Unrest in peace: Military headstones wrecked by Sandy

Posted: 10:49 PM, Jan 03, 2013
Updated: 2013-01-03 22:49:35-05

The director of the Long Island National Cemetery–the resting place for 243-thousand military personnel and their families–told PIX 11 she’s hoping the dozens and dozens of headstones either toppled or uprooted by trees, during Hurricane Sandy’s fierce winds, will be restored soon.

“I actually drove through the cemetery the morning after the storm and was devastated,” Roseann Santore told PIX.

“I absolutely take it personally.  My parents are buried here.”CemetarySmash

Santore said 178 large trees fell during the October 29th super storm, and more than two months later, the clean-up is nowhere near complete at the 365-acre cemetery.  Veterans from World War One and beyond are buried here.

“It’s a disgrace,” said Eileen Scott, who was looking for the grave site of her late father, Ronald Currao, who served the United States in the Korean Conflict.  “It should be cleaned up immediately.”

Scott was relieved when she found her father’s headstone unscathed.  PIX 11 also met Marie Noulas, who arrived with flowers to visit the  grave site of her father, Peter Panas–a U.S. Army chef during World War Two–and her mother, Eugenia.  She, too, felt fortunate to discover the grave site intact–but Noulas did not like what she saw on the drive in.

“It’s a shame,” Noulas said.  “Everyone served in wars, the military.  They should be shown more respect.”

PIX 11 noticed the headstone of Ivory T. Houston, a corporal in World War One; it was tilted sideways, uprooted by one of the trees.

Santore, a long-time employee with the Veterans Administration–who took over as director at Long Island National Cemetery two years ago–explained that volunteers have cleaned up some of the grounds, along with workers supplied by Suffolk County, but the bigger job has to be bid on…with preference given to disabled veterans who own small businesses.  So far, 20 bids have been received.

Santore told PIX 11 a Boy Scout troop from Massapequa turned out on December 8th, with forty scouts and five adults clearing debris at the cemetery, in a show of respect.  About thirty to forty trees have been removed by cemetery workers and the staff provided by the Suffolk County Department of Labor.  Santore hopes the bigger clean-up will be done by the end of January.

In the meantime, she continues to get angry phone calls from military family members.  And some who live farther away from New York, especially in the south, had specific concerns about the graves.  “They were worried the caskets would be floating in the water,” Santore explained, recalling the situation in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina.  “I explained to them we’re farther away from the water.”

Santore, who got emotional during the PIX 11 interview, said she hoped the situation will be resolved soon.  “This is a national shrine,” Santore noted.