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Gus Scutari: Syosset’s Humble Champion of Americanism

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An image commemorating the Syosset Memorial Day Parade and its community painted by Mike Walsh, artist, veteran and member of American Legion Post 175

“I shall pass through this world but once.
If there be any kindness I can show or any good that I can do,
let me do it now for I shall not pass this way again.”
~
Etienne de Grellet, Quaker Missionary

Come Rain or Shine

Fran Scutari. Image provided by Gus Scutari.

On Memorial Day Weekend in 2016, when many towns called it qu

its and stayed home for the rain, there was at least one community that carried on: Band members, scouts, chamber members, church groups, nursery schools and veteran’s organizations, of course, as well as others involved in one way or another in the hamlet of Syosset proudly marched behind 95-year old Gus Scutari. In among the throng lining the street to cheer us on, his wife waved.

It’s hard to miss Fran Scutari, especially when she’s wearing her enormous Uncle Sam hat and dressed in all red, white and blue. She’s not the type to let a little rain dampen her spirits, either. Her smile of warm encouragement has a way of brightening any day.

We remember being pleased to overhear a damp child tell his fellow Boy Scout, “We are marching in honor of those who gave their lives for our country. What’s a little rain?”

By the time the parade finished at the small monument beside the train tracks, across from the old bank building, the sun was peeking through. NYS Senator Carl Marcellino spoke. So did Dr. Thomas Rogers, Superintendent of Syosset Schools. Both men are educators. Each is deeply committed to serving the Long Island community and earn a profile in their own right. This is about Gus, though, so we’ll share what Carl tells us through his website, which proudly declares that Costantino “Gus” Scutari was inducted into the New York State Senate Veterans’ Hall of Fame in 2013. He was also granted a Humanitarian Award by the Syosset Woodbury Republican Club in 2015. There are other awards, too. He appreciates the recognition.

After the dignitaries he arranged had spoken, everyone bowed to Gus. He took the stage and invited up the children — boy scouts, girl scouts, and any others who wished to stand with them — to honor Our Nation’s fallen soldiers. There was a rifle salute, and a bugler blowing “Taps.”

Gus encouraged us, then, to go on out and enjoy each other. Be thankful for our blessings, and make the most of this beautiful day while remembering all those who made that possible.

And so we went…

Gus Scutari

Gus Scutari at the ceremony following the 2016 Memorial Day Parade. Photo by Katheryn Laible

“You know,” says Gus, thinking about the presentations that occur after the parade, “Each person that I introduce…I like that they say this, but…sometimes, well…

“Well, what?” I ask.

“You know, the parade is supposed to be about the veterans who have passed away, but then each one of them comes up and makes a speech about me!”

He’s right. We can’t blame them. Still, we hope in some way to help get all that over with now and invite folks to, please, when Memorial Day comes, go ahead and thank Gus for all the work he does to bring the Syosset community together. Marvel at his enduring energy and spirit. Give thanks for his commitment. Please, though, also, remember why he does it:

To pay tribute to all who gave all in defending the United States of America, and to pause to think about what this country means and what our responsibility is as a part of that.

An Energy Friendly and Peaceful

“Let me see that paper,” Gus says, indicating a folded document on the table.

“I meant to Xerox this,” he says, opening the sheet to reveal a list of astrological sun sign descriptions, “I’m an Aries and I like what it says.”

We read the description of his sign together: “You have a profound effect on others. Your thought waves will influence the stranger passing on the street, the clerk on the grocery store, and the person picking up your mail, as well as the individuals in your inner circle. So keep your energy friendly and peaceful. Loved ones thrive in the comfort of your presence.”

“Yup. That’s me,” says, Gus, “We walk along the street, and people’s eyes meet. I sort of feel they say, ‘Hello,’ and I say, ‘Hello,’ and we start a conversation.”

