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Belated memorial for Levittown vet

Mary Messina, left, stands with her parents, Eileen

Mary Messina, left, stands with her parents, Eileen and Paul Bopp, near the monument honoring their son and her brother, Peter Bopp, at Veterans Memorial Park in Levittown; Peter Bopp was killed in a peacetime explosion on the USS Iowa in 1989. (Nov. 30, 2010) Photo Credit: Newsday / Audrey C. Tiernan

When a monument to Levittown's war dead was installed at the community's Veterans Memorial Park last year, Peter Bopp's name wasn't on it.

Bopp had made the ultimate sacrifice for his country: He was one of 47 sailors killed in a gun turret powder explosion aboard the battleship USS Iowa on April 19, 1989, two days before Bopp's 22nd birthday. But because his death occurred during peacetime, his name wasn't on the monument that marks the end of the Levittown Memorial Day Parade route.

And though Bopp's parents, Paul and Eileen Bopp, both 79, are invited to be on the parade reviewing stand every year, they felt slighted.

"We were disappointed because we thought his name should have been there," Paul Bopp said.

Community members stepped in to offer support to get local recognition of Peter, said one of his sisters, Mary Messina, 50, of Levittown. As a result, today Peter Bopp's name is in the park, on a new memorial dedicated to his sacrifice.

 

Poignant dedication

On Veterans Day last month, family members and friends dedicated a sloping, rectangular granite monument engraved with an image of the USS Iowa and Peter's name, date of death and rank - U.S. Navy gunner's mate third class.

"It felt good" for Peter to get the recognition, Messina said. "We know the community never forgot my brother."

One of those community members was Jack Stein, 64, of Melville, a former Levittown resident. He organized a St. Patrick's Day dance at the Levittown-Island Trees Veterans of Foreign Wars, raising almost $900.

Stein, a Vietnam veteran who is a member of VFW Post 9592, had designed the original monument, which he said was intended to list only "those that got killed in war in action." It lists the names of 29 Levittowners who died in Vietnam, three in the Korean War and one in the current Iraq war.

 

A father's input

However, Stein said in a recent interview he felt that Peter Bopp "deserved a place in the park." After the fundraiser, he asked Paul Bopp to help design the memorial for his son.

Peter Edward Bopp enlisted in the Navy shortly after graduation from Holy Trinity Diocesan High School in Hicksville. His military service reflected a family tradition of volunteering, Messina said.

Paul Bopp, a 50-year resident of Levittown who is retired from a career as a communications specialist for the Port Authority in Jersey City, said his roots in rural Maryland taught him "to help the community." He is a Korean War veteran, a volunteer firefighter and 40 years ago started a Levittown bowling day for people with disabilities. Special Friends Day at South Levittown Lanes continues to be held each Memorial Day weekend.

 

A volunteering family

Messina is a Scout leader and a member of the Ladies Auxiliary of the East Meadow Fire Department, where her husband, Frank, 58, and their daughter, Christine, 21, are volunteer firefighters. Messina and her daughter and sons, Brian, 26, and Michael, 19, help out at the bowling event.

A sister, Paula Schwarz, 48, of Deer Park, volunteers with the Scouts and another, Eileen Shultis, 51, of Levittown, a teacher at Freeport High School, has volunteered as a bowling coach for the Long Island team in the Empire State Games.

And in Los Angeles, the family's other son, Jimmy, 41, has been representing them in a crusade to save the USS Iowa from the scrap heap.

The ship, which was built in 1943 during World War II, is being considered as a site for a museum.

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