WWII U.S. Army Staff Sergeant Shares ‘His Story’
Before firing up their grills or heading to the beach to celebrate the unofficial start to summer, Stewart Manor residents and guests gathered on the lawn of the Stewart Manor Country Club on Saturday, May 28, for the village’s annual Memorial Day ceremony. Political dignitaries, local clergy and residents were once again humbled by retired U.S. Army Staff Sergeant Leonard Jindra, who delivered an encore keynote speech.
Unlike many other villages and towns that hold similar ceremonies on Memorial Day, Stewart Manor traditionally has held its Memorial Day ceremony on Saturday morning to remind residents to bear in mind the significance of the holiday as they enjoy festivities throughout the weekend, said Stewart Manor Deputy Mayor Robert C. Fabio. “Memorial Day is a day of remembrance … it’s not just about barbecues,” he said.
The Stewart Manor Fire Department Color Guard led the opening procession, which was followed by the national anthem, sung by Angela Powers. Rev. John Shepherd McKenzie of St. James Lutheran Church engaged attendees in his invocation, before Master of Ceremonies and former Marine Bill Grogan welcomed attendees and introduced Staff Sergeant Jindra, a Floral Park resident.
Jindra immigrated to the United States in 1938, when we was 16 years old. Just three years later, the United States was attacked and Jindra volunteered to enlist in the Army but was rejected due to a hernia. Earning less than $20 a week, he worked to pay for room and board. He deprived himself of many things and maintained his focus, which was to serve his country. Once he had more than $300 saved, he had surgery to correct his hernia, was reclassified and accepted into the U.S. Army.
Jindra went on to become one of 25,000 ranks positioned for the D-Day invasion. “We trained as infantrymen to save our lives and the lives of our comrades, destroy the enemy, and capture and hold on to territory which was won by hardship, sweat, blood and the lives of our comrades,” Jindra shared.
Jindra’s Division, the 29th, was one of the first to land on Omaha Beach. During training, he and his comrades were told the Air Force and Navy “would create craters on the beaches so we would have places to dive into if needed, and that they would destroy most of the mines and hedgehogs in the water and on the beaches. But when we landed, there were no craters at all, except shallow ones from the German artillery, and the obstacles and mines were not removed,” Jindra recounted. “As the landing crafts neared the beach … we jumped into the water. Some GIs got hit right there and drowned, some were hit in the landing craft, some drowned because the water was deep and their heavy packs loaded them down, some were hit on the beach, and shells were bursting all over. When we reached the beach there were no craters, only wounded and dead bodies all over.”
With nowhere to run and nowhere to hide, amidst flying bullets and landmines, the soldiers of 29th Division persevered and remained in combat until World War II ended in Europe, living up to their motto: “The spirit that never knew defeat.”
Jindra’s “story,” as he refers to his keynote speech, moved all who were present, from Legislator Vincent T. Muscarella, State Assemblyman Ed Ra and Town of Hempstead Councilman Ed Ambrosino – all of whom addressed the audience after Jindra’s speech – to the youngest attendees, Boy Scout Troop 134, who lowered the flag as Sewanhaka High School marching band members played Taps.
Indeed, what’s special about Stewart Manor’s ceremony is how it brings people from different generations together. “It’s important to have next generations understand the sacrifices that were made in the past and today” to secure our freedom and enable us to relish our current lifestyles, Fabio said.
Father Rudy Pesongco from the Church of St. Anne gave the benediction to conclude the ceremony, which was followed by light refreshments, courtesy of the Stewart Manor Country Club.