He talks about his own mail person, and a few folks he often tries to get to wait on him around town. He relays a little more about a lady, whom he believes is from Pakistan or India. He tells me she’s a nice person and he likes her face. This quickly diverts to a playful dance between he and his wife, as Fran chides him for always admiring the pretty ladies.

“What do you mean?” he asks her, “She always asks me, ‘How’s your wife?’”

“And what do you respond, Honey?” Fran asks.

“I say to her when she asks,” says Gus, “I say, ‘Compared to what?’”

His eyes gleam and he looks at her.

“It’s OK,” smiles Fran, “I know he’s mine.”

We look at a photograph from when they were young, and another old picture from their 50th wedding anniversary.

How long have we been married now, Honey?” she asks him.

He’s quick to reply, “Too long!”

“You know why he’s saying that?” she asks, “Whenever he asks me and there are people around, that’s what I say, ‘Too long!’ I don’t want them to get jealous, Honey,” she says to him, smiling. Then she leans into me, “Really, it’s not long enough! The years are going too fast! I can’t believe it!”

Their love is undeniable. Their spirits are contagious. When we first called to interview him, Gus asked if we could wait a few weeks as Fran was having eye surgery and he had to take care of her. They had one son who passed away not too long ago. Fran has a beloved great grandson, but he doesn’t live close by.

Fran does try to arrange events to keep the extended family together, “I do what I can,” she says, “I want to make sure people know who they are to each other. I think it’s important.”

Really, though, the closest family the Scutaris seem to have is the neighborhood of Syosset.

VFW Post 6394

Gus (right) and his father

Gus shows me a photo of himself and another man, “I’m not sure of the year, but that’s my father. He was in the American Legion Post in Brooklyn. That was before I was even connected with these organizations. He’s in uniform and I’m not.”

“He always stayed upright,” remembers Gus, “He served and was wounded in World War I.” He shows me his Purple Heart.

Gus joined VFW Post 6394 in Syosset himself in 1983.  As a Post Member, he is a proud champion of the Patriot’s Pen and the Voice for America, two programs that encourage young people to consider and write about what it means to be a citizen of the United States of America. You can learn about the programs here. Winners receive scholarships and can advance through local, state and national competitions. A similar competition that focuses on appreciating the U.S. Constitution is run by the American Legion. It is called the Oratorical Contest. You can learn about that here.

I like to do what I can to get young people interested in being patriotic and honoring the flag.”

As we are talking, he takes a moment to reflect on how differently different veterans get treated, in particular noting the Vietnam Veterans, who not only took some rough treatment from people opposed to the war but also had trouble being accepted by the VFW which, due to how the engagement was technically defined, for a long time didn’t consider them eligible to join, “We received honors. They were called baby killers. We may have disagreements about decisions that were made higher up, but most of these guys were just following orders and doing the best they knew how. It’s not really fair to them.”

Somewhere around 1990, when he was Commander of the VFW Post, Gus took on the role of organizing the Parade.

“At that time the parade was very small,”
Gus remembers, “They had a flatbed truck and they used to go with it in front of the monument. It really wasn’t very much. Nothing like it is now.”

We talk a little bit about how things like this ebb and flow, and how a charismatic personality who is willing to take responsibility can make all the difference.

“Who can say no to Gus?” I ask.

“Oh, I know,” says Fran, “Gus sticks his nose into everything. He doesn’t miss a thing, believe me!”



There’s a lovely Patch article featuring Gus, the love of his life, and his role as the master of the Syosset Memorial Day Parade here. When we meet, he talks about a few folks who are, even now, finally coming around and want to be a part of what has become a fairly large and lively procession that annually reminds the busy people of Syosset that the fabric of the old community has not frayed entirely, but continues to loosely blanket the entire town.  

He also talks about how hard it is to find folks who might help, “I tell this guy, ‘Go up to that guy and tell him to go where I tell you to put him. The guy said, ‘I can’t do that’. I said, ‘Forget it. I’ll do it myself.’”

“It’s like they’re afraid to do it or something,” says Fran, “What could go wrong?”

