Flag Flies for Timothy Fennelly

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In continuing its mission to take history out of the textbooks by honoring a local veteran each month of the school year, the Hampton Bays School District is paying tribute to U.S. Navy veteran Timothy Fennelly of Hampton Bays by flying an American flag in his honor throughout the month of October. 

“The district is proud to honor Mr. Fennelly for his bravery and service to the United States,” said Superintendent of Schools Lars Clemensen. 

Fennelly was recognized at a ceremony on Oct. 18 at Hampton Bays Elementary School, where middle school students in the district read his biography. The event culminated with the raising of the flag on the school’s flagpole. 

Fennelly was born in June 1946 in Dearborn, Michigan, and raised in Detroit. He recalls listening to Motown music from a young age as he grew up in a bustling household with seven brothers and one sister. In July 1964, just after graduating from Lincoln Park High School and deciding that his calling was to serve his country, he followed two of his brothers into the Navy.

Like so many Navy veterans, Fennelly attended boot camp at Great Lakes Naval Station. While there, he was selected as training company commander — mainly because, in his opinion, his booming voice was great for counting cadence and giving commands. After boot camp, he volunteered for submarine training at Groton, Connecticut, but because a car accident had damaged his ear drums, Fennelly could never pass the submarine pressure tests for submarine service.  

In January 1965, Fennelly was assigned to the USS Newman K. Perry (DD-883), a refurbished Gearing class destroyer in the Boston Shipyard. The ship’s first assignment was to be the flagship for destroyer squadron anti-submarine operations (DESRON). Fennelly went from trying to serve on U.S. subs to tracking and destroying enemy subs. After a shakedown cruise in Cuban waters, the Newman K. Perry was assigned to the Mediterranean Sea with approximately 200 NATO ships. Their assignment was to protect aircraft carriers from foreign subs and to rescue downed NATO pilots. During operations one night, the destroyer collided with the carrier Shangri- La, resulting in 40 feet of damage to the bow and the loss of U.S. sailors. The crippled ship had to sail in reverse all the way to a shipyard in Naples, Italy, for repair.

In May 1966, the ship received orders for Vietnam. After stops in Cuba, the Panama Canal, Pearl Harbor, Japan and the Philippines, the ship arrived in the Mekong Delta at Phu Quoc island, providing fire support for U.S. Army ground operations. The Newman K. Perry was now fully engaged in the “brown-water navy” of the Vietnam War. In November 1966, the ship and crew were exposed to Agent Orange. Fortunately, Fennelly has not suffered any ill effects from that experience, although many of his shipmates have.

Fennelly returned from Vietnam in June 1967 and was honorably discharged from the Navy as an E-5 the following April. While visiting a shipmate from Riverhead shortly after returning from Vietnam, he met his first wife, Elizabeth, a Hampton Bays resident, and chose to stay in Hampton Bays rather than return to Michigan. 

One of Fennelly’s most pleasant memories of his service is the camaraderie he shared with his shipmates on the Newman K. Perry. He also recalls how poorly many Vietnam veterans were treated after returning to U.S. soil and is glad to see that veterans today are treated with more respect. 

Upon arriving home, Fennelly joined the Suffolk County Sheriff’s Department, where he rose to the rank of sergeant as a park ranger. In 1972, he joined the ranks of the Southampton Police Department, where he served for 20 years before retiring as a detective. In his retirement, he started his own security company, which he ran for 37 years.

Fennelly married his second wife, Susan, in 2000, and they are enjoying a wonderful retired life together. He has three sons, one daughter and six grandchildren, and he is an active member of the Veterans of Foreign Wars and the American Legion, as well as the Rotary Club of Hampton Bays.