On Memorial Day weekend, Marine Corps veteran Angelo Ciotta attended the dedication of an Eisenhower Park veterans museum he helped start when someone offered to donate a German-made World War I rifle to the display.
Ciotta agreed and eventually received the 99-year-old Hamburg rifle and stored it the office of his East Meadow home with plans to eventually add it to the museum collection.
Sunday morning, Ciotta, 91, awoke to find the rifle missing.
Nassau police called to the scene determined that sometime between Friday night and Sunday morning, a burglar or burglars entered the Marine Corps veteran’s Ronni Drive residence through a window and escaped with the rifle as well as commemorative military weapons.
In a telephone interview Tuesday, Ciotta said he was most concerned about his home being broken into while he and his wife, Marie, 95, slept.
“I’m really ticked off that someone violated my space and we’re older people,” Ciotta said, a World War II veteran who was shot in the leg at the Battle of Iwo Jima.
Also stolen were two symbols of Ciotta’s service in the storied battle — a KA-BAR combat knife and a commemorative Marine Corps sword — both set to go on display at the museum.
“The knife and sword were engraved and awarded to me by a friend of mine during the 65th anniversary commemoration of the landing on Iwo Jima — so they had sentimental value,” said Ciotta, who joined the Marines at 17.
“They were engraved with my name, my rank and my military service,” he said.
Nassau police said the investigation into the break-in is ongoing.
Ciotta said he and other volunteers with the United Veterans Organization of Nassau County worked to get the museum up and running in a large tower near the Eisenhower Park golf driving range that had been “underutilized.”
The Hamburg rifle was to go on display along with other war-related items brought home from conflicts by U.S. service members.
“We plan to put memorabilia in the museum from the various wars, including the Korean conflict, Iraq, and Afghanistan,” Ciotta said. Among the items in the museum’s collection are World War II-era Japanese rifles, a bottle of sand from Iwo Jima, a helmet from the Iraq campaign and a trenching tool from the Vietnam War.
Ciotta said the other military items can be replaced but the theft of a rifle with such a historic battlefield pedigree is a devastating loss.
After he awoke Sunday at about 9 a.m., Ciotta said he noticed the rifle, the sword, and the knife missing from his office. He said he then went into the kitchen and noticed a tousled window curtain above the sink. In his office, he noticed the back door ajar.
Immediately, Ciotta said, he looked around for the disarmed rifle, which he said had been propped up against an office wall.
“It was leaning against a corner and it was gone,” he said of the weapon.
The knife, which had been on the floor nearby, was also missing, Ciotta said.
When he went outside, Ciotta said he recognized the likely method used to break into his home.
“I saw two picnic tables had been stacked up” for entry to the kitchen window, he said.
A Nassau County police spokesman said Tuesday it’s a “very unusual” burglary case because it involved war relics. He said authorities do not know whether it was a targeted crime, but added red flags were raised because other items were “passed over.”
Police asked anyone with information about the crime to contact Nassau County Crime Stoppers at 800-244-8477. All callers will remain anonymous.
“I really feel bad for this guy,” the spokesman said, declining to discuss details of the investigation. “and we’re doing everything we can to find these things.”