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Babylon Town unveils renovated veterans’ plaza with doughboy statue

Korean War veteran John Farina, left, former state

Korean War veteran John Farina, left, former state Assemb. Robert Sweeney and Babylon Town Councilwoman Jackie Gordon with the new World War I doughboy statue on Dec. 15, 2015, in a renovated Copiague plaza just north of the rail station near Great Neck Road and Marconi Boulevard. Photo Credit: Johnny Milano

There’s a boy now greeting passers-by in downtown Copiague. More specifically, a doughboy.

The Town of Babylon recently unveiled a renovated veterans’ plaza that dates to the 1920s near the Copiague Long Island Rail Road station and the centerpiece is a statue of a doughboy, a term used to describe soldiers and Marines from World War I.

Standing 11 feet tall, the granite statue features a baby-faced soldier resting on a rifle, his eyes looking out over the intersection of Great Neck Road and Marconi Boulevard. The push to get the statue started with John Farina, 79, a Korean War veteran with VFW Post 9482 in Copiague.

“I saw other towns had a statue but ours didn’t so I said, ‘Let’s do something,’ ” Farina said. “No one knows what a soldier from then was like.”

The origins of the term doughboy — often associated with WWI but also used in other military campaigns — are murky. One legend dates to the Mexican-American War, when soldiers were often seen covered with chalky dust emanating from the dry terrain of northern Mexico. It is said the men looked like unbaked dough, thus the nickname.

The statue was commissioned last year — the 100th anniversary of the start of World War I — from Wellwood Memorials Inc. in Lindenhurst. Former state Assemb. Robert Sweeney secured $25,000 in state funding for the statue, which cost about $20,000. The remainder of the money was used for the pedestal and engraving.

In addition, Babylon Town Councilwoman Jackie Gordon, a retired lieutenant colonel in the Army Reserve who served in Afghanistan in 2012, requested last year to set aside $75,000 in the town’s capital improvement budget for upgrades to the plaza, which was first dedicated to World War I veterans in the 1920s and rededicated in 1963 and again in 1973.

Previously, the plaza lacked an irrigation system and even with upkeep by local groups, the plantings there turned to weeds, leaving the site “dull,” Gordon said.

“I’m not sure people even realized it was a veterans’ plaza,” she said.

The redesign of the plaza comes from SRF Architects of Amityville, which donated its work. The site now has mums and rhododendron, a white PVC fence and a unique brick path swirling around the statue: when viewed from above, the bricks form a giant yellow ribbon, a symbol of support for troops serving overseas.

The statue in Copiague may resemble a WWI soldier, but Gordon insisted on making all veterans feel appreciated and so on its base it is dedicated to the “American Warrior.”

“It was important for us to have something here for all veterans — past, present and future — to be recognized,” Gordon said. “We didn’t want anyone to feel left out.”

The memorial also serves as a “focal point” to revitalization work being done in the nearby downtown, she said.

Farina said he hopes children passing by the statue will take time to read and learn about World War I as well as other wars.

“This is a remembrance for all our veterans,” he said.

World War I facts

Total number who served worldwide: 4,734,991

Total American deaths: 116,516

Total wounded: 204,002

Total from Babylon Town who served: 588

Total from Copiague who served: 21

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