At 10 a.m. sharp on a Saturday morning, a crowd about 70 strong saluted the American flag on a Center Moriches street corner to honor a valued member of their community and their nation’s armed forces.
On Sept. 17, Brookhaven Town supervisor Ed Romaine and councilman Dan Panico unveiled the memorial street sign for Maj. Andreas O’Keeffe Way. The event was originally scheduled for March 2020, two years after O’Keeffe died in a helicopter crash during a combat mission in western Iraq on March 15, 2018. Instead, the ceremony occurred down the road from O’Keeffe’s Center Moriches home on a sunny Saturday morning that would have been his 42nd birthday.
The crowd at the corner of Anderson Street and Winnie Road consisted of O’Keeffe’s neighbors, family, and fellow airmen from the 106th Rescue Wing of the New York Air National Guard.
“I am honored to be here and represent the wing,” Col. Shawn Fitzgerald, commander of the 106th Rescue Wing, said. “I did know Andy, and I know he loved this place.
“I think it’s fitting that it’s here, and that his name will be here looking over the street and the house that he loved,” Fitzgerald continued. “I think I can speak for everyone that knew Andy, especially at the base, we miss him. We miss him every day.”
Following the Pledge of Allegiance and the “Star-Spangled Banner,” performed on trumpet by Nick Gentile, Romaine and Panico spoke to O’Keeffe’s sense of duty and his storied 37 years.
“He was an accomplished Air National Guard pilot, an attorney who graduated from one of the top law schools in this country, Georgetown University, with honors,” Panico said. “He flew numerous missions in both Afghanistan and Iraq, supporting intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance. He supported multiple counter-drug operations with the DEA in Texas, Wisconsin, and New York.
“He was a rescue helicopter pilot in the 106th in West Hampton,” he continued. “He played a role in rescue operations in Africa in 2016, in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey in 2017 when his crew rescued 33 stranded individuals and families during extremely challenging weather and operational conditions.”
O’Keeffe’s service to the nation is treasured, but it was with more than one-color mourners used to paint the full portrait of his life. Outside of his fatigues, O’Keeffe was a caring man of many passions and talents.
“He was also an extremely talented musician,” Panico said. “He enjoyed playing soccer, swimming, horseback riding, snowboarding, and hiking.
“In addition, he was a volunteer who gave freely of his time to visit retired veterans in VA hospitals around this island,” he continued. “He was a remarkable individual who not only served his country in a capacity in the military. He was one of the most well-rounded people who excelled and gave of himself to his country, to his community, and his love to his family.”
O’Keeffe’s father, Shán O’Keeffe, thanked the town and the community for their efforts to keep his son’s memory alive years after his passing.
“Andy loved his home, just down the street here, his pride and joy,” he said. “He loved his neighbors, he loved this community, and he loved the island.”
When asked what O’Keeffe himself may have thought of such an honor, Mary Ann O’Keeffe, his mother, spoke to his modesty.
“He probably would not expect it,” Mary Ann said of the memorial for her son. “He was a very low-key guy as far as any praise to him. He was very humble, and so therefore he would not expect something like this.
“I see today as a celebration of his life, not mourning his death but celebrating his life, because his life was good,” she continued. “Short, but good.”
While O’Keeffe’s time was cut short, his memory will remain in his community. When future residents seek to learn about the man for whom Maj. Andreas O’Keeffe Way is named, O’Keeffe’s parents hope they uncover their son’s love and kindness.
“I hope they learn he was a beautiful person who loved his country, and loved this neighborhood, and loved his friends,” Shán said.
“His gentleness, his kindness, his hope for the future, his belief in the American system,” Mary Ann said. “He was just a super person.”
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