“This means so much,” said Arthur Hughes, gazing up at the plaque bearing a photo of himself taken decades ago.
The career U.S. Coast Guard veteran spent two of his 20 years of service patrolling the coast of Vietnam at the peak of the conflict in Southeast Asia, 1969-1970.
“The Navy didn’t have ships small enough to do the job and the river boats were not big enough,” he explains. So they called in the Coast Guard.
Hughes enlisted in 1954, having graduated from Mattituck High School in 1953. “I wanted to serve my country,” he says. “And I wanted to get an education — and see the world.”
Hughes and his wife Rosemary were among the dozens of guests who turned out for the unveiling of Mattituck High School’s Military Wall of Honor this morning. The wall honors Mattituck High School graduates who served in the military following graduation.
Fifty-eight Mattituck High School graduates have plaques bearing their names, year of graduation and branch of service. All but one bear the veteran’s photograph. The plaque honoring Russell Penny, Class of 1939, bears an image of his tombstone. Penny, a private in the U.S. Army Air Corps, was Suffolk County’s first casualty in World War II. He was killed in the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941.
The Wall of Honor was a project coordinated by Barbara Sheryll of Cutchogue, who approached Mattituck High School principal Shawn Petretti with the idea of a wall honoring Mattituck High School NJROTC graduates who went on to serve in the military. Sheryll said the idea came from a conversation with one of her sons, who was a member of the NJROTC and won an NJROTC scholarship. He is currently enrolled at Rochester Institute of Technology and will serve in the U.S. Navy upon his graduation. Three of her four sons were in NJROTC at Mattituck.
“It was just a heartfelt thought– a desire to give back and pay tribute to the school,” Sheryll said in an interview this morning.
The project expanded to include all Mattituck High School graduates who served our country in the military after graduation, principal Shawn Petretti said in remarks prior to today’s unveiling.
The wall includes veterans from as early as the graduating class of 1937 — sailor Walter Dohm, who later went on to serve on the Mattituck-Cutchogue Board of Education — to graduates as recent as the class of 2017.
Art students at the high school created the wall’s murals, featuring a bald eagle, a U.S. Flag and the crests of the five branches of the U.S. military.
The Mattituck Lions Club, the Southold Police Benevolent Association, and Kait’s Angels provided funding for the project. Orlowski’s Hardware donated the paints used in the murals.
The unveiling today followed ceremonies in the school’s library, attended by the high school’s NJROTC, which provided a color guard. Tenth-grader Shelby Dufton sang the National Anthem.
“It’s so meaningful to know they are remembered,” said Theresa Linder, of Jamesport, widow of U.S. Navy veteran Thomas Linder — Mattituck High School Class of 1956 — said following the ceremonies.
Following his honorable discharge from the Navy, Thomas Linder served 20 years in the New York City Police Department.
Sheryll said additional veterans or their family members have come forward since the original wall design was created and they will be added. Mattituck-Cutchogue school board president Laura Jens-Smith said the wall opposite the wall of honor will be utilized for additions to the wall honoring the school’s alumni veterans.
The students who painted the Wall of Honor mural were: Christian Demchak, Annie Finnegan, Gabriella Hassildine, Wyatt Malave, Sarah Park, Andrew Voegel, Ryleigh Canberg, Edin Cotzojay Sican, Megan Dinizio, Anthony Divello, Abigail Heffernan, Rachel Janis, Kristen Lisowy, Jennifer Palencia, Greta Peters, Frankie Priolo, Bayleigh Rienecker, Axel Rodriquez Canel, Jacob Theodorou, Lauren Zuhoski, Dorothy Condon, Annabel Donovan, Michelle Escalante, Madison Storm and Christina Tomao.
SoutholdLOCAL photos by Denise Civiletti