He wonders a little bit what will happen to the parade once he’s done with it, and wonders who will step up to be a courageous leader in general.

Eugene S. Smith American Legion Post 175

Gus is also an active and beloved member of the Eugene S. Smith American Legion Post 175 in Syosset. It was a pleasure to join them recently for a pizza party. No one there seemed entirely certain when Gus joined, but they’re pretty sure he’s always had an important title. As of now, it is Sr. Vice Commander.  

Gus remembers that it was about ten years after he had joined the VFW that he approached the American Legion “At that time the two organizations weren’t very close, even though we’re right here a couple blocks away from each other. It was always, ‘this organization this and that organization that.’ I decided one day that I’d come over here and see if maybe we could get together. Since then, a lot of guys have joined me. It’s nice.”

He’s also committed to doing what he can to increase the membership of both organizations in general. Terri Squires, who serves as the Financial Officer and manages social media for the American Legion, remembers how she was recruited about 6 years ago:

She was in the parking lot of the Shop Rite in Plainview, and stopped her car to let an elderly man cross in front of her. He paused, looked at her license plate, and saluted her. He then approach the car,

“Who’s the veteran?” he asked.

“I am“ said Terri, who served as a Navy photographer and is now an 

Gus and Fran dancing at Gus’ 97th birthday party. Photo by Terri Squires.

 

“Well, in that case, you should come on down and join the American Legion.”

“How can you say ‘No’ to Gus?” Terri asked? So she said, “OK. I’ll come.”

“Gus is very straight forward. He doesn’t hold his tongue for anything and he’s a very smart, very nice man. He checks in every day to ask about his mail and is always on top of everything.  I admire that,“ reflects Louisa Lola, who owns a Uniondale salon and tends bar at the Legion on Fridays, “He also has a great sense of humor. I think that takes you a long, long way.”

“Yeah,” says another post member, “Gus is dedicated, honorable….a class guy. Humble, conscientious, and he knows who he is. A great sense of humor,” the guy laughs, remembering something he does not share, “He can take a ribbing and everything else, and give it back a little bit, too. Very good demeanor…”

“He reminds me of my father,” said Louisa, “I didn’t realize it at the time, but my father was like that. Gus, just being Gus, helps me appreciate that.”

 “He’s just a genuine, sweet guy. And he’s always the life of the party,” said Marilyn Urso of Homes by Mara Realty, “I mean, literally. He’s the DJ at every party we have here.”

Some are quite impressed by the range of eras and genres Gus samples from. Others think he’s perhaps a little bit heavy on the oldies. All appreciate the energy he brings.

“When the rest of us sit down, Gus and Fran get up and start dancing.”

This light-hearted Patch article talks about Gus playing the harmonica at a Labor Day Barbeque.

On a more serious note, Gus relates a story about a member who was discovered living in his van outside the post, “Two guys got together and got him into the Northport VA. Thankfully, he was able to live there.”

We lament that there are too many veterans without homes.

“It shouldn’t be that way today, though” says Fran, “They’re so updated on everything. It should never happen.”

And yet it does…  

The DAV

Gus remembers a guy coming up to him and asking if he was a member of the Disabled American Veterans organization.

I’m not disabled,’ I told him. Then he asks, ‘Are you over 80 years old?’

I told him, ‘yeah.’

’Then you qualify,’ he told me.” Gus looks at me, deadpan. “Then this guy asks me, ‘Are you over 85?’

I said, ‘yeah…’

Then the guys tells me, ‘Well, then you can join for free.’

That was it,” says Gus, “I told him I was in!”

He strikes the table for emphasis, looking very pleased with himself.

The Scouts

Gus and a few of the Eagle Scouts from the local Theodore Roosevelt Council. Image provided by Brian Zaino, Scoutmaster, Troop 205.

