Peter Dugan looked to his grandfather for inspiration on how to honor Memorial Day.
So the Boy Scout from Troop 689 in Seaford raised more than $11,000 to help construct a Vietnam War veterans memorial at Wantagh Park that was unveiled Sunday in advance of Memorial Day. The project was also part of his effort to become an Eagle Scout.
The veterans memorial dedication coincided with the Wantagh Bay Yacht Club's annual Blessing of the Fleet, which signifies the start of boating season for the summer.
Dugan, 16, said he wanted to recognize his grandfather, Peter Petix, for his service, along with the sacrifices of Vietnam War veterans who gave their lives during the conflict. Petix earned the Bronze Star during Vietnam combat in the U.S. Army. He stood with his grandson at the memorial.
The memorial includes a pair of boots with a rifle and a helmet perched on top of the barrel of the replica gun. It sits on a granite pedestal that cost $8,000, in addition to another $3,000 for the bronze and other material that make up the memorial. Money was collected through fundraising bake sales and car washes and from other donations.
Dugan also raised funds by selling wristbands and magnets at a Tony Orlando concert last summer. His Eagle Scout project also included replacing a seashell pathway, wooden posts and nautical lines next to the new Vietnam War veterans monument at Wantagh Park.
"My grandpa fought in Vietnam and I wanted to do something to honor veterans who served our country," Dugan said.
Petix, 74, of Islip, said he initially told Dugan there might not be enough support for a Vietnam War memorial because of the divided reaction to troops coming back from the war. He said Dugan stuck with the project during the past year and surprised him with the overwhelming reception he received.
"The emotions I'm feeling today are pretty strong. When we first came home, if you wore your uniform then, you got spit on," Petix said. "History has taken a different look at military service in our country. Veterans are honored now for their sacrifice."
Also in the park Sunday, a Roman Catholic priest, the Rev. James Teague of the Archdiocese of New York, offered a blessing of the fleet in which he asked God for safety on the water for boaters. He read from the Gospel of Matthew, as Jesus led his disciples to safety during a storm at sea.
"As we gather to bless these boats and those who will use them for their pleasure, the Lord calmed the seas and brought his disciples to safety," Teague said. "At the command of the son of God, the sea was calm and the nets were overflowing. . . . Remember those who labored at sea and gone to rest, guide us safely, Lord."
Yacht Club Commodore Kevin McCarthy said he hopes boaters will see the memorial and remember the true meaning of Memorial Day as they go onto the water.
"Every time visitors to the park prepare to go out on their boats, I hope they'll think of our soldiers," McCarthy said.