Giving Back

Festival Puts Spotlight on Vets and Military History

Members of the DAV, front row, from left, Charlie McCay, Ed Gettler, Mike Hartnett; back row, Rich Castellano, Gary Armacida and Larry Lenahan Credits: Bob Dumas
Hannah Melchner receives a donation from one of the motorists passing by the Armed Services Appreciation Festival on South Lake Boulevard. Credits: Facebook
The color guard, made up of local first responders, stands at attention during the national anthem. Credits: Bob Dumas
Charlie Melchner Jr., left, presents Jack and Barbara Bettio with a plaque honoring their late son, Jordon, was an Air Force pilot. Credits: Bob Dumas
From left, Judge James Reitz, Assemblyman Kevin Byrne, Sheriff Don Smith, Charlie Melchner Jr., Councilman Frank Lombardi, Chamber Vice Chair Amy Sayegh and DA Bob Tendy
The DAV's Mike Hartnett, left, and Rich Castellano Credits: Bob Dumas
Charlie Melchner Jr. receives a proclamation from Assemblyman Byrne Credits: Bob Dumas
The new Mahopac Lions Club had a booth at the festival. Pictured, from left, President Kristen Plitnick-Sullivan; member Jenn Morandi, Vice President Corinne Stanton Credits: Bob Dumas
United for the Troops, an organization that puts together care packages for the troops and ships them overseas had a booth at the festival. Pictured are Sherri Donovan and Gil Maile. Credits: Bob Dumas

MAHOPAC, N.Y. - A gigantic America flag blew in the breeze over South Lake Boulevard Saturday afternoon, July 8, as volunteers stood in the streets taking donations from motorists passing by Mahopac Marine.

It was all part the third annual Armed Forces Appreciation Festival, a celebration superintended by the Melchner family—owners of Mahopac Marine. The event was the brainchild of Charlie Melchner Jr., born out of his deeply ingrained patriotism and a desire to help out U.S. vets.

Melchner conceived of the idea several years ago along with his friend Rich Castellano, while they were out having dinner one night. They sketched out the idea on a dinner napkin, imagining an event that would raise money for disabled vets, but also entertain and educate people about the military and its history. The festival, as they imagined it, would take place every year the first Saturday after the Fourth of July.

Sign Up for E-News

“More and more people have wanted to come [to the festival] and display things about our vets and the military and its history,” Melchner said. “I like that because I remember I went to a Memorial Day parade with my kids and it bothered me that they didn’t understand what it was all about. I wanted them to know why [the vets] are here and what they’re doing.”

The marina grounds on Saturday were covered with displays of military vehicles and equipment, as well as booths touting the services of veteran advocacy groups and local civic organizations such as the recently formed Mahopac Lions Club. And for the first time, the festival honored a specific fallen solider—Jordon Bettio, an Air Force pilot who died in 2007. Bettio’s parents, Jack and Barbara, were on hand to receive a plaque from Melchner. He said he met the Bettios through a mutual love of off-roading.

“[Jordon] was an incredible human being and I am sad that I didn’t get to spend enough time with him,” Melchner said. “I met his parents through off-roading and we became lifelong friends. He flew many secret missions and was a great pilot. We wanted to honor someone so people had the opportunity to understand what making the ultimate sacrifice is.”

The first year the festival was held, it raised a little more than $5,200. Last year, the fundraising surpassed $8,700 and Melchner expects this year should be on par with that.

Melchner noted every dollar raised is donated to the Disabled American Veterans (DAV).

“It’s not the profits that are given away—everything is. All the proceeds,” he said.

The money helps two local DAV chapters fund programs and events they run for veterans, such as the ones at the Montrose and Castle Point veterans hospitals. In fact, about 30 veterans from Montrose, all who suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder, were bused down to enjoy the festivities along with plenty of hot dogs and hamburgers.

Castellano, who is commander of Chapter 23 of the DAV, said the money from the festival will help him take the veterans on excursions such as dinner theater trips, ball games and restaurant outings.

“It gets them active and out of the hospital,” he said.

Mike Hartnett, commander of Chapter 137 of the DAV, said the donations he received helped pay for an Italian dinner supplied by a local restaurant for bedridden veterans.

“They really loved that,” he said.

For the ambulatory vets at the hospital, Hartnett said the money from the festival helps pay for outings to places such as IHOP, Appleby’s and Charlie Brown’s Steakhouse.

He had high praise for the Melchner family and the Armed Services Appreciation Festival.