When we were first tracking Gus down, it was the Boy Scouts who guided our way. They led us to a VFW fellow, who offered some very good advice:

“Gus is usually very easy to talk to and listen to. If you can, get him to speak about his experiences in the Navy and on his ship,” said the Post member, “Getting him to brag about what he does will not work for I’m sure he feels it’s not all that much.  He will enjoy speaking about Americanism and respect for the flag.  I would suggest that you bring your son along and let Gus speak to him directly.  He enjoys speaking to the youngsters whenever he can.”

He likes interacting with the Cub Scouts, “I teach them about the Flag and patriotism, and I ask questions and listen to them. I like to see what they know.”

“I’m always handing out flags,” says Gus, “I like giving them to children and watching them wave, and encouraging them to sing ‘God Bless America.’

Gus is a faithful attendee of every Court of Honor where a Scout achieves the highest rank, which is Eagle Scout.

“The VFW gives the kid a certificate,” he says, “and the American Legion gives a certificate, too.” He shows me an American Flag pin, which he affixes to their collar, as a special badge of honor from Gus on behalf of all grateful veterans.

Usually, in Syosset, Joe Gehren will represent the VFW and Gus will represent the American Legion. If Joe, for some reason, can’t make it, Gus will wear both hats. He takes this responsibility very seriously. The Scouts appreciate it.

Here you can read a heartfelt tribute to Gus from Ed Gellender, a member of the local Theodore Roosevelt Council who has been active in Boy Scouting in Syosset for 25 years. While serving as Assistant Scoutmaster for Troop 423 in Plainview, he is also the Unit Commissioner for all Cub and Boy Scouts who meet in Syosset. Ed helped to establish Troop 205 in Syosset about 10 years ago, which has  already turned out more than 10 Eagles.

When we meet with Gus, he soon starts talking about another boy who has recently achieved that highest rank, and the celebration that he has been invited to. He asks if I will excuse him for a moment to call the folks responsible for those certificates, and make sure they’re going to be ready. He wants to make sure everything is just right.

“Eternal Father strong to save,
whose arm hath bound the restless wave,
Who bid’st the mighty ocean deep,
It’s own appointed limits keep;
Oh hear us when we cry to thee,
for those in peril on the sea. 
~ U.S. Navy Hymn

Joining the Navy

It is fascinating to listen to Gus talk about his experience in the Service,

I was born in 1921, and I enlisted in the Navy in 1942.”

He smiles and tells about how he was sitting on his stoop in Brooklyn when he saw a friend walking by with purpose.

“Hey, where are you going?” Gus asked him.

“To join the service!” replied his friend.

“Hey, I wanna come along!”

He jumped up and joined him. They went a ways together. Then, the friend turned.

Gus asked, “Hey, Where are you going?”

“Right here. This is where you sign up for the Marines!

“Oh, I ain’t going there!” At this point, the friends parted ways, and Gus went on to join the arm of the service he feels he was destined for.  He shows two pictures of himself side by side: One as a small child, and one as a young man. Both boys are wearing sailor suits.

“I tell you. Navy life is better than the Army or the Marines. I tell all the young fellas. If you’ve gotta join the service, join the Navy, because the Army or the Marines, they hit a beach, they’re in an invasion…a lot of them get killed right on the beach. They’re in the rain, in the snow. They eat right out of a bag or a can. In the Navy you sit at a table with a knife and a fork and spoon. Coffee. Ice Cream. You sleep in a bunk. If it’s raining, you’ve got your foul weather gear on.”

Two photos of Gus, one as a small child, the other as a young man. Both are wearing sailor suits. Image provided by Gus Scutari.

Great Lakes Naval Training Station

“You take a test called ‘The Eddy Test’,” explains Gus, “They want to see what’s appropriate; where to put you. So I put down that I wanted to be an Electrician’s Mate or a Fire Controlman, because a Fire Controlman also has to do with electricity and relays and stuff like that.

I think that they had enough Electrician’s Mates and not enough Fire Controlmen, so I became one of them.”

Gus went to Fire Control school at Great Lakes Naval Training Station in 1942.

