columbus and Ladies Auxiliary, was reserved for Desert Storm, Operation Iraqi Freedom and all American victims of terrorism. The last candle was lit for all prisoners of war (POW) and those who went missing in action (MIA) during military conflict. 

“May the light of these candles light our deceased American veteran’s journey and may perpetual peace concur their immortal souls,” said Stein, after the candleholders stood together in unity. 

Some veterans say they have been attending the vigil for years. Photo: Iryna Shkurhan

Stein also took it upon herself to write original lyrics to recite at the ceremony to reflect on the impact of Memorial Day and what it represents to veterans and regular Americans. Her act was a mix of slam poetry and song that Stein says she spent two weeks crafting. 

“Their courage, love and devotion we must remember. Their legacy shall never fade away,” Stein rendered during her spoken word performance.

To conclude the ceremony, students and performing arts players from the St. Stanislaus Kostka Catholic Academy of Queens sang “God Bless America” as the sun set. 

The vigil precedes Maspeth’s Memorial Day Parade which will be held on Monday, May 29 and begin at 1 p.m at the same spot, Maspeth Memorial Park. 


Tunnel to Towers Tees Off For Vets

By Iryna 

Stephen Siller, a Brooklyn firefighter, was heading to play a round of golf after his shift when he heard that a plane hit the North Tower of the World Trade Center over his radio. 

By the time he retrieved his gear, and made it to the Brooklyn-Battery Tunnel, it was blocked off for security purposes. So he strapped his gear to his back and raced through the tunnel to the site of the carnage. Siller lost his life on September 11, 2001 in the line of duty. 

The Tunnel to Towers Foundation was founded to honor Siller’s story and sacrifice as a first responder. Its National Golf Series became the foundation’s flagship event to raise funds to support firefighters, police officers, and veterans who were injured on the job, as well as families impacted by a loss. 

John Rafferty, a long-time Middle Village resident, is hosting his first Golf Tournament at Lake Success Golf Club on Long Island next month through the organization. 

“It’s an amazing organization that really gives so much of the money that’s generated back to people that deserve it,” said Rafferty in a phone interview with the Queens Ledger.

In the past, Tunnels to Towers paid off the mortgages of widows who lost their husbands in the line of service. They’ve also renovated homes of first responders who were paralyzed in their line of duty and needed to make their home more accessible.

On his committee sits Laine Alvarez who lost her husband Detective Luis Alvarez to 9/11 related cancer. Luis passed away in June 2009 after leading the charge to make NYC’s September 11 Victim Compensation Fund permanent. 

After Tunnel to Towers approved his application to host the event three months ago, he got to work recruiting sponsors and selling golf foursomes for the event. So far his strategy has been to push the event on social media and reach out to his connections and encourage them to reserve a spot. By May 15, he hopes to sell out.  

The Yankees donated a ticket package and other organizations donated goods for the silent auction on the day off the event. The event’s sponsors include AvalonBay, Lefrak Organization and United Public Adjusters. 

Rafferty has lived in Middle Village for over 20 years and graduated from St. John’s University, in Queens with a Bachelor’s degree in Criminal Justice. He went on to spend 13 years as a lieutenant in the NYPD, based in Brooklyn. He was assigned to the Anti-Crime force where he worked to take guns off the street and was the commanding officer of his own detective squad. 

He says that his new role as a CEO of Watchguard 24/7, which he founded immediately after leaving the force, is “totally different” from his career in law enforcement. The company provides security guards for schools, residences and commercial locations. Many of their employees are retired members of law enforcement and the military. 

“I’m not looking to highlight my company,” said Rafferty. “There’s a joy you get when you can help a child, an elderly person, an animal, or a young person. So now, being in the private sector, you know, you kind of miss that a little bit.”

Over the last couple years, he’s attended several of the Tunnel to Towers Foundation’s golf tournaments with his wife. He says that she has been a key organizer of the event.

“I want the people who put money in to come to have a good time because, you know, you want them to come back year after year,” said Rafferty, who hopes to host the event annually. “But the biggest goal of this committee is we want to raise as much money as possible.”

