Michael Mienko pressed a framed photo of his late grandfather to his chest at a ceremony Saturday to unveil a new monument with the names of the 335 men and women from a single Glen Cove neighborhood who served in World War II.
“I’m his only grandson, and he’s my hero,” said Mienko, 26, referring to his grandfather Norman Johnsen, who died in 1998. “I wanted him to be here. I know he’s not here physically, but he’s here in spirit.”
Four World War II veterans whose names are on the monument and dozens of family members of vets were among more than 120 people who attended the ceremony outside the gate of the waterfront Morgan Memorial Park in Glen Cove. After the black granite monument was unveiled, many ran their fingers across the engraved white letters of family members’ names or posed for photos next to them.
The monument replaces a wooden memorial that stood a few blocks away from the 1940s until the 1960s, when it was taken down because of severe disrepair.
That at least 335 people from the Landing neighborhood — a square mile that borders Morgan Park — served in the war illustrates the threat of the Axis powers and the fervent patriotism of 1940s America, said Ben Farnan, a Korean War veteran who established a committee to create the memorial.
Marc Martone, 92, who volunteered for the Navy in 1944, shortly after he turned 18, said “everybody loved our country and loved our neighborhood and we wanted to protect our country, our neighborhood and our way of life. I wanted to do my share.”
Martone and the other three World War II vets at the ceremony are among fewer than 500,000 surviving veterans of the more than 16 million Americans who served in the war, according to the National World War II Museum in New Orleans. Two World War II vets on the seven-member memorial committee died before the monument was constructed, Farnan said.
Michael Forgione, 93, a retired Newsday advertising manager, said he was “very proud” to see the monument honoring him and other residents at the park where they spent so much time in their youth.
“It brings back some wonderful memories,” said Forgione, who now lives in Copiague.
Pam Panzenbeck, a Glen Cove City Council member, brought grandchildren Tate Hoffman, 3, and Bennett Hoffman, 16 months, to the ceremony. Panzenbeck’s late father, William Donaldson, is among the names on the memorial.
“I’m going to make sure he’s part of their life,” Panzenbeck said. “We can never forget the people who fought for our country and saved our freedom.”