Veterans groups from across eastern Suffolk County participated in Veterans Day ceremonies this afternoon at Calverton National Cemetery, witnessed by an audience of several hundred spectators.

The ritual of Veterans Day ceremonies at the nation’s busiest national cemetery remains mostly constant from year to year: wreaths are laid, patriotic music is played, prayers are offered, dignitaries give speeches, taps are played, volleys are fired,

Rep. Lee Zeldin, one of the guest speakers at the event, summed up the reason for the ritual: to honor and thank our veterans, who secured the freedoms and liberties Americans too often take for granted.

“To all the veterans who are with us today, thank you for my freedoms and liberties,” Zeldin said, looking out over the audience, which included veterans of all ages and wars going back to World War II.

“We would not be able to live in the greatest nation in the world if not for the sacrifice of the men and women in uniform,” said Zeldin, a U.S. Army veteran who served with the 82nd Airborne in Iraq and is currently a major in the U.S. Army Reserves.

“Everything that makes our nation great is because of those men and women who answered that call to service in defense of our flag, in defense of our constitution, our freedoms and liberties,” Zeldin said.

He recalled visiting Iraq at Christmastime last year, where he saw the commander of the 82nd Airborne, who was on his 11th deployment to Iraq, a father of young children for whom it has become “routine … to be away for Christmases and other holidays and birthdays.”

He also met with a teenager on his first deployment, he said. “It was his desire all his life, growing up in a post-9/11 world, knowing nothing else, to someday wear that uniform all of you here have worn with so much pride and so much patriotism,” Zeldin said.

“Thank you for our freedoms and liberties,” the congressman told the veterans.

Riverhead Town Councilman John Dunleavy, another guest speaker and a veteran of the U.S. Navy said the town is proud to be home to Calverton National Cemetery. He stressed the need to take care of returning veterans, who often need assistance making the transition from active military duty to civilian life.

Today’s keynote speaker was USMC veteran Sgt. Robert Novotny, founder of Vets Lives Matter, an organization dedicated to assisting in that transition.

Novotny, a 2005 Longwood High School graduate, enlisted after graduation and served six years in the Marine Corps. He explained he was motivated to get involved to help veterans after his best friend and fellow Marine Daniel DeMaio “chose to prematurely end his life” on July 12, 2011. He was 27 years old.

DeMaio, he said, taught him leadership traits, Novotny said. “He was the epitome of a big brother, the man I aspire to be every day when I wake up.”

Novotny urged the audience to get involved. He urged veterans to join veterans groups and everyone to help veterans.

“Go out and be the change this country needs,” Novotny said.

Among the members of the audience was 100-year-old World War II veteran Richard Tuscani, of Mastic Beach, who served in the Philippines.

Calverton National Cemetery assistant director Larry Williams of Riverhead was honored by the cemetery for 38 years of service.

“He’s worked here since the cemetery opened in 1978,” cemetery director Michael Picerno said. Williams is retiring in a couple of months. Picerno presented him with a proclamation at today’s ceremonies.

The North Shore Community Band, under the direction of Lt. Col. James J, MacDougall (USAF Ret.) performed patriotic songs.

RiverheadLOCAL photos by Denise Civiletti

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