The Golf Tournament will be held on Monday, May 15 at Lake Success Golf Club on Long Island. There will also be opportunities to bid in the silent auction and win in the raffle. To donate or join the event, visit

Electeds, GrubHub bring meals to homeless vets

O’Neill’s of Maspeth donates 500 meals

Last Friday, the cafeteria of Borden Avenue Veterans Residence in Long Island City looked a little bit different.

Instead of their usual meals, the residents were surprised with having the option of sausage and peppers, chicken, or pasta from O’Neill’s of Maspeth—courtesy of Councilman Robert Holden, Councilwoman Julie Won, and Grubhub.

As part of their first-of-its-kind Serving the City program, Grubhub will donate quality meals to underserved communities.

“This is a first-of-its-kind program for Grubhub and launching in New York City—touching all five boroughs and partnering with every single city council member—is the perfect way to leverage our resources and address food insecurity for those in need,”

GrubHub representatives and local elected officials provide meals from O’Neills in Maspeth

Brett Swanson, Grubhub’s senior manager for community affairs and social impact said. “To have the greatest impact, we’re going hyper-local, working with the city council members to understand specific needs in the community and then partner to address them.”

The Borden Avenue shelter is a program of Institute for Community Living, a New York-based non-profit dedicated to serving folks who are homeless or mentally ill, as well as those diagnosed with mental illness, substance abuse, and developmental disabilities. ICL also runs the Tillary Street Shelter for Women in Downtown Brooklyn.

Jody Rudin, ICL’s president and CEO, was pleased to say that with the 500 meals donated, the 200 residents would have the option to go up for seconds and thirds.

“We’ve been partnering with Councilmember Holden in his role as chair of the City Council’s Veterans Committee, and he has been focused on the needs of the 200-or-so men living here, all of whom are veterans,” she said.

“Clients often don’t have the best experience dealing with systems and getting the attention, support, and dignity that they deserve—so to have this happen for them, and to have the councilmembers come and allow a chance for them to talk about things that could be improved here is so important,” she continued. “This is about more than the food. It’s about care, compassion, and attention for this population that served our country and is now homeless.”

While addressing the cafeteria, Holden acknowledged that upon visiting the shelter a few months ago, the top complaint he heard about was the food, and said he is committed to improving it in the long term.

“I held up the food that’s served in the trays at one of the hearings, and the mayor promised to improve the food, and also the entire shelter, giving everybody a private space eventually,” Holden said.

Veterans were given a chance to share their concerns with local electeds

He assured the group that he is there for them for anything they need, and thanked them for serving their country.

Councilwoman Julie Won echoed Holden’s sentiment, and assured the residents that she strives to ensure that their needs are met.

“We heard you when you said, ‘we want to have better food on a daily basis.’ We’re going to continue to work together to make sure that our city is paying attention to the food that is served to you—that it’s culturally competent, nutritious, of the right quantity, and hot and fresh food,” Won said. “In addition to that, we hear you. We know that we have an affordability crisis on our hands for this district that I represent.”

The council members and ICL staff eventually gave the floor to the residents of the shelter, allowing them to voice their concerns and needs regarding their daily lives.

Hiram Bonet, a veteran and resident of Borden Avenue Veterans Residence, brought up mental health and quality of life issues.

“Some veterans who are here are being underserved. They don’t belong among the rest of us. They need a better, higher level of care for their mental health issues,” he said. “It’s not fair to some of us, them, their families, or our families. It needs to be addressed.”

To combat this issue, he suggested a clinical assessment on intake to appropriately evaluate the level of care they need, as opposed to merely receiving referrals from the city based on veteran status.

Bonet also brought up the fact that the dormitory areas where the men sleep at night are not air conditioned, and they are not allowed to purchase their own portable units or fans.

“I work nights at the Department of Sanitation, and when I come back, exhausted from a shift, I can’t sleep because I’m drenched in sweat. I can’t sleep with clothes on because it’s just impossible,” Bonet said. “There’s also a window in my cubicle, so I feel uncomfortable sleeping without any clothes on, but I have to.”

