by Laura Belfiore

There isn’t a single quality that defines heroism. Antoinette De Bellis knows this well, having a family friend in Spc. Blaise J. Flamio who received a Purple Heart for his military service in Afghanistan this past spring. She felt like he, and others in the community, were not receiving enough recognition so she took it upon herself to host a Wounded Warriors fundraiser last week at Our Lady of Lakes Knights of Columbus in Carmel.

From the event, De Bellis helped raise $2000, of which $750 will be put towards building mortgage-free homes for severely wounded veterans, and the balance will be donated to the Wounded Warriors foundation.

“I love to do it,” De Bellis said. “I love to help charities and I love parties.

The evening included dinner, dancing, a silent auction and an opportunity to recognize a few incredible members of the Mahopac community while raising funds for the Wounded Warrior Foundation. The three people honored at the event were Flamio, Vietnam Veteran Joe Manganelli and philanthropist and cancer survivor, Tracy Griffin.

De Bellis, community members and elected officials gathered to honor three individuals who have all shown signs of strength and who have dedicated themselves to the service of others. Among those in attendance were Putnam County Legislator Carl Albano, Sen. Greg Ball and Highway Superintendent Michael Simone.

“I wanted to celebrate our honorees and do something for the Wounded Warrior Project because it’s a cause near and dear to my heart,” said De Bellis.

The first honoree of the evening was Flamio, who could not attend the event because he was recovering at the Warrior Transition Center at Walter Reed Hospital in Washington D.C. Flamio was severely injured by an improvised explosive device in the Kandahar region of Afghanistan on June 18th while out on patrol. Flamio’s mother, Audrey Flamio attended the ceremony and accepted a Proclamation from Ball on her son’s behalf.

“Blaise epitomizes what a hero is,” Ball said as he prepared to hand Audrey the award for her son. “I thank him and I thank you.”

This past weekend Flamio was released from the hospital and allowed to return home. He suffered nerve damage, a loss of hearing in one ear and still has metal shrapnel in his body from the attack. But, he is able to walk, something doctors were unsure he would be able to do again because of the extensive shrapnel injuries to his legs and lower back.

Despite the severity of his injuries, Flamio, who received a Purple Heart for his services, remains positive and looks at his experience as a valuable lesson.

“My military experience was extremely unique,” Flamio said. “I learned a lot and I gained a lot of wisdom that other people my age don’t get to. But now I’m just happy to be headed home.”

“I also just want to thank everyone for supporting me for being in the military,” Flamio added.

Also honored at the event was ovarian cancer survivor and community volunteer, Tracy Griffin.

Griffin, a single mother of two daughters who worked three jobs to support her family was presented an award by Judge James Reitz for her strength and selflessness, and for her volunteer efforts with numerous organizations within the community.

With the help of her fellow members of the Ladies Auxiliary, Griffin helped send 850 care packages to U.S. soldiers last year as part of a United for the Troops project. She also rallied a team of approximately 30 local crafters to knit blankets, baby hats and shawls which were then distributed to hospitals and nursing homes throughout the area.

“You don’t do these things on your own,” Griffin said. “It takes a community. I’m just one small person.”

The final honoree of the event was Mahopac resident Joe Manganelli, a Vietnam War veteran. Manganelli was drafted in 1968 at 19-years-old and served as a military policeman for the U.S. Army for ten months in 1969.

“I know how the vets were treated when they returned home from Vietnam,” De Bellis told the crowd. “It was awful.”

Together, Albano and Simone presented Manganelli a certificate of recognition for his services to our country, an honor that those in attendance agreed was long overdue for Manganelli.

“I was called, I did what I had to do and I came home,” Manganelli said. “I’m just lucky I was safe.”

After the award ceremony, the night gave way to dinner and dancing to the tune of Stephanie and Mike Masiello of Mahopac’s Karaoke Mazters playing hits from the 1960′s.

Attendees gathered on the dance floor and joined hands as Mahopac resident Dennis Fox sang a powerful cover of “God Bless the USA.” Each time the chorus was sung, those on the dance floor threw their hands in the air and sang along.

The evening concluded with raffle drawings and silent auction winners were announced. Joe Sinisi, the Grand Knight of the Our Lady of Lakes Knights of Columbus, who donated the hall for the event, agreed with De Bellis that the night was a huge success.

“I think everything turned out great and I’m just happy we could be a part of giving back to the community like this,” Sinisi said. (ARTICLE)

About Greg Ball

Assemblyman Greg Ball (R, C, I – Patterson) is the Senator for New York State's 40th district. A former Vice President of Exceed International Development Corporation, Ball holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Political Science from the United States Air Force Academy, is currently completing his Masters Thesis of Liberal Studies in International Affairs at Georgetown University, and received an honorable discharge in 2005 at the rank of Captain after service as an active duty officer in the United States Air Force. View all posts by Greg Ball →
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