Golden honors Gold Star families at Veterans Day breakfast
Four military servicemen who were killed in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan were remembered by Brooklyn veterans who gathered for a pre-Veterans Day breakfast hosted by state Sen. Marty Golden in Bay Ridge Monday morning.
Golden (R-C-Bay Ridge-Southwest Brooklyn) presented the parents of the dead heroes with New York State Liberty medals in a ceremony that provided an emotional centerpiece to the breakfast event he hosted at the Bay Ridge Manor at 476 76th St.
Families of military service members killed in war are called Gold Star families.
Addressing the families directly, Golden said they were not alone and that the military will be there for them for moral support. “The camaraderie of the military will be with you for the rest of your lives,” he said.
Sal and Sandra Diaz accepted the Liberty Medal in memory of their son, U.S. Marine Staff Sgt. Christopher Diaz, who was killed in Afghanistan in 2011. Sal Diaz said he and his wife felt “truly blessed” to be at the breakfast with scores of military veterans. “It means a lot to us,” he said.
Part of Sgt. Diaz’s duties was to serve as a dog handler to a specially trained dog named Dino. Dino now lives with Sal and Sandra Diaz.
U.S. Marine Keaton Coffey, who was killed in Afghanistan in 2012, was honored posthumously by Golden, who presented a Liberty Medal to his father, Grant Coffey. “You would think that I can keep it together after four years,” Coffey said with tears in his eyes. He said his son “said yes” to the military without hesitation. Coffey had hoped that he would see his son return home from the war alive, “but God had other plans.”
U.S. Marine Corporal David Sonko’s medal was accepted by his parents, Kevin and Kim Sonko. “We’re proud to be here. We love the state of New York,” Kevin Sonko told the crowd in the Bay Ridge Manor ballroom. Corporal Sonko was killed in Afghanistan in 2013.
Golden presented the Liberty Medal to Kevin Wiens Sr. and his son Kevin Wiens Jr. in tribute to U.S. Army Corporal Kory Wiens, who was killed, along with his dog, Cooper, in Iraq in 2007.
Kevin Wiens Sr. talked about the strong bond shared by Gold Star families. “I’m happy to get to know our new family of Gold Stars,” he said.
Golden also honored Caesar, a friendly dog who served in war. The military retired Caesar and the pooch is now a New York City police dog. His handler, Police Officer Juan Rodriguez, said the dog eagerly comes to work every morning. “Thank you for letting us serve you,” he said.
Golden, a member of the Senate Committee on Veterans, Homeland Security and Military Affairs, hosts a breakfast event for Veterans Day every year. Anthony Testaverde, a Vietnam War veteran and an aide to Golden, organizes the breakfast.
The ballroom of the Bay Ridge Manor was filled with veterans from World War II, the Korean War and the Vietnam War. While Golden praised the various American Legion and Veterans of Foreign Wars posts that still had large numbers of members, he said more needed to be done to attract younger veterans, who had served in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, to join those posts. “We still have to go after our younger veterans,” he said.
Col. Joseph Davidson, the commanding officer of the U.S. Army Garrison at Fort Hamilton, was also on hand to salute the veterans.
Golden noted that the Bay Ridge-Dyker Heights portion of his Senate district is home to large numbers of veterans. “That’s something we can be proud of,” he said.
“Thank you for what you have accomplished,” Golden told the veterans. “Our veterans have fought Nazism, Communism and today, terrorism. Without the service of our veterans, all that America has accomplished would never have happened.”
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