“In Boot Camp, my job was to steel wool the buckets,” remembers Gus, ”That was, you know, you had to get the room ready for inspection, every Friday, maybe. I don’t know, I forget. All the guys did different jobs and me and this other guy were given the buckets. We had to steel wool the buckets until there wasn’t a spot on them.”

“How come you don’t do that here?” pipes in Fran.

“I don’t want to do it, but who does it?” he replies.

“You! Once I catch you, Honey!” She laughs.

So anyway, says Gus, “Me and another guy came out tops in the class. So, we were interviewed by a warrant officer, and since I told him I went to Brooklyn Technical High School and I studied electrical engineering and graduated from there, maybe that impressed him.

He said, ‘Ok, we’re going to keep you here as an instructor.’

So I stayed there for about a year and then the orders came out that anybody’s who’s been on the beach for a year has to go to sea. They assigned me to the Haynsworth.”

One of the First Guys on the USS Haynsworth

“I was only on one ship, that ship, all my time. I was on that ship before it belonged to the Navy,” explains Gus, “It was built in Carney, New Jersey.”

“When I reported to the Captain, he said to me, ‘The ship is not finished yet.’ He says, ‘go find you someplace to live because you can’t live on the ship and there’s no buildings.

I said, ‘I live in Brooklyn.’

He said, ‘Go home and come back every morning.’ So I did that until they finished the ship. It was maybe three weeks or a month.

When we finally went on the ship the pilot house was too low to see over one of the gun mounts, they call it Gun Mount Number Two. So we went to the Navy yard and they raised the pilot House, with stanchions, about a foot and a half. That took about a month. When we were going from Carney New Jersey to the Brooklyn Navy Yard we were told that ship did NOT belong to the US Navy so no matter what happens, don’t do anything.

So when we got to Brooklyn, they raised the pilot house and in 1944 the rest of the Crew came on board.”

A photo that was taken of and developed in the Forward Diesel Room of the U.S.S. Haynsworth. Image provided by Gus Scutari, who helped develop many photos in that room.

A Forward Diesel Darkroom

Gus shows me a photo, “This picture was taken in Maui in Hawaii,” what happened was there was a guy on the ship who knew how to develop pictures, and we asked the Captain for permission to use the Forward Diesel Room as a darkroom. So, him, me and another guy, whenever fellows gave us a roll of film, we developed it and we made a copy for each one of us. So we had a lot of pictures.”

“That must have been very special,” I said, “There musn’t have been a lot of guys who were able to do that at the time. I mean, now we’ve all got these cellphones and everyone’s constantly sharing pictures of everything…”

He considers a moment. “Yeah. You’re right about that. In fact, there was a guy named Marty Irons and he lives up in Vermont or New Hampshire and knew I had a lot of pictures and he drove down to my house and he interviewed me. I gave him all the pictures and he copied them and he made a book.”

There’s a continually updated website dedicated to the ship and the “several thousand sailors and officers from nearly every state in the union that served proudly aboard the USS Haynsworth DD700, during 26 years of volatile times.” There, you can find an article by Marty Irons that features Gus. More photos of Gus’ from the U.S.S. Haynsworth are here, and here. There’s also another website dedicated to the Haynsworth, which was lovingly maintained by a veteran named Howard R. Doble, Jr. He served on the ship after Gus did, and also includes some of his photos.

There is a Facebook page dedicated to the 2017 book written by Irons, entitled Phalanx Against the Divine Wind, here. The book itself may be previewed and purchased here.

A Few Old War Stories

All Right You Guys!
“In Boot Camp, I was called an Apprentice Petty Offer. Not even a Petty Officer. I had to go to each of the barracks because we had pot belly stoves and had to make sure there was no fire. So, I came into one place, lights were out, everybody was in their bunk. It’s not too late, but they were making noise and all that….I said, ‘ALL RIGHT YOU GUYS, IF YOU DON’T STOP MAKING THAT NOISE YOU’RE GONNA BE OUT ON THE GRINDER IN TWO MINUTES!”