“On the AC issue, the long term story is we are working with the Department of Homeless Services on a real solution. We think the suggestion of fans in rooms is a good one, and we’re going to do that,” Rudin said.

“You have a commitment there, and thank you for raising these concerns.”

Italian-American baker shows patriotism through sweets

Angelica Pizzonia, 34, was born and raised by an old-school Italian family in Williamsburg, and grew up around traditional cooking and baking.

It was during the pandemic, however, when she took matters into her own hands and started her small baking business, “She’s Baking Cookies.”

“I started baking because of my grandpa, Rocco Lomuto… he loved sweets. But especially during COVID, because obviously we couldn’t go out to eat anywhere” she said.

“Grampie ended up telling me, ‘You should really sell these treats. What are you doing?’ and I didn’t listen. When he passed, I told myself I would never bake again, but in honor of him I started this business for my grandpa.”

Pizzonia offers a variety of sweets and treats on her menu, such as chocolate chip and snickerdoodle cookies, but she specializes in traditional Italian baking, including cannoli, biscotti, and the well-loved tri-color cookies.

For this time of the year, she put a patriotic spin on the classic tri-color cookie, making them red, white, and blue in honor of Independence Day.

“They are my favorite cookies to make, and can be made in many different colors and mean so many different things,” she said. “I’ve made them in the Italian flag colors and American flag colors. Many people say that the religious interpretation for the Italian flag is green for hope, white for faith, and red for charity… but there’s so many meanings to it.”

For her, the American flag version of the cookie was made in honor of her grandfather, who was a World War II veteran, serving as a staff sergeant in the Army.

A Marine Corporal purchased Pizzonia’s American flag-themed tri-color cookies on Memorial Day, which is also his birthday.

“He was such an American man. We’re Italian, but he would say we’re American-Italian because we’re American first, and we were born here,” Pizzonia said. “I just felt like it represents him because he was a vet. And it’s an American flag, so it’s just so meaningful to him and to me.”

Pizzonia said that it took her a while to master the recipe for the tri-color cookies, as they are quite difficult to make, but now has the formula down pat.

She also added that she did not really learn to bake from anyone in her family particularly, but instead feels like the art was “instilled in her,” or perhaps “in her blood” as an Italian-American woman.

Pizzonia still lives in Williamsburg, but is proud to say that she serves all local communities in Queens in Brooklyn via pickup and delivery method.

“I feel like I’m more supported by the Queens community, because I think they’re very family oriented. I have a lot of young people in my neighborhood, they don’t really have families and stuff,” she said, “So I think the Queens community just loves to help their own grow.”

On Memorial Day, Pizzonia sold a platter of American flag tri-color cookies to a U.S. Marine, who also happened to be celebrating his birthday.

She is thrilled that she was able to provide such a meaningful sentiment to her customer on a day so important to him, while simultaneously honoring her family members who served in the military.

“He is a corporal in the Marines, which means a lot because my grandpa was a staff sergeant in the Army and my grandpa’s brother, Frank, was a PFC in the Marines,” she said.

“My grampie was all about the military and America and doing the right thing in life. Respect and loyalty was my grandpa,” she continued. “He would have been so happy to know a Marine corporal ordered my delicious cookies.”

If you’re interested in purchasing baked goods from She’s Baking Cookies, you can visit her Facebook page with the same name, and check out her Instagram page, @shesbakingcookies, where Pizzonia posts whimsical reels and baking content.

“I’m not boring; I’m a little whacky,” Pizzonia said. “I try to bring something to life. I’m so dedicated to my cookies and baking, but I want to make it fun for people to watch—so I can be remembered not just by my cookies, but also for the way that I am.”

Candlelight vigil honors community vets

In preparation for Memorial Day and the festivities to come, the United Veterans & Fraternal Organizations of Maspeth held a candlelight vigil to honor U.S. veterans and their loved ones.

