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Other than a Lady Gaga concert or a PETA convention, probably the last place you would expect to find me would be on New York’s Long Island. But that’s exactly where I was on Saturday, September 8. And I have to say that the community of Northport may just be one of the Empire State’s best-kept secrets.
Granted, all I really knew about Long Island was what I had seen on television. Until I got there, I half expected to see stagnant water with trash and the occasional body floating in it. Instead I found a quaint town with a New England feel, adjacent to one of the most beautiful natural harbors I’ve ever seen.
What made the experience all the more special was the reason for my visit: The company I work for, AppRiver LLC, was a founding sponsor of the first-ever Cow Harbor Wounded Warrior Weekend. Basically, the town, its citizens, and visitors hosted wounded veterans and their families for a free, three-day celebration that included a parade, barbecue and clambake. The weekend also featured activities like golf, water sports, fishing and a four-mile run.
AppRiver’s involvement came through one of our vice presidents, Rocco Donnino, who lives in Northport and who spearheaded the event. (That’s actually an understatement. It would be more accurate to say that he conceived it, beat the bushes for volunteers and sponsors, and used the sheer force of his will to make it a huge success.)
Our boss, CEO Michael Murdoch, invited Mary and me to come along as his guests. And of course, of all the Saturday activities available, we made the easy (and wise) decision to go fishing. As luck would have it, we landed on the 32-foot Strummer II, owned by retired cable executive Mike DiPasquale. (Mike no longer works his day job, but he and his fishing partner, Frank Nieskens, still play together in a classic rock band. So we fished with the strummer and the drummer.)
It turned out to be a beautiful morning as we headed out past the former Vanderbilt estate and the “Platinum Triangle” where the rich-even-by-New-York-standards live. Imagine wooded, rolling hills right down to the water’s edge, with beautiful, stately homes along the shore. In the distant background were the skylines of Stamford and Norwalk, Connecticut.
We tried bottom fishing for a while, but we didn’t get much action until we started trolling out in Long Island Sound. All three of us hooked up with nice blue fish, but only Michael’s and Mary’s got the free boat ride. Mine spit the hook, flipped me a fin and swam off.
I was happy to find out that, like me, Mike and Frank are card-carrying members of the fillet-and-release club. Even though they would have preferred stripers, the blue fish hit the grill within about two hours of leaving the water.
With a day of fun behind us, nearly the entire community came together for the evening’s clambake. In addition to excellent seafood and entertainment, it was also a powerful reminder of why we were there. One after the other, we spoke with men and women who had fought in Afghanistan and Iraq and shed their blood and tears for our country.
Many joined the service after the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Some were in wheelchairs, others wore prosthetic limbs, and some had eye patches. There were also those whose wounds weren’t visible, but whose pain is every bit as real.
Most refreshing to me was the fact that for one weekend an entire community set aside all of the things that divide us – politics, religion, race and region – and simply celebrated the people who sacrificed themselves so all of us can live free. In the end, it was clear to me that the things that pull us apart are no match for the things that bring us together.
Things like fishing, for example.