“They shut right up!” smiles Gus, “They didn’t know who I was. It was dark!

Mogmog
Gus remembers Mogmog Island at Ulithi in the Marianas, “We were allowed to go on the beach for a short time, about 6 hours,” remembers Gus, “and they gave each guy a few cans of beer. On the Island there’s a thing called Ship’s Company. They’re there all the time. When we came about they had things where you could gamble. That’s what the guys were doing to make extra money…the guys on the beach. Some had bottles of booze, which we didn’t have, and they would sell it to us.

“So it was like a little vacation,” I said.

“It was really the only land after we left Pearl Harbor that I saw.”

Always the DJ
Gus recalls how he used to play records over the Battle Circuit on the Haynsworth, “When General Quarters was called, everyone had to go to their battle stations. Most guys in each each crew could rest, or even sleep, but there was one guy who had to stay on ‘Ready Alert.’ This guy had to keep a headset with a microphone on and keep listening in case there were further orders. Nobody liked the job, because you just had to just sit there.”

Each of these headsets was on the same circuit. Gus wrote to his father and asked him to send a record needle and housing. He affixed this to one of the microphones and used it to play V-Disks, which was a record label formed in 1943, specifically for U.S. Army personnel. You can read about that here.

Once I taped the needle to the transmitter, the music went to all the guys’ headphones on the circuit.  After we got those records going, it became much easier to get the guys to do Ready Alert.”

It worked really well until one day a voice crackled over the radio, “‘WHERE IS THAT MUSIC COMING FROM?!?'” The voice belonged to an officer, “So I cut it out,” says Gus, “Quick!”

The War
We will post Gus telling his own story of when Kamikazes hit his ship, killing 12 and wounding 48 on our Facebook page beneath the newsletter featuring this article. According to the U.S.S. Haynsworth website, this was “the first of 25 more ships to be struck by kamikazes during a thirty hour period. Six were sunk, nearly 500 perished. The majority of the ships struck were destroyers or destroyer mine sweepers.

Gus emphasizes, more than once that he counts himself very lucky, “I didn’t get to see anything — Anybody killed, or fire, or anything which I’m very happy about because I understand some of the fellows in these wars, they see things and they remember them.”

“…I understand some of the guys, well, there’s how many who died and a lot of them were wounded, and I didn’t see any of them.”

“You didn’t see any of them?”

“No, and then the ones that died, they sewed them in canvas and they were gonna bury them at sea the next day or the day later. So we were all called to go to the ceremonies. When we were starting the ceremonies, Japanese planes came around again and we all went to what is called ‘General Quarters’. Generals Quarters is our battle stations so, again, I was back in the Plotting Room. So I didn’t see anybody go in the ocean, and I’m glad I didn’t see that either.’

It wasn’t just surviving an actual attack that makes Gus feel lucky to be spared. It’s well known that “The Pacific” is a funny name for an ocean that’s often anything but calm:

The destroyers are known for rocking around,” remembers Gus, “They’re small. One time we took a roll, I think they said it was 60 degrees. Now, 45 is half over, and 50 is really far. But I don’t remember that actually happening. I guess that after a while you get used to holding on here and there. In the China seas before Iwo Jima, I’m not sure if it was two Destroyers or just one, but they turned over and everyone died. They turned over, and sank.”

“It sounds like, all things considered, you felt very lucky for your situation,” I remark.

“Yes. My watch station was in the main battery director, which is way up here, see it here?” He points to the photo, “I was a pointer. That was my watch station. I think they were four hour watches, I don’t remember now, some of it escapes me…but when General Quarters sounds, you go to your battle station, which for me was in the Plotting Room. I was very lucky to have to go to the Plotting Room. Because I didn’t see anything and I was sort of protected from the plane.”

“And you got to leave before the smoke got too bad…”

“Yeah, when we went out of the Plotting Room, when we opened up the hatch, because they’re all water tight, the smoke all cleared. We realized one of us was missing, so we went back in the Plotting room. We didn’t go topside.”

