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Raising funds for TWA Flight 800 memorial's upkeep

Loved ones are remembered at the TWA Flight

Loved ones are remembered at the TWA Flight 800 Memorial at Smith Point Park. (July 18, 2007) Credit: Newsday, 2007 / Thomas A. Ferrara

With victims' relatives coming from around the globe tomorrow to mark the 14th anniversary of the TWA Flight 800 disaster, the financial and emotional burden of caring for the doomed passengers' memorial has fallen to a dwindling corps of volunteers, those involved in the effort say.

To address a shortage of funds and manpower, a "Friends Committee" has been organized to secure money for upkeep of the TWA Flight 800 International Memorial at Smith Point County Park, which has stood since 2002.

"It's a struggle," said John Seaman, chairman of the Families of TWA Flight 800 Association. "And it's something that we can't do by ourselves. We need help."

Seaman, 61, said as members of his group age, a mechanism is needed to ensure the memorial's continued care. Last year, the group began an endowment drive that has raised about $100,000, mostly from relatives of the 230 people who died when the Paris-bound flight exploded and crashed into the sea off East Moriches.

The endowment needs $3 million to cover the roughly $150,000 annual cost of maintaining the memorial's gardens and monuments, said Seaman, who lives in upstate Saratoga County. His group had relied heavily on an annual grant of about $70,000 from Suffolk County, he said, but since 2006, the 10th anniversary of the crash, the award has dropped to the $25,000 range.

It's hoped the new friends committee, which includes local elected officials and labor leaders, can spur donations to the endowment. A goal, organizers say, is to raise $1 million by next year's anniversary.

"I feel an obligation to help these people who have suffered such horrific losses," said Suffolk Legis. Ed Romaine (R-Center Moriches), who is on the committee. "It has to be maintained."

Suffolk PBA president Jeff Frayler, also on the committee, was involved in recovery work after the disaster. He assembled and helped identify and take evidence from bodies.

"This is a forever thing you want to go on and on and on," he said of the memorial. "It's beautiful. It's something that all Long