This is the fourth part of a series honoring 21 young men from the Syosset-Woodbury community who lost their lives in three wars that defined the past hundred years.
While several young men from Syosset and Woodbury served in the Korean War between 1950 and 1953, there are no documented fatalities among them. Shortly after the war came to a ceasefire, the United States began to intensify its involvement in another Asian conflict, this one in Vietnam. US military intervention peaked in the 1960s and, between 1967 and 1972, the Vietnam War took the lives of five young men who either lived or had grown up in Syosset.
PFC Peter J. Barbera, US Army
Barbera grew up and graduated high school in Franklin Square before his family moved to 78 Cherry Lane in Syosset sometime around 1966. Uncertain as to what he wanted to do with his life, Barbera enlisted in the US Army and spent a brief period serving in Germany with Company C, 2nd Battalion, 22nd Infantry Regiment, 4th Infantry Division before being transferred, in January of 1967, to the Tay Ninh Combat Base in Vietnam. From there, he would frequently write home to update his family on the latest news and to tease his father about the car he wanted as a coming home present. On Feb. 10, 1967, six months shy of his 20th birthday, Barbera was killed during heavy combat. He is buried at Holy Rood Cemetery in Westbury.
SPC Edward M. Amato, US Army
Ed Amato graduated Syosset High School in 1960, after which time he and his family moved to Huntington Station. Five years later, he became one of the first draftees from Long Island, joining the 1st Platoon, Alpha Co., 2nd Battalion, 22nd Infantry Regiment, 3rd Brigade, and subsequently surviving heavy fighting on several missions. On March 21, 1967, during the Battle of Suoi Tre in the Tay Ninh Province, in which the Viet Cong were inflicting heavy casualties on American troops, Amato’s division was called in as reinforcements. While on night ambush patrol, 23-year-old Amato was hit and killed by “friendly fire.” He is buried at St. Charles Cemetery in Farmingdale.
PFC Gregg E. Lavery, US Marines
Lavery grew up at 21 Jerome Road in Syosset and enjoyed a short run as a star varsity baseball player for the Syosset Braves before transferring to the Admiral Farragut Academy, a military prep school in Tom’s River, NJ. He enlisted in the USMC in August of 1967 at age 17, trained at Parris Island, and departed for Vietnam in January of 1968. Two months later, Lavery’s parents received a letter from him lamenting the deaths of several of his buddies and noting that his battalion was having a rough time capturing a certain village. On March 18, 1968, four days after his parents had received the letter, 18-year-old Lavery, an Antitank Assaultman, was fatally shot in the chest by enemy fire while participating in a multi-battalion operation in Vinh Quan Ha Village, Quang Tri, Vietnam. He is buried at the Long Island National Cemetery in Farmingdale.
CPL Mitchell H. Sandman, US Army
Growing up at 225 Jerome Street and attending the now-defunct TV Summers Elementary School, Mitchell was, according to a former bus-mate, a “shy” youngster. After graduating Syosset High School, he received a draft notice from the US Army, which assigned him as a Gunner to the 198th Light Infantry Brigade, 5th Battalion, 46th Infantry in South Vietnam. On June 3, 1969, 20-year-old Sandman was onboard a Hughes OH-6A Cayuse helicopter conducting a mission over the Quang Ngai Province, a Viet Cong stronghold. As it approached Quang Ngai City, the helicopter took heavy enemy fire and crashed to the ground. Sandman and his fellow gunner attempted to flee the wreckage, but sniper bullets immediately cut them down. Sandman is buried at Mount Ararat Cemetery in Farmingdale, NY.
CPT Peter A. Cacciola, US Marines
After graduating Syosset HS in 1959, eighteen-year-old Peter Cacciola set his sights on a career in the fine arts. In 1965, with a degree from the prestigious Rhode Island School of Design, he embarked on a Peace Corps mission to Iran, where he briefly taught industrial design before deciding to enlist in the US Marines. With the conflict in Southeast Asia quickly escalating, Cacciola soon found himself in Vietnam, serving as a helicopter pilot for the entirety of 1968 and receiving a Presidential Citation for his role in the delivery of blood to the embattled Khe Sanh region. His piloting skills earned him a promotion to captain and an assignment as a flight instructor in Pensacola, Florida. On Sept. 26, 1969, 28-year-old Cacciola was killed instantly when his plane malfunctioned and crashed on landing at the training station.
Major Henry J. Repeta, Jr., US Air Force
Henry “Hank” Repeta was a 17-year veteran and an established family man at the time of his death at age 39. He had grown up on Humphrey Drive before joining the USAF in 1955, following in the footsteps of his father, who had been shot down and killed over France during WWII, on Repeta, Jr.’s 11th birthday. After marrying in 1956, Repeta, Jr. left Syosset for Nebraska, where he and his wife raised three children. An accomplished electronic fighter pilot with the Tactical Air Command, EW Squadron, 388th Tactical Fighter Wing, 42nd Tactical Electronic Warfare Squadron, he ended his military career as a Navigator, guiding numerous bombers through treacherous missions over Vietnam. Two days before Christmas of 1972, as Repeta, Jr. and his squad were returning to Korat Royal Thai Air Force Base from a mission over Laos, their Douglas EB-66B Destroyer experienced a dual engine failure. The aircraft plummeted to the ground, killing Repeta, Jr. and his two fellow crewmen. In an eerie parallel to his own life experience, Repeta, Jr. died on his eldest son’s 15th birthday. He is buried at Offutt AFB Cemetery in Sarpy County, Nebraska.
The following people generously provided photos, anecdotes, and supporting information for this series: Lillian Barbera Gedra, Debbie Giannone, Mike Gilks, Robert Helms, Sr., Elizabeth Hendrickson Lee, Gail Lee, Scott McLaughlin, Cliff Saxton (St. Louis Country Day School Archives), Jane Baylis Sotera, Christine Stewart (Offutt AFB Cemetery Historian), Suzan Lavery Sullivan, Carol Baylis Swett, Steven Tate, Syosset American Legion Post 175, and The US National Archives.