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Dec 13, 2016 3:00 PMPublication: The Southampton Press

Former Westhampton Beach Mayor And World War II Veteran Arma 'Ham' Andon Dies

Dec 13, 2016 9:33 PM

There was a day in March 1945 when Arma “Ham” Andon thought he would never again get to visit the tranquil shores of Westhampton Beach.The then-26-year-old was huddled in a foxhole in Serrig, Germany, with the rest of his comrades, all members of the U.S. Army’s 2nd Battalion H Company of the 26th Infantry Division, seeking cover from the relentless bombs and bullets being fired by the Nazis during what turned out to be near the end of World War II.

While trees exploded around him and bullets whizzed by the top of his foxhole, Mr. Andon, the acting company commander, eventually accepted the fact that he would most likely become one of the many casualties of that fierce battle—an experience that he would later describe as the worst day of his life.

It turns out that he did eventually make it home, though with a shattered leg and the remnants of shrapnel still lodged in his abdomen—injuries that he would carry with him for the rest of his life.

But, just as he always did, Mr. Andon would take that pain, as well as his long road to recovery, in stride—signature qualities of a man who would spend the next seven-plus decades of his life assisting other East End veterans and working to improve his hometown of Westhampton Beach Village.

Mr. Andon, a highly decorated World War II veteran, former village mayor and longtime commander of Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 5350—and a friend to countless individuals fortunate enough to cross paths with him—died peacefully last Thursday, December 8, at his Westhampton Beach home, one month shy of what would have been his 98th birthday, according to Southampton Town Clerk Sundy Schermeyer, his granddaughter.

“Every day was a gift,” Ms. Schermeyer said on Friday. “That is what he always said.”

Mr. Andon was born on January 4, 1919, in Manhattan to Arpinee and Andon Edward Andon. In 1924, his family began summering in Westhampton Beach, with Mr. Andon quickly falling in love with the community.

After graduating from Pelham Memorial High School, Mr. Andon went on to attend Boston University and, later, Fordham University Law School before moving to Westhampton Beach full-time to raise a family with his wife, Ruth. Together, they had three sons, Gary, Kurt, and Arma Jr., and a daughter, Gail.

Most who knew Mr. Andon simply called him “Ham,” a nickname he earned when he was just 6 and playing with friends at the corner of Clifford and Washington avenues in New York City. An older boy decided to tease Mr. Andon, pointing out that his first name, “Arma,” was similar to the name of a popular product called Armour 4-Star Ham. The older boy nicknamed Mr. Andon “Ham”—and the name would follow him for the rest of his life.

Mr. Andon made the most of his time in Westhampton Beach after returning home from World War II, during which he earned many military accolades, including two Purple Hearts with Cluster, a Bronze Star with Cluster, a Presidential Unit Citation, the Austrian Medal of Honor and the French President’s Legion of Honor Medal. Though his accomplishments on the battlefield were many, those who knew Mr. Andon the best said his greatest source of pride came from the accomplishments of his many family members and friends.

That is not to say that Mr. Andon did not build an impressive resume himself. He was village mayor from 1986 until 1994, served as president of the Westhampton Beach School Board in the 1960s, was commander of the Veterans of Foreign War Post 5350 for 19 years and also served as commissioner of the Westhampton Beach Fire District for a decade. He was also a founding member of Southampton Town’s Anti-Bias Task Force, an active Westhampton Rotarian for 40-plus years and a member of the Westhampton Yacht Squadron for 80 years.

“He made a difference wherever he went,” said Bill Hughes, the current commander of the VFW Post 5350, which recently relocated from Quogue to Westhampton Beach, last Thursday, December 8, after learning about Mr. Andon’s death. “He was one of those guys who made a difference for the better and he was generous beyond what the average person might know about because he did things quietly.

“He was just a great example of how a human being should live, a fantastic example,” he continued.

Mr. Hughes said he was particularly pleased to have Mr. Andon around the last few years while learning the ropes as VFW commander, noting that Mr. Andon fully supported the difficult decision to leave their old digs in Quogue and open a new headquarters on Old Riverhead Road in Westhampton Beach, just up the road from Francis S. Grabeski Airport, where New York Air National Guard’s 106th Rescue Wing is based.

“It made me very happy that he saw the benefit and wisdom of it for our membership and sustainability,” Mr. Hughes said, noting that the new VFW home is now known as the “Arma ‘Ham’ Andon Post.” “The last time we were together, he told me several times how happy he was that we are doing so well and that the VFW is there for the veterans. What a swell guy—he had so many years and it was still not enough time.”