Many community members, including veterans, gathered in Maspeth Memorial Park on Monday for an evening of patriotic spirit, entertainment, and remembrance.

The St. Stan’s Players performed “Battle Hymn of the Republic.”

Rev. Joseph Wilson of St. Stanislaus Kostka recited the invocation, thanking members of the armed forces, police officers, firefighters, corrections officers, and other emergency service personnel for saving lives and defending the rights of citizens.

Following the Pledge of Allegiance, a rendition “America the Beautiful,” sung by Kristinka, and some words of gratitude from the organization’s president, Maryanna Zero, a sentimental poem was recited by the ceremony’s Young Poet Laureate, James White.

White is a freshman at Fordham University in the Bronx, and serves as a lector at Transfiguration Church. He recited “Soldier,” a poem written by retired U.S. Army Major Ed Coet.

“That I didn’t honor him sooner, I will always regret; and I pledged that day to never again forget,” he recited. “I’m proud that my dad was a patriotic warrior; I’m honored to be the son of an American soldier.”

Queens residents Johnny Bee and Rosalia Gattuso performed a musical duet of Andrea Bocelli and Celine Dion’s “The Prayer,” and Gattuso sang “Ave Maria” after the ceremonial lighting of the candles.

The program was also joined by the St. Stan’s Players, who sang “Battle Hymn of the Republic.”

Candles for World War I were carried by the American Legion Auxiliary, World War II by Ridgewood Moose Lodge No. 1642 – Chapter 133, Korean War by Polish Legion of American Veterans Chapter 4 of the Kowalinski Post – Ladies Auxiliary, Vietnam War by Vietnam Veterans of America Queens Chapter 32 – The Honor Guard, and Desert Storm, Operation Iraqi Freedom and the American Victims of Terrorism by Francis Cardinal Spellman Council, Knights of Columbus No. 6014 Ladies Auxiliary.

Members of the United Veterans & Fraternal Organizations of Maspeth displayed a banner.

Maspeth resident Carole Stines led the event, and also recited a revised version of “My Son,” a Frank Patterson song.

“I reworked some of the lyrics to suit the occasion,” she said. “In keeping with this year’s Memorial Day Parade theme, ‘Maspeth Honors Gold Star Families,’ I recited this poem. This homage is also relevant to all of those who lost a loved one in these very difficult times.”

She was also joined by Hyunjeong Lee on keyboard and Andrew Cho on violin.

During her reading and the musical performance, the family of the late Corporal Robert Rodriguez, who died in Operation Iraqi Freedom, stood in front of the crowd, holding up his photo.

Rodriguez, who was a Maspeth resident, had his name added to the monument in Maspeth Memorial Park 12 years ago.

Maspeth’s Memorial Day Parade will kick off at 1 p.m. at Grand Avenue and 69th Street, with festivities at 11 a.m. at Queens Vietnam Memorial Elmhurst Park, 12 p.m. at the WWI Monument at 72nd Street and Grand Avenue, and followed by a memorial service at 2 p.m.

Wendell: Remembering Woodhaven’s Lt. Harry Joseph Schmitt

He was a Woodhaven boy. He lived on Jamaica Avenue. He attended PS 97 and Franklin K. Lane High School and picked up a few bucks delivering The Leader-Observer.

As a young man, he went to Queens College where he excelled in the classroom and on the baseball diamond. He was honored as a distinguished military graduate and received his commission as a 2nd Lieutenant in the Air Force, where he trained to be a pilot.

He was just 23 years old and his future was bright, but Woodhaven was still close to his heart. While stationed at an Air Force base in Dover, Delaware, as a radar observer, he kept an old postcard of Forest Parkway in his locker.

He kept in touch with his folks regularly and they spoke about his next visit to his old hometown. In fact, his bags were already packed and he was ready to go on leave.

And he would be bringing home a surprise for his family, the young woman who he was planning to make his wife.

