War Vets Shrinking In Numbers
By Brad Groznik
More than 16 million served in World War II and another 5 million
served in the Korean War, with almost a half million making the ultimate
For the years following their service, World War II and Korean War
veterans continued to be some of the most productive and positive
members of our country.
Rep. Gary Ackerman awarded Bayside resident and 86-year-old
Army veteran Sidney Minkoff with the medals he earned but never
received for his bravery and heroism during World War II.
State Sen. Serphin Maltese joins Boy
Scouts from Pack 390 and Scout Leader Marvin Jeffcoat to lay
a commemorative wreath at the World War II Memorial at Laurel
Hill Boulevard and 48th Street in Woodside.
Audrey Pheffer welcomed the Queens County American Legion members
to Albany to discuss their legislative agenda for 2007. Pictured
l-r standing: John Severa, Legislative Chairman, Denis McEneaney,
Past County Commander, Louis A. Rodriguez, Past County Commander,
Richard Pearsall, County Commander; sitting: Thomas Winberry,
County Vice Commander, Assemblywoman Audrey I. Pheffer.
Few know of the commitment veterans have for this country more than
State Sen. Serphin Maltese (D-Glendale).
“I was a teen when I volunteered for the Marines,” he
said. “Then the government found out I wasn’t out of high
Maltese said the government wanted him to finish high school and joked
that “when they needed cannon fodder they would call [him] up.”
Maltese served a year in Korea and filled in with an Oklahoma regiment.
“Most of the units called up were from the West Coast,”
he said, “so New Yorkers filled in the gaps.”
Maltese maintains military service is a good option for young people.
“If a young person is confused about what to do,” he said.
“I always mention that service is a good idea.”
Thomas Winberry, of Forest Hills, joined the Navy soon after he graduated
high school in 1950.
At 19 years old, Winberry wanted to keep the family tradition serving
in the military. His brother cruised the South Pacific in World War
II, his grandfather served in World War I and his Great Grandfather
fought for the Union Army in the Civil War.
“I didn’t realize how much my country meant to me before
I was in the military,” the 75-year-old veteran said. “I
was proud to serve.”
The Korean War was fought from 1950 to 1953 between the two Koreas,
which split the country into the two states existing today.
About 50,000 Americans lost their lives fighting in that war. It is
estimated that 2.5 million were killed worldwide because of the conflict.
Today there are 2.4 million American veterans alive who fought in
the war. A memorial is located in Kissena Park in Flushing.
Winberry was first shipped to Bainbridge, Md. where he spent 13 weeks
training. He then returned home for the holidays. It was the last
time he would spend Christmas with his family until the war was over.
Aboard a Navy destroyer, Winberry “kept the Russians at bay”
in the Artic Ocean. There is a tinge of regret when he talks about
his time on the ship.
“I didn’t get to see any combat,” he said.
For three years Winberry sailed the globe’s oceans several times
“You become very patriotic after you serve,” he said.
“You become aware of the need to keep the world free.”
After Winberry’s service, he eventually joined the American
Legion. He commanded his local chapter for seven years and currently
is the Queens County Commander.
World War II was the deadliest conflict in history. An estimated 70
million people died including 405,399 Americans. A total of 16 million
Americans fought in the war that ended more than 60 years ago, and
of them, 2.4 million are still living.
The average age of a World War II veteran is well into their 80s and
more than 1,000 are dying on a daily basis according to the U.S. Department
of Veteran Affairs.
The World War II Memorial in Washington D.C. was fast tracked because
officials wanted it to unveil it with veterans able to attend the
The memorial opened to the public in 2004 and is located on 17th Street
between Constitution and Independence Avenues, flanked by the Washington
Monument and the Lincoln Memorial.
The Veterans History Project at the Library of Congress is preserving
the stories and oral histories from the World War II generation.
In Queens, the World War II generation has done a lot at VA Posts.
“We’re losing our most dedicated volunteers,” Maltese
Maltese said many of the veterans from the more recent wars do not
involve themselves in the VA Posts while the leadership dies off.
“Vietnam vets are getting up there too,” Maltese said.
“After that, the biggest group is from the first Gulf War and
the War with Iraq.”
Maltese said he encourages all veterans, men and women, to join their
The American Legion was created in 1919 by Congress as a patriotic,
mutual-help, war-time veterans’ organization. The popular post
has nearly 15,000 locations and 3 million members worldwide.
The other issue with so many aging veterans is the strain it is putting
on VA hospitals.
There are around 25 million veterans in the country, 1.7 million are
women, and 40 percent are older than 65. Only 12 percent of the country’s
overall population is senior citizens.
The VA spent $3.4 billion in New York in 2006 to care for its more
than 1 million veterans.
The VA operates two health care networks in the state – the
VA Healthcare Network Upstate New York and the VA New York/New Jersey
Veterans Healthcare Network. They operate 12 major medical centers
in New York, plus an extended care center in St. Albans.
Winberry argues the care center in St. Albans is not enough to handle
the boroughs aging population.
“We need a veteran’s hospital in Queens,” he said.
“They’re swamped at St. Albans.”
On top of its medical care the VA also helps take care of the homeless
vets, of which, the VA estimates there are 10,000 in the City, accounting
for one third of all the homeless.
In the metropolitan area, The Consortium on Homeless Veterans received
the Public Employees Roundtable Public Service Excellence Award in
the federal category, recognized for excellence in providing innovative,
cost-effective service partnerships between VA and the area community.
Maltese added the VA is in charge of honoring veterans as well.
A member of several posts in Queens, Maltese awards vets with medals
from the U.S. military and the state.
“A lot of vets are in such a rush to get home to their families
they don’t get their medals,” he said.