(LOCUST VALLEY, N.Y.) - The legacy and service of USMC Sgt. Robert A. Hendriks, who was killed in Afghanistan on April 8, 2019 while serving his nation, has been enshrined in the streets of his boyhood hometown of Locust Valley.
Nassau County Legislator Joshua Lafazan (Woodbury) joined Sgt. Hendriks’ family, friends and the Locust Valley community on Saturday, April 17 to ceremonially rename Forest Avenue between Birch Hill Road and Birch Street in Locust Valley “Sgt. Robert A. Hendriks Way.”
At the heart of the ceremony were Sgt. Hendriks’ family and closest friends. Christopher Tasso, Sgt. Hendriks’ best friend from Locust Valley; Sgt. Valiant Bradley Cocchi, with whom Sgt. Hendriks served in Afghanistan; and members of Sgt. Hendriks’ family shared poignant stories and memories that captured the “never give up, never quit” spirit that defined his life.
“The street renaming is an incredible way to honor Robby and assure his name will live on forever. For myself, our family and the friends who knew and loved Robby, we are beyond grateful for Legislator Lafazan’s perseverance and determination to bring this to reality and are thankful to all who helped get it done,” Sgt. Hendriks’ mother, Felicia, said. “Although only Robby’s name appears on the sign, remember he died that day with two other Marines - Staff Sgt. Christopher Slutman and Staff Sgt. Benjamin Hines. Never forget these heroes and the loss to their families - and never forget our Robby - our hero, my son, Sgt. Robert Andrew Hendriks (aka Henny). NFQ 3.”
More than a dozen elected officials, commanders of veterans’ organizations, educational entities and leaders of the Locust Valley Fire Department reflected on Sgt. Hendriks’ life and paid tribute to his patriotism, valor and courageous service. Saturday morning’s ceremony included a memorial rifle salute by American Legion Post 962; and a prayer led by Rev. Dom Elias Carr from the Church of Saint Rocco in Glen Cove. The Marine Color Guard was provided by the Garden City-based 2nd Battalion, 25th Marines Reserve Infantry Battalion, with whom Sgt. Hendriks served after enlisting in 2012.
Among the many lessons Sgt. Hendriks imparted through his example, Legislator Lafazan said, is the importance of committing to the cause which we most believe in.
“I have a picture of Sgt. Hendriks on my desk from his time in the Marines. On it, his shirt reads ‘All it takes is all you got.’ Every time someone drives down this street, they'll be reminded of Sgt. Hendriks and those words,” Legislator Lafazan said. “Sgt. Hendriks is a hero in every sense of the word. And he leaves behind a legacy which every member of this community, and this country, can strive to emulate.”
Born on March 4, 1994 at Booth Memorial Hospital in Queens, N.Y., Robert Hendriks lived in Glen Cove until his family moved to Locust Valley in 1996. There, he and his younger brother, Joseph, enjoyed a childhood filled with rough-and-tumble outdoor adventures, playing Army with cousins and friends, and the natural wonders of the Shu Swamp Preserve within walking distance (young Robby and the kids called it “Spooky River,” his mom recalled.)
As he grew older, Robert and Joseph began to study Tae Kwon Do under the tutelage of Master Ron Ealey. Students of his dojo marched in every Memorial Day parade, breaking wood with their feet and hands along the route; they performed demonstrations at the Grenville Baker Boys and Girls Club and were a threat to win top honors in every tournament they entered.
“Nothing ever stopped him,” Felicia said. “As tough as he was, his heart was big, he had a smile that was warm and friendly, a great sense of humor and was great at busting chops but knew how to make fun of himself as well. He was a loyal friend - humble, and always willing to help. As a son, he was everything we could’ve ever dreamed of.”
Soon after graduating Locust Valley High School in 2012, Robert Hendriks enlisted in the U.S. Marines’ 2nd Battalion, 25th Marines reserve Infantry battalion; younger brother Joseph followed his example and enlisted in the Marines as well in 2013. Robert also established his professional roots on Long Island as a member of the Local 731 Construction Laborers Union, where he quickly became a shop steward. In May 2018, Robert rose to the opportunity to serve overseas in Afghanistan, where the infantryman was a turret gunner perched atop an armored, mine-resistant vehicle.
On April 8, 2019, Sgt. Hendriks, Staff Sgt. Hines and Staff Sgt. Slutman were killed in action near the Bagram airfield in Afghanistan. A car, filled with hundreds of pounds of explosives, drove out from behind a berm and ambushed their convoy as it returned from a mission outside of the base. Back on Long Island at 8 p.m. that night came the sound no mother of a Marine ever wants to hear - three loud knocks on the door, with three Marines on the other side of the door - to deliver the news that her son, Sgt. Robert Andrew Hendriks, was in that convoy.
“The pain in my heart will always be the same, but the journey changes,” Felicia said.
“Part of my journey now has become to honor my son and all those who have given their lives for others - for we are their voice now.”
In accordance with that mission, the Locust Valley Falcon Pride Booster Club of Locust Valley established and continues to support the Robert A. Hendriks Memorial Scholarship Fund, which is awarded to a deserving senior who exemplifies the same traits Sgt. Hendriks displayed as a Locust Valley High School student.
Donations can be mailed to: Falcon Pride Association, P.O. Box 41, Bayville, N.Y. 11709.