And it turned out your chief had stayed behind to figure out which phone lines were working,” I remembered.

“Telephone lines, yeah. There’s a switchboard in the plotting room, and he was there with a hand phone, plugging into all the holes to see what circuits weren’t working and which were.”

“This must have been really important,” I suggested.

“Yeah, I imagine it was, because it was communication. You’ve gotta be able to communicate on the ship. That was Chief Hall. He was a nice guy, and a good guy. He was a regular Navy guy; in the Navy before the war.

I didn’t do anything that anyone else wouldn’t have done.”

Gus says he also often gets asked if he ever fired a gun. So, we will also post him telling his story about operating the main battery. Again, he emphasizes that he’s glad he never had to see his target.

Reunions

After the attack, the Haynsworth had to be repaired. By the time that happened, the War was over. Gus went home to a career with the Brooklyn Manhattan Transit Corporation. as a Signal Maintainer in the Maintenance of Way Department. The ship went on to have a long, interesting life of its own, which you can

It was eventually sold to Taiwan, which kept it for 25 years. Ultimately, it was sunk as an artificial reef.

Gus and John Vasquez, who survived being severely injured on the USS Haynsworth at a 2017 reunion.

Gus goes to a lot of reunions for folks who were, in one way or another, involved with the ship. In 2017, he connected with one of the men who was severely injured in the Kamikaze attack.

“He got hurt very badly. His head was, I would say, split open more or less.

He was top side, or in the radio shack, I think. We transferred him to a Battle Ship or a Carrier, because they had a hospital on there and they took care of him.”

We pause for a little bit to consider how grim that man’s future had looked way back then, and how hard it can be to foresee what might come next.

God bless America,
Land that I love,
Stand beside her and guide her,
Thru the night with a light from above.
From the mountains, to the prairies,
To the oceans white with foam.
God bless America, My home sweet home.
God bless America
My home sweet home.
~ Irving Berlin

Americanism Chairman

PictureBill Santini, Syosset VFW; Ed Aulman, American Legion; Gus Scutari; Jay Caputo, Chief of Detectives, Nassau County PD. Photo provided by Gus Scutari.

Gus proudly wears the title of Americanism Chairman of the VFW in Nassau County.

Every month I make a short talk, maybe 5-10 minutes on history and Presidents of the United States and things that happened the month of the meeting. I say the presidents who were born in this month, and anything I think they might find interesting. Once in a while I throw in something, like, if I was going tonight I would ask the men about how they felt about gun control and things like that.

I don’t like to just talk history because, well, they’re older guys and I don’t know how much interest they have in history. What I can say, though, is that, when I’m done talking, I’m the only guy whose report they clap for, because I make it fun, you know?”

I keep asking him what it means to him to be an American. He’s not sure what to answer. Finally, he tells me this:

“I really don’t know what to say to that, but I believe America is the best country in the world. Maybe I’m prejudiced because I’m an American. But I think we treat a lot of the foreign countries that are in trouble – we send them money, we send them food – and a lot of them don’t appreciate it unfortunately. Yeah, like we send this to this one, and that over there, and I don’t think many other countries do that.”

“We have feelings for people, you know?”

“A certain…kindness? A care?” I suggest. He nods.

“And I believe, although maybe I’m prejudiced again, I think the American soldier and sailor, anybody in the service, has compassion. When we capture somebody, I don’t think we torture them or anything like that. In fact, when we sunk 3 small ships, Patrol Boats, the guys were in the water because their ships were wood. They were all hanging on different things, floating.

We were out alongside them “One guy was shooting at them; at the Japanese.  Word came down from the bridge, ‘Whoever’s shooting at the Japanese, cease firing.’ And he stopped.

We picked the guys up. Some of them, I believe, were afraid to come on board because they thought we were gonna torture them, but finally they came up. The wounded ones we took care of.  We gave them a complete denims: shirt, pants, underwear, shoes, everything. And they ate what we ate. They ate a meal with us.”

