The board room in the Mineola Village Hall was filled this past Wednesday night with numerous members from various local veterans organizations, including VFW chapters and members of the Mineola Junior Fire Department.
The gathering was in honor of James Byler, a Marine recently returned home who had lost his two legs above the knee and his two pinky fingers due to a hostile action when he stepped on an IED while leading his platoon in Afghanistan.
“We are in awe of captain Byler, his patriotism, his courage, his love of country, his great attitude right now,” Mineola VFW Commander Carl Marchese said. “I have an acre of pain, man I’ve got nothing when I look at this guy. He’s an inspiration to all of us; proud to be an American tonight, especially proud to have this courageous young man with us.”
Byler’s brother John is also a captain in the army who served twice in Iraq and will serve 9 more months in Afghanistan.
“Captain, I don’t know what to say to you,” Mineola Mayor Scott Strauss said. “‘Thank you’ certainly doesn’t seem enough. The sacrifices that you’ve made and the support that you’ve gotten; you enlisted to serve a country that you obviously love and you’ve sacrificed greatly for it. There aren’t words to adequately express how I feel about our veterans and certainly our current military personnel serving. I can’t thank you enough for allowing our kids to live the life they live and us to live the life we live, thank you for that. Please know that you and every member of the military will forever live in our hearts and there’s no way that this country can ever repay you for the sacrifices that you’ve gone through.”
The veterans presented Byler with a monetary donation which Mineola American Legion member Bill Urianek had accumulated by collecting donated cans and bottles and collecting the 5-cent deposits.
“In a way, I hope it’s the last time we do it,” Urianek said, referring to Christopher Levy, another veteran who was honored. “So let’s hope it’s the last time we have to do this.”
Urianek said that he needed only 600 more cans to reach 250,000 in total before presenting Byler with a check for $9,100. He had previously given him another donation, bringing the total to $10,500.
“We look for inspiration where we can and today, unfortunately, we have example after example of people who are coming home,” Sen. Jack Martins said to Byler. “You stand as an opportunity for us to not only showcase for our youth but for all of us what it is to be an American, what it is to be proud of your country, what it is to be receptive to sacrifice to your country, to sacrifice with dignity, pride and with spirit.”
Albertson VFW Commander John Hamilton also presented a monetary donation to Byler.
“Once again I’m completely overwhelmed by the efforts of just citizens trying to give back to veterans that have sacrificed,” Byler said. “I never would have in a million years imagined that what I was doing that I would come home to such a reception. Another delight of being an honored veteran sitting here who did not get this reception and to you I would like to say ‘Welcome Home’ because God bless you as well and to thank everybody here for all your efforts that you are putting forward to continue to welcome home veterans. Thank you for being good people.”