Vincent Sweeney died at his home in Westhampton, surrounded by his family, on May 30. He was 88.
Mr. Sweeney was born in Piermont on September 17, 1925, to Robert and Theresa (Corrigan) Sweeney. He was the second to youngest, and sole survivor, of eight children.
After attending Rice High School in Harlem, Mr. Sweeney joined the Merchant Marine in 1943, setting off on what became a lifelong calling to serve his country; his faithful service was a testament to his fierce patriotic pride, survivors said.
Mr. Sweeney went to officers training school in New London and was deployed to serve in World War II. In 1966 he began moonlighting with the Military Sealift Command as a relief officer. After working as a pilot with the New York Fire Department from the mid-1950s until his retirement in 1979, Mr. Sweeney went full time with the Military Sealift Command on their ocean-going ships. Later, when his children were grown, in 1991 he shipped off to the Persian Gulf and served as a damage control officer during Desert Storm before retiring at 65.
“There was a feeling that it was our duty to protect the country,” he said in a 2006 interview. He followed in the footsteps of a family born to serve the nation. His brother Alfie served in the U.S. Army; his brother Robbie and sister Peggy served in the U.S. Air Force and his brother Johnny was a “Navy man,” he said.
Mr. Sweeney was awarded a federal service award of appreciation by the U.S. Navy in 1991. He attended yearly gatherings of Merchant Marine veterans and was filled with tremendous pride as his legacy of service was carried on by his granddaughter, Sheila, a lieutenant in the Navy. He was present for the pinning ceremonies of both Sheila and her cousin, Terrance Sweeney, happily passing the baton of national pride and selfless dedication to the next generation, survivors said.
Reflecting on decades of devoted service to his nation, Mr. Sweeney said in the interview, “I would do it all over again, absolutely.”
Mr. Sweeney was married on November 22, 1947, to his first wife, Mary (Sheahan). A devoted family man, he was a proud patriarch to his children, Patricia and Vincent, and to his grandchildren, Sheila, Sara and Brendan.
When Mary lost her battle with cancer, Mr. Sweeney moved full time to Westhampton, where he was a longtime parishioner at the Church of the Immaculate Conception, a loyal member of the Knights of Columbus for 66 years and a member of the Westhampton Yacht Squadron.
On September 23, 2000, Mr. Sweeney married Alice (Tetrault Russell); the couple lived a love story, rich with tenderness and devotion, survivors said. His granddaughter Sara said her grandfather would begin stories by calling them “BA”, or “Before Alice.” Together, the couple traveled the world to destinations such as Paris, where they attended the French Open, Italy and Ireland. Each year, they traveled to the races at Saratoga, extending the visit to explore the natural beauty of destinations including Lake Champlain last year. Mr. Sweeney was fueled by his lifelong passion for travel, bringing home stories rich with details from his journeys to Norway and other far-flung destinations. Last year, he and his son traveled to the Grand Canyon, creating lifelong memories.
But no matter how far he traveled, Mr. Sweeney found his greatest joy and contentment in the warm gatherings he and Alice hosted for family and close friends in their Westhampton home, and in the little moments—such as bagels and The New York Times on a Sunday—that give great meaning to life. He found great enjoyment in listening to JJ Cale, Eric Clapton and Jerry Garcia. He loved a variety of music, including traditional Irish music and classical. He was one of the New York Yankees’ biggest fans.
An avid tennis player and golfer, he enjoyed bike riding and walking the beach in South Carolina on yearly trips with Alice. He was a natural storyteller, bringing to life his extraordinary experiences for rapt listeners, survivors said. Loving nothing more than a good joke, he had a “killer sense of humor,” according to his family, and will always be remembered for the twinkle in his eyes and his rich laughter. Mr. Sweeney had a keen interest in the lives of those he loved, and reveled in hearing about their adventures and accomplishments, always encouraging young people to follow their dreams, survivors said.
He was an accomplished photographer and painter, and his work was shown locally, including with the East End Arts Council. He was a voracious reader, especially when it came to history and non-fictional accounts of World War II and other battles.
Along with his wife and two children, Mr. Sweeney is survived by his large extended family, Dawn and Scott Christ and their children, Julia and Alec; George Russell and his children Brad and Brieann; and Brian and Chris Russell, and their children, Liam, Matthew, Brian and Cynthia. He leaves a host of nieces, nephews, cousins and lifelong friends.
Services were set for Monday, June 2, from 2 to 4 p.m. and 7 to 9 p.m. at Follett and Werner Funeral Home in Westhampton Beach. A funeral Mass was set for Tuesday, June 3, at 11 a.m. at the Church of the Immaculate Conception in Westhampton Beach, with burial to follow at Westhampton Cemetery.
Memorial donations may be made to Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, www.mskcc.org.