“They ate with you…” I say. He nods:

“The guys, some of them got friendly with them. And we didn’t have a jail on the ship, no brig, so they were in that compartment called the ‘Forward Diesel Room’. There was a hatch, and they’d be in there.

The guys would be talking to them and stuff, and I said to them – to the guys, not the prisoners, I said, ‘Yeah, go ahead. Act nice to them. Maybe one of them is going to grab a gun and go through the ship and shoot a few…’

But that didn’t happen. And when we were ready to pass the Japanese to a big ship that had a prison (they wanted prisoners so they could interrogate them and find out what was going on – and we sent them across – we sent a line across, with pulleys. And I saw as soon as they got on the other ship there was Marine guards, and they grabbed them and pulled them back.

We didn’t treat them that way. We treated them pretty good.”

And so, Gus asks, please respect the flag. You don’t have to like it. You have every right to your opinion and your experience, but, on behalf of so many good guys who gave so much for it, please treat it with respect, “I can’t stand seeing anyone burn the flag,” Gus notes, “That’s one thing that really gets to me. If you don’t like it, just leave it alone.”

Maybe we’re mistaken, ourselves, but it seems that the message from Gus is that we have the freedom to make what we will of this Nation, and that, yes, the grand actions of leaders and heroes are important, but it’s how everyday people choose to conduct themselves that makes a difference, and that sometimes it may seem like a crazy thing to do, but doing the right thing seems to work out pretty well most of the time. Even when it doesn’t, it’s still the right thing to do.

So, go on out there, try to stand up straight, and make the best of whatever life hands you. Take it at least as well as you give it, and remember to laugh.

Heaven only knows what comes next. May God Bless America.

If You Appreciated This, You May be Interested

www.usshaynsworth.com is a continually updated website dedicated to the ship and the “several thousand sailors and officers from nearly every state in the union that served proudly aboard the USS Haynsworth DD700, during 26 years of volatile times.” There, you can find an article written by Marty Irons that features Gus. More photos of Gus’ from the U.S.S. Haynsworth are here, and here.

www.usshaynsworth.com is another website dedicated to the Haynsworth, which was lovingly maintained by a veteran named Howard R. Doble, Jr. He served on the ship after Gus did, and also includes some of his photos.

Phalanx Against the Divine Wind is the book written my Martin Irons, which features many of the images Gus helped develop. There is a Facebook Page here dedicated to the book.  The book itself may be previewed and purchased here.

Louis Zamperini was an incredible story even before his incredible WWII story of being in a life boat on the high seas, and then being captured by the Japanese. You can learn all about him here.

A fellow from the American Legion in Syosset finds himself honored to work for Leonard Finz, another Brooklyn native who recently published his own memoirs: “The Greatest Day of My Life: A Human Interest Memoir of a 92-Year Old World War II Veteran and his Diverse Careers” It, too, is quite an adventure!

Editor’s Note: The audio of Gus was added directly to this piece when we conducted a major porting of archives to a new website in January, 2021. Gus passed away in the Spring of 2020. Throughout his life, he continued to live in service to veterans and scouts, planning the Syosset Memorial Day Parade from his nursing home room in 2019, making it to preside over the event in person, continuing to attend that, every Eagle ceremony and other event he could get a ride to and, until his very passing, continuing to be concerned with such activities and the deep meaning he appreciated in them.

The road where he presided over the ceremonies immediately following the Memorial Day Parade in Syosset was renamed in his honor in 2020. We are grateful to have had the opportunity to spend such meaningful time with him in writing this piece and in some of in his endeavors throughout the community, and to have had him personally review and edit this article before publication.

We offer this piece as a continuing memorial and inspiration to all would take it upon themselves to live up to yhe best of what it means to be an American, and to honor all those who give so much for our Country. God knows, all of us who were so blessed to have known Gus ourselves will remain forever grateful and inspired.