“Charlie donates quite a bit of money,” Hartnett said. “He’s a super guy, a patriotic American.”

Melchner pointed out that while he may have conceived the idea, the Mahopac community quickly got behind it. The food, the music, and all the items made available as prizes for the myriad raffles held throughout the day, were donated by local businesses. Pozzitiv Productions, a DJ business, provided music all day long free of charge. Cross Road Deli workers volunteered to help to grill burgers and hotdogs.

Besides assorted raffles, there was also an array of silent auctions held throughout the day. The event also featured a “Most Patriotic Boat” competition as boats festooned in their most patriotic ornamentation paraded on Lake Mahopac just offshore from Mahopac Marine. This year’s winner was the Newell family of Mahopac, who took a home a trophy presented by the Putnam County Sheriff’s Department.

John Bourges, who heads up the Putnam County PFC Joseph Dwyer Vet2Vet Program, had a booth at Saturday’s festival and said the event was important to his organization. 

“This is the third year we have been coming here and this is just fantastic,” he said. 

Vet2Vet provides networking services to veterans who need someone to talk to or lean on and Bourges said events like the Armed Forces Appreciation Festival provide him with the opportunity to spread the word.

“This program is so important and we don’t want it to disappear,” he said. “That’s why we were here—to raise awareness. I had one vet come up to me earlier and she said, I don’t know if I am ever going to need [Vet2Vet] services, but just knowing it’s out there and I’ll have someone to turn to is a relief.”

TAP Into Another Town's News:

You May Also Be Interested In

Sign Up for E-News


Here's What You Missed Last Week

Last week, the Daily News ran a headline, “When is our father coming home?” This dealt with a person here illegally, married to an American woman with a family, who was arrested at an Army base while delivering pizza. You are supposed to think that U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), under Trump, is tearing families apart. As usual, it was a crock of cow pies. It was ...

Watergate Analogies Apply to Obama, Not Trump

My liberal counterpart in this publication is about my age. Maybe I am the baby of the group, but we all have had the same seminal experiences of our youth: Vietnam, the civil rights movement and Watergate. These are what shaped our political perspectives.

Looking back, maybe, just maybe those who thought Nixon was really deserving of his fate cannot be faulted for thinking so. It was once ...

Reagan on Trump

The party of “Honest Abe” has now become the party of Dishonest Don, and what follows are some disturbing displays of a Republican Party that has become devoid of conscience:

• More than 4,600 American citizens dead in Puerto Rico—a postscript to the government’s abysmal response to the widespread devastation of Hurricane Maria; 
• The underhanded ...

The Rich Get Richer, and We’re Paying For It

According to a Harvard University study published late last year, most Americans believe that the richest 20 percent of Americans own just half of the nation’s wealth. Wrong! The top 20 percent own 93 percent of the nation’s wealth, and the top 1 percent own 40 percent of that wealth. Additionally, the top 10 percent of earners in 2017 took home more than half the nation’s ...

Competing—Against Yourself

This is the time of year when students are recognized at public ceremonies for notable achievements in their studies, their sports and in their extracurricular pursuits.

Where we live, there are awards in various sports that are named for our son, who also is memorialized by town ballfield Harrison Apar Field of Dreams and a charitable foundation of the same name.

Due to a rare dwarfism, ...

Honoring Our Veterans’ Freedom of Speech

Memorial Day is over, but writing about America’s veterans doesn’t have an expiration date.

My dad, George, was as proud a veteran as you’d meet. He served in the Army in World War II and loved our country no less than the next veteran. I am proud of him, as is my brother, Robert, who served in the Air Force.

Growing up, the one vacation we took each year was spent with ...

I Come from the Land Down Under

I know this is a family column, so I’m going to put this in as delicate terms as possible.

This morning I woke up and I knew, as sure as the sun shines over Bora Bora, that something was very, very wrong in that place in my body where the Bora Bora sun doesn’t shine.

It’s that place I used to refer to my daughter as her hoo-hoo. But it certainly wasn’t a happy ...

Mouthing Off

When I went for oral surgery last spring, the doctor told me he could only do one half of my mouth that day or I wouldn’t be able to eat for two weeks. Considering it was almost bathing suit season, I didn’t think that was necessarily a bad thing. But he convinced me otherwise, and told me if I was really gung ho about getting it all done, I could come back in a month or so to have ...

Upcoming Events


Wed, June 27, 9:00 AM

Putnam County Department of Health, Brewster

PCDOH Free HIV Testing Day

Health & Wellness