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A son who was always a hero

Marine Sgt. Robert A. Hendriks, 1994-2019


Felicia Arculeo received an email on April 8, 2011, saying that her then 17-year-old son, Robert Hendriks, had helped a much younger student whom he found standing in the dark in front of Locust Valley High School. The 8-year-old boy had been waiting for 45 minutes for a ride home after a lacrosse practice. Hendriks asked him if he was lost, and offered to let him use his phone.

The boy’s mother wanted the district to know about Hendriks’s good deed. The subject line of the email read, “Hero at LV High School.”

Eight years later to the day, Sgt. Robert Hendriks, 25, a Marine reservist, was killed in Afghanistan with two other reservists, Staff Sgt. Christopher K.A. Slutman, 43, and Sgt. Benjamin S. Hines, 31, when their convoy was hit by a roadside bomb.

The date, which once gave Arculeo so much pride and joy, is now cause for gut-wrenching grief.

“I didn’t realize about the date until last week,” she said, sobbing. “Even then, they knew he was a hero. It’s just one example of who he was. Robby was always there for everyone.”

Hendriks, who was born in Glen Cove, was connected in a variety of ways to the North Shore. His father, Erik Hendriks, lives in Glenwood Landing, and his family lives in Glen Head. The family moved to Locust Valley when Robert was 2. He attended Locust Valley schools, and played lacrosse in middle and high school. Describing her son as an “effortless B student,” Arculeo said that he liked the social aspect of school. “Robby was a boy’s boy,” she said. “He was always tough.”

And he was a frequent patient at the emergency room. “His collarbone was sticking out when he fell off his bike, but he never cried,” Arculeo recalled. “Another time, when he hit his head on the iron gate in our house, the doctor had to put staples in it. She didn’t have the right tool when it was time to take the staples out, so she used needle-nose pliers. Robby grimaced, but he never cried.”

But he was also the “mushy one, the sensitive one,” Arculeo said. He and his younger brother, Joseph, were very close. Joseph, who was also a Marine, had just arrived in Afghanistan to begin his tour when his brother was killed.

As boys, they often played Army. “Robby and Jojo played with G.I. Joe and toy guns from when they were in diapers,” their mother said. “I always knew that the boys were going to go into the service.”

In school, Robby was the type of boy whom other children looked up to, Arculeo said. “He had his head on his shoulders and always did the right thing,” she said. “He had a lot of friends, even though he wasn’t a jock or a Science Olympiad. Robby was a normal all-around boy.”

Seamus Fallon, 18, the president of the LVHS student government, said that a fellow senior, Mathew Passero, looked up to Hendriks. “Matt said it was crazy that something can happen like this to someone from so close to home,” Fallon said. “Robby was always a role model for Matt. He enlisted in the Marines.”

Asked if Hendriks personified in any way what the district instills in students, Fallon quickly said yes. “We’re taught leadership and perseverance, and that we can leave school and do something bigger,” he said. “He walked around the same halls as us. I wish Robert Hendriks could have been in the news for another reason.”

LVHS Principal Patrick DiClemente said that Hendriks was impressive, kind, had a passion for service and was committed to friends, family and country. “As a school community,” DiClemente said, “we understand that we’re all able to be here today, to live our lives, and to have opportunities and experiences each day due to the sacrifices that have been made by Marine Sgt. Robert Hendricks and other Americans serving in our armed forces.”

Hendriks was a construction worker in Local 731 before he was deployed. Arculeo described her son as a “grunt” who installed gas lines in Queens. Although Arculeo moved to Freeport when she remarried, Hendriks remained in Oyster Bay, living in an apartment.

Joining the Marines Reserves after high school, he was a member of the 2nd Battalion, 25th Marine Regiment, based in Garden City. He was deployed to Afghanistan last October, and was supposed to come home in June.

Arculeo said she texted her son every day and spoke to him once a week when he was in Afghanistan. “I’d be lying there with the phone next to me in the middle of the night because of the time change, either texting or talking to Robby,” she recounted.

The last time she heard from him was the day before he was killed. They shared their usual “good morning,” she said, and the number 3, a code they created when Robert was a boy that meant “I love you.”

Hendriks is being honored by the Locust Valley School District, with the support of its booster club, Falcon Pride, and the Stephen Siller Tunnel to Towers Foundation. The United States Marine Sgt. Robert A. Hendriks Memorial Scholarship will be presented to a deserving senior who plans to enter the military and exemplifies the traits Hendriks displayed as a student at the Senior Academic & Community Awards Ceremony on May 30.

Mike Watson, a partner at Van Buren Buick GMC in Garden City Park, is a 1983 LVHS graduate. His daughter and Joseph Hendriks were friends in high school. When his daughter told him that Joseph’s brother had been killed in Afghanistan Watson wanted to do something to help.

He called Frank Siller, of the Tunnel to Towers Foundation, a nonprofit that builds “smart homes” for soldiers who return home gravely injured, and provides financial support in the form of trust accounts and mortgage payments to the wife and children left behind by those who have lost their life in the line of duty. Siller didn’t know what he could do to help since Robert had not been married. Watson reminded Siller that he had donated to his foundation last year, and requested that he do something for the Hendriks family.

“[Frank] offered to donate money for the scholarship and gave $2,500,” Watson said. “Van Buren matched it, and I managed to get an additional $5,000 from a few friends.”

Then he got in touch with the Falcon Pride Athletic Booster Club, asking it to take charge of the annual $1,000 scholarship. Arculeo has agreed to read the candidates’ essays and help choose the winner.

She has many memories of her son, she said, as well as mementos of how special he was. In January, he sent her flowers and a small ceramic white bird for her birthday. The card read, “Happy Birthday. Hope this at least gave you a smile. As annoying as you are with all the questions you ask I still love you. LOL. I know you just worry, are proud and do everything you can for me. 3. — Robby”