Westhampton Beach Fire Commissioner Chairman Fred Overton, a longtime friend of Mr. Andon’s, explained that they first met 65 years earlier when Mr. Andon owned Suffolk Floors and Blinds in Riverhead. Mr. Overton said one of the things he will always remember is the way Mr. Andon always commanded a room, explaining that his presence was always noticed even though he rarely spoke up.

“When he spoke, people usually listened,” Mr. Overton said with a chuckle. “He had a great sense of humor. I guess you can say it is the end of an era in Westhampton Beach.”

In addition to volunteering with the Westhampton Beach Fire Department for half a century, both as a firefighter and, more recently, as a member of the fire police, Mr. Andon was one of the first people appointed commissioner when the fire district was established in 2002. He served in that position for more than a decade and, during his tenure, was a huge advocate for the new Sunset Avenue firehouse that opened its doors earlier this year. In fact, he was given the honor of cutting the ribbon to mark the occasion.

“His presence will be missed,” Mr. Overton said of Mr. Andon, who was recognized as “Fireman of the Year” in 2000.

As for Ms. Schermeyer, she said she will always remember sailing with her grandfather, an avid sailboat racer and coach until his war injuries made it impossible for him to continue sailing and teaching. She also shared one particular memory when her grandfather’s coaching instinct kicked in as she was competing in a race and Mr. Andon began shouting instructions to adjust her sail while using a bullhorn.

“While my grandfather was reliving his youth of coaching the sailing teams in the 40s, I had to take action as I was 40-years-old at the time and was a bit embarrassed,” Ms. Schermeyer recalled. “So I removed the batteries in the bullhorn for the following week. I saw him shaking it while I sailed by and smiled again later when he told me the bullhorn needed to be fixed.”

Southampton Town officials are also mourning the passing of Mr. Andon, who was instrumental in helping create the municipality’s Anti-Bias Task Force. “Mr. Andon represents the gold standard of what it means to be dedicated to country, community and family,” Southampton Town Deputy Supervisor Frank Zappone said this week on behalf of Supervisor Jay Schneiderman and the Town Board.

Mr. Andon is survived by three sons, Gary Andon and wife Rosa, Kurt Andon and Arma Andon Jr.; a son-in-law Greg Jackson; four granddaughters, Ms. Schermeyer and husband Michael, Shelly Ruth Johnson and husband J.R., and Alissa Andon and Sara Andon; four grandsons, Avery Andon, Alexander Andon, Arlis Andon and Arma Houston Andon; four great-grandchildren, Michael, Shelby, Anaissa and Andon; and his longtime companion Marian Phillips.

He was predeceased by his wife, Ruth, and their daughter, Gail Jackson.

Flags at Westhampton Beach Village Hall will remain at half-mast all week to honor the former mayor and village trustee, with current Mayor Maria Moore saying she “respects and admires” Mr. Andon’s “commitment to the village and his patriotism.”

“He was well-respected, much loved and will be missed,” Ms. Moore said. “My sympathies go out to his family.”

A wake will be held for Mr. Andon this Friday, December 16, from 2 to 4 and 6:30 to 9 p.m., at the Westhampton Beach Firehouse on Sunset Avenue. The Veterans of Foreign Wars will host a brief service at 3:30 p.m. that day while firematic services will be offered at 7 p.m., also at the firehouse.

The funeral service will follow at 10:30 a.m. on Saturday, December 17, at St. Mark’s Episcopal Church on Main Street in Westhampton Beach.

In lieu of flowers, the family asks that donations be made in Mr. Andon’s memory to either St. Mark’s Church, P.O. Box 877, Westhampton Beach, NY, 11978, or the VFW Post 5350, 101 Old Riverhead Road, Westhampton Beach, NY, 11978.

“What is most comforting is that I have also realized that my grandfather’s legacy not only lives on in our family, but in all of the people whose lives he has touched in some way,” Ms. Schermeyer said. “He had a huge heart and loved his family, the men from the troops he served with in World War II, the Village of Westhampton Beach, and his many friends from the endless list of organizations he was involved in.”

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Rest in Peace, Ham!
By Robert I Ross (250), Hampton Bays on Dec 8, 16 1:48 PM
With deep sympathy to the family and friends of Arma Ham Andon - a great man! Rest in Peace and sincerest thanks for your service to our country and community ...
By Linda Kabot (14), Quogue on Dec 8, 16 2:37 PM
1 member liked this comment
Hangch'ir Khaghaghut'yamb, my Armenian brother. You were the epitome of what has become known as the 'greatest generation'. You always put your country, your community and your family first. Many have learned by your example. His spirit lives on in those that he has touched. Doug Gilbakian and family.
By fogra (4), westhampton bch on Dec 13, 16 4:57 PM
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