By Sophia Ricco
Auxiliary police officers and military families came together at the South Huntington Library to honor a local Gold Star mother and to witness the surprise of two Marines returning home for the holidays.
The event was organized by auxiliary police officers, Lt. Bob Turner, Sgt. Douglas Henningsen, and Michael Garone, volunteer peace officers who work as a specialized unit alongside the police department.
“It just came to me, why don’t we do something as a law enforcement organization to give back to the community/” Turner said. “They’re always saying thank you to us, so let’s give them a thank you.”
“They put their own lives on the line and in some cases, lose their lives to recognize a sense of duty and patriotism,” County Legislator William “Doc” Spencer said. “They’re special individuals and the least we can do is take care of them and their families. We need to honor them and respect them.”
Among the event’s honorees was Janet Scherer of East Northport, mother of Marine Cpl. Christopher Scherer who was killed in Iraq in 2007. Scherer has worked to honor her son’s memory by organizing the “I DID THE GRID” run and walk that also raises money for veteran causes. The race takes place during Memorial Day weekend on the streets her son ran while training to be a Marine. Participants run four miles wearing a race bib with the names of four fallen soldiers.
While Spencer gave a speech in tribute of Scherer’s service and to all the families who have lost a loved one while serving this country, a surprise presentation was made to the Scherer family. The family was given a flag that flew over the Iwo Jima memorial as a symbol of their son’s sacrifice. Since, Janet Scherer works as a librarian in South Huntington, the flag will proudly fly in the library.
“The flag shows he is still here,” Henningsen said.
It wasn’t the only surprise of the day. Two military families were invited for what they believed would be Skype calls with their loved ones on active duty. Organizers pretended to lose the signal mid-call, leaving the families disappointed. Until the Marines came out in person, that is.
“It was one of the most awesome, breathtaking moments you can ever imagine,” Spencer said. “It was just such a surprise for them.”
The Marines returned from Arizona and Okinawa after being away for more than a year. Turner coordinated the troops’ returns for months and recruited local sponsors to pay for their tickets and hotel.
“This was a chance to honor vets and families of those who serve locally,” Spencer said. “There are now two families who are, just in time for Thanksgiving, going to have their loved ones back from overseas for the holidays.”
With the holidays being a time of togetherness, the families could take comfort in knowing they would get to spend it with their loved ones.
“Holidays are about family first and foremost,” Spencer said. “Many of these families sacrifice being separated because their duty is necessary during the holidays.”
In addition to Spencer, Legislator Susan Berland, Supervisor Chad Lupinacci, SCPD Second Precinct Inspector William Scrima, and Assemblyman Steve Stern also attended to pay their respects to the armed forces.
The service members and their families enjoyed performances from the students of Harborfields, John H. Glenn, Huntington, Northport-East Northport and Walt Whitman’s bands.
“The town of Huntington is a very tight-knit, close and strong community,” Henningsen said. “It’s also very family oriented… We thought it was only right to invite not just the adult population, but bring it down to the high school level as well.”
Suffolk County Auxiliary Police hope to make this an annual holiday tradition for years to come.