But Harry Schmitt never came home. In July 1958, he was killed while on a routine flight over the Atlantic off the coast of Cape May, New Jersey

As with any accident, the details of what happened are as murky as the waters Harry Schmitt’s plane crashed into. It appears that the pilot did not realize how low he was flying. In fact, he may have even skipped the jet across the top of the ocean.

The pilot ordered Harry Schmitt to bail, but because the plane was so low when he ejected, his parachute never opened. The Air Force speculated that he was killed instantly but we’ll never know for certain as the young man from Woodhaven was never found.

It was front page news here in Woodhaven. Lt. Harry Joseph Schmitt was remembered at a Solemn High Mass of Requiem at St. Thomas the Apostle Church.

The Leader-Observer expressed their grief and fondly remembered the boy who delivered this newspaper.

“From the first day when he took his papers out on his route, his spirit of affable friendliness endeared him to everyone,” the paper recalled in an editorial.

They remembered his cheery greetings whenever he entered the newspaper’s office on Jamaica Avenue, and they shared how friendly Harry was to all of the customers on his paper route.

“The memory of Harry Schmitt’s grin and exuberant ‘Hi!’ will never be forgotten,” the Leader wrote.

But as the years went by, it would appear that the memory of young Harry Schmitt began to fade away in Woodhaven, but he was never forgotten, certainly not by American Legion Post 118.

Starting in 1961, our local American Legion has been honoring its members in their Garden of Remembrance, which was planned to be a “miniature Arlington Cemetery,” with a marker honoring residents of Woodhaven who died in service or afterwards.

It is a beautiful sight, a field of crosses filling the front yard of the post, each marker representing someone who is no longer with us. A ceremony is held every year in honor of those that the markers represent.

And every year since 1961, Harry Schmitt has been part of that Garden of Remembrance; a cross bearing his name has been on display, with all the others, every Memorial Day.

The Schmitt family left Woodhaven just a year after young Harry perished and they were unaware that the Post had continued to honor Harry in their garden each year. It touched them deeply that their Harry had never been forgotten.

In 2018, 60 years after Harry was lost, the Schmitt family returned to Woodhaven for Memorial Day services at the Post. Harry’s sister Margaret was presented with a memorial flag while everyone observed a moment of silence.

During the ceremony, Commander John Lawless asked everyone to look at the Garden of Remembrance. “Sadly, each year, our garden grows,” he said.

Each new marker is a new name that will forever be remembered and honored by American Legion Post 118 and the residents of Woodhaven.

Please note that American Legion Post 118 will be hosting a Memorial Day Observance at Forest Parkway and Jamaica Avenue on Thursday, May 26th starting at 6:30 p.m. And on Memorial Day itself, resident will begin gathering at 10:30 for the annual Memorial Day Observance outside the post, in front of the Garden of Remembrance.

Support our vets

Dear Editor,
As the nation prepares to celebrate Veteran’s Day next week, Americans should all be grateful for the sacrifices these brave men and women have made in the past and continue to make for our nation.
Our veterans need our support now more than ever, and government must help them and their families. Instead of worrying so much about the illegal immigrants who continue to cross into our country, the government should be taking care of our veterans.
Thank you for your bravery, service and dedication protecting this country.
John Amato
Fresh Meadows

Queens Vietnam Veterans Memorial vandalized

The Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Elmhurst Park was vandalized sometime between Tuesday night and early Wednesday morning.
Graffiti vandals spray-painted “Baby Killers” and swastikas, among other things, in the shadow of several wreaths that were placed there last Thursday morning during a Memorial Day ceremony.
The memorial was dedicated on December 26, 2019. It culminated a decade-long push for the $2.85 million monument, which features a curved bench flanked by two semi-closed granite walls.
One wall bears the names of 371 men from Queens who fought and died in the Vietnam War. The second features a timeline of the war and a map of key locations.
An additional plaque honors the lives of veterans who died from illnesses related to their service in Vietnam. It includes the name of Pat Toro, a former president of the Vietnam Veterans of America Chapter 32 who began the push for a memorial in 2008.
He passed away in 2014 due to complications from exposure to Agent Orange during his time in service.

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