St. John’s University Pauses to Honor Military Veterans

November 17, 2021

Special tributes were paid to local and student veterans of the US Armed Forces as they gathered to commemorate Veterans Day with their families and members of the St. John’s University community on Monday, November 15, on the Queens, NY, campus.

“We applaud the efforts of men and women worldwide who have served their country, the blessed land we call the United States of America,” said Joseph Sciame ’71Ed, Vice President of Community Relations, as he delivered welcoming remarks to the approximately 75 people who attended the annual event, held in the University’s D’Angelo Center. The Office of Community Relations organized the ceremony in collaboration with the St. John’s Student Veteran Association.

Currently, there are 240 veteran students at St. John’s, and the mission of the St. John’s University Veterans Success Center (VSC), in conjunction with the St. John’s Student Veteran Association, is to support these students as they pursue higher education degrees.

“The Veterans Success Center at St. John’s assists student veterans with successfully transitioning from military service to University life through networking opportunities, resources, community service, and advocacy,” said Sharod Tomlinson, who oversees the center and the association, and is Director of Student Development and the Reach, Inspire, Succeed, Empower (R.I.S.E.) Mentoring program.

The event began with the posting of the colors by the Red Storm Battalion, composed of members of the Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC) program at St. John’s. Patrick Clayton ’19CPS, a retired combat veteran with 21 years of service in the US Navy (1997–2018), led the Pledge of Allegiance. Sr. Patricia Evanick, D.C. ’97GEd offered the opening prayer.

Theresa Sareo, a singer and songwriter based in New York City, performed “The Star-Spangled Banner” and several other patriotic songs throughout the ceremony.

Alumni and student veterans of St. John’s received citations in honor of their outstanding leadership from the office of Queens Borough President Donovan Richards Jr. In addition to Mr. Clayton, the honorees are Desmond Calliste, Patrick Clayton, Bruce Clark, Howard Henderson, Grisel Luna, Carlos Ramos, and Jean Ugensky. Ms. Sareo also received a citation.

In addressing the assembled veterans, Lt. Col. William E. Brown, Commander of the ROTC program at St. John’s, said, “Thank you for setting a shining example for our current cadets as they go forward.”

Featured speaker Kevin Hill ’19GCPS, a retired combat veteran with 30 years of service in the US Navy (1984–2014), and Commander of the Veterans of Foreign War Post 1790, underscored the need for younger generations of veterans to become involved in VFW efforts.

“It is very important that you join these organizations so that you can become educated about veteran benefits that are available to you,” said Mr. Hill, of Brooklyn, NY.

During his remarks, Mr. Clayton expressed his gratitude for how his years in the Navy shaped his future.

“Once you step into boot camp, it’s a scary situation because of not knowing what every day is going to look like. Life as a soldier or a sailor is not a 9 to 5 job, and you are often away from your home and family during the holidays,” he said. “The military is not for everyone, but it was a blessing in disguise for me because it taught me about the importance of perseverance.”

Arthur Grabiner, 96, of Flushing, a World War II combat Navy veteran, attended the ceremony with his son, Douglas. Mr. Grabiner, who served aboard the USS Laurens APA 153, attained the rank of Yeoman Second Class and earned numerous honors during his service, which included his participation in the Battle of Okinawa.

Mr. Grabiner spent many years visiting elementary, high school, and university students in New York City, Long Island, Hawaii, and Guam, to share his experiences as a teenage sailor serving in the Pacific Theater. He also illuminated the enduring lessons he learned about courage, honor, and patriotism while defending the United States of America during World War II.

“I wanted to keep this part of our American and military history alive to these kids who weren’t even born yet,” said Mr. Grabiner, shortly before the start of the ceremony. “I hope that by educating young students about these times, the perils of horrors such as the Holocaust will not be repeated.”

Douglas Grabiner noted his father has attended a wide variety of events on the Queens campus over the years, including athletic competitions, lectures, and concerts. The elder Mr. Grabiner is also a return visitor for the annual Veterans Day event, with several attendees at the most recent one paying their respects and thanking him for his service to his country.

“Most children never get to meet their hero,” Douglas Grabiner said. “I was raised by mine.”