By Danny Schrafel
A World War II veteran from Huntington Station is being remembered for his service to local veterans after he died suddenly Jan. 22 in a car crash on East Jericho Turnpike.
Salvatore Tornatore, 94, was deeply involved in the Disabled American Veterans (DAV) and served on the organization’s national board. He was a longtime member of the town’s Veterans Advisory Committee.
Second Precinct Det. Sgt. Jeffrey Walker said Tornatore’s car “slowly drove into the eastbound traffic” while he was driving westbound on East Jericho Turnpike near Engelke Avenue at 2:30 p.m., before he was hit head-on by a car-hauling tractor-trailer.
Tornatore may have become unconscious due to a medical incident before the crash, Walker said.
“There was no braking before the collision,” he said.
Frank McQuade, chief of the Huntington Manor Fire Department, said the full-size Cadillac Tornatore was driving was “totally crushed.”
“We pulled him out right away and started working on him,” he said.
Huntington Community First Aid Squad volunteers soon joined the rescue effort and performed CPR at the scene, but Tornatore succumbed to his injuries.
Tornatore’s service to veterans, especially those with disabilities, was his life’s calling, friends and colleagues said.
DAV national Adjutant and CEO Mark Burgess said Tornatore “dedicated his life to serving fellow veterans.”
“He was active and served on many committees at the DAV Department of New York and was beloved by all who knew him. America has lost a treasure in Sal – he was truly part of America’s Greatest Generation,” he said.
“Sal was not only a dedicated DAV member, but he volunteered at the Northport VA, including delivering presents to patients on Christmas morning,” added DAV Department of New York Adjutant Don Sioss. “He also was concerned for returning Vietnam veterans and more recently Iraq and Afghanistan veterans and mentored them. His presence in New York will be sorely missed.”
This Veterans Day, the town honored Tornatore with the Len Totora Jr. award, named after the late Korean War veteran and businessman.
Carol Rocco, the town’s coordinator of Veteran’s Affairs, said it was “his love” to help disabled veterans.
“He had a burning in his gut to help veterans that kept him so focused and vital,” she said. “It kept him young.”
Since March 2002, he served on the town’s Veterans Advisory Committee and had “unbelievable energy” into his mid-90s. For instance, while he was in rehab recovering from a fall, he checked himself out of the hospital to attend the dedication of the DAV memorial in Washington, D.C. this October.
Rich Kitson, a longtime friend who works as the chief of voluntary service at the VA, said he got to know Tornatore well through his DAV work. He said Tornatore had taken the Jan. 13 death of Dennis Krulder, a DAV national leader and Vietnam veteran, particularly hard. Now, the VA community is grappling with the absence of both.
“If anyone believes in a higher power… at 94 years of age, what’s better to have his mentor with him?” Kitson said. “It’s just unreal that they went a week or two [of] each other.”
Despite a generational gap with many of the veterans, Kitson said Tornatore and the younger service members always clicked. His connection with Vietnam veterans was particularly cherished.
Visitation is Thursday, Jan. 29, 2-4 and 7-9 p.m. at A.L. Jacobsen Funeral Home, Huntington Station. A 9:30 a.m. funeral Mass will be celebrated at St. Hugh of Lincoln R.C. Church on Friday, followed by burial at St. Charles Cemetery.