Dozens of Babylon's military veterans crowded into a room in the town's history museum, gazing at the artifacts of their service.
There was the metal pith helmet that protected Amityville Pvt. Chester Patterson on French battlefields in World War I and the computer-generated camouflage uniform Lt. Col. Jacqueline Gordon, a town councilwoman, wore in Afghanistan last year.
The new exhibition, "Our Veterans Brave and Noble," sketches fighting life and its aftermath for Babylon residents in the past century through 300 objects lent by local veterans and collectors. It'll be open for the next year.
Letters home from the Leftenants of Amityville, a family of 12 that sent five sons and a daughter to the military during that conflict, complain of heat and boredom. A picture of a smiling young Lt. Samuel Gordon Leftenant, a Tuskegee airman and P-51 pilot, accompanies a caption explaining that he was lost and presumed dead after his plane collided with another during a mission from Italy to Australia.
A photograph of an Italian mountainside shows the approximate positions of German machine gun nests Bay Shore resident Adolph "Ralph" Panetta was attempting to destroy when a bullet hit his knee and where he took cover for 11 hours before comrades could evacuate him to a field hospital.
While the exhibit makes no mention of Republic Aviation, the Farmingdale military aircraft manufacturer employed many town residents from the 1940s into the '60s. Photographs of a North Babylon horse farm converted into an airfield in World War I and posters from more recent Wounded Warrior rides show a history of civilian involvement.
"This shows how patriotic the town is, from World War I through the present day," said Gordon, a member of the Army Reserves, as she browsed the exhibit. "There are uniforms from every branch of the service here."
She pointed out an imposing razor-like implement in a display case that soldiers used to open field rations. "The P-38," she said fondly. "When I first came into the service, they served T-rations. That was before MREs [meals ready to eat]."
Four Leftenant sisters were there, too: Nancy Leftenant-Colon, 92, of East Norwich; Clara Jordan, 77, of North Babylon; and Mary E. Leftenant, 84, and Amy Leftenant, 79, both of Amityville.
" 'Join the Navy and see the world,' should be, 'Join the Navy and see the water,' " their brother Sam had written in a letter home on display in the exhibition room, good-naturedly complaining about the monotony of down time.
They remembered a good man who'd worked at Republic and brought steaks home for supper every Friday night until he enlisted, and their mother, so devastated by his loss that she kept the shades of their home drawn for months.
News of his disappearance had been delivered by a young man who arrived in a Smith's Taxi, bearing a Western Union Telegram, in the age before the family had a telephone, they said. His belongings arrived later, in a cardboard box.
"Only the military would be able to do that, put everything in a box and send it home," Jordan said.
But the sisters were pleased with the exhibition. "There are so many of the people we knew from that era," Mary Leftenant said. "I only hope that schoolchildren come and that there is someone here to tell them the stories."
Want to go?
"Our Veterans Brave and Noble" is on view at the Town of Babylon History Museum, 47 W. Main St. in Babylon, from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Monday to Friday and on first and third Saturdays from October through May from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Admission is free.