In a year when “selfie” was accepted by the Oxford Dictionary as a new word, the unselfish actions of five State University at Cobleskill students have warmed the hearts of the children of a 92-year-old World War II veteran who died a week before Christmas day.
The story begins with retired dairy truck driver and widower Howard Coger, one of the U.S. Army soldiers who survived the Normandy Invasion on June 6, 1944 — better known as D-Day — proudly flying an American flag outside his Cobleskill home.
One day in November, the frail nonagenarian noticed the flag was missing.
He told his children about the flag’s disappearance, and they set about asking neighbors if they could help solve the mystery.
Among those approached were five young men enrolled at the Cobleskill college. While they didn’t know what became of the flag, they came up with a solution, according to campus officials and grateful members of Coger’s family.
The students — Christopher Satriano, Ethan Fervan, Evan Dutcher, Jake Woodward and Kevin Hanson — went out and purchased another Old Glory of similar dimensions, so they could donate it to Coger.
But before they did that they fashioned a new mount with metal and wood, and used that to affix the flag to their elderly neighbor’s garage.
“They really took ownership to right something that was wrong,” one of Coger’s daughters, Linda, said Friday. “They were very kind to my dad. They told us they had family members who had served in the military and they were very thankful for what our father had done while he was in the Army.”
Her father, a long-time driver for the now closed Tuscan Dairy, was a generous man himself, she noted, sometimes doing carpentry jobs for farmers and not charging them if he didn’t think they could afford his services.
After being told of the uncommon kindness of his student neighbors, Coger remarked, “The path they are going is the right path, and they will go far in life,” according to college officials.
When the college’s director of judicial and veteran affairs, Matthew LaLonde, learned about the act of charity, he sent each of the students a letter, stating, “Your involvement and leadership in supporting one of our local veterans is greatly appreciated. It is moving to hear that you and your friends took the time out of your busy lives to not only recognize your neighbor’s service but also to do something qualitative and meaningful for him as well.”
Beyond that, the SUNY Cobleskill Student Veterans Association made each of the young men an honorary “student veteran” and invited them to participate in the organization’s events. They were also awarded a gift certificate to a local restaurant, Coby’s.
One of the young men, Satriano, 20, is an Eagle Scout and volunteer firefighter from Cooperstown and just completed a two-year degree at Cobleskill in agribusiness, according to his father, Robert Satriano, employed by the Otsego County Office of Emergency Services. Dutcher is from Mayfield, north of Amsterdam, while the other three are from Massachusetts. They were not immediately available for comment.
“My son has a lot of respect for the old folks,” Robert Satriano said. “He really enjoys listening to their stories.”
Linda Coger said she will never forget the generosity of young men who had been strangers to her father before the flag incident. “I really thank them from the bottom of my heart,” she said. “It’s remarkable how much they really cared. They did such a good job with the mount that nobody will ever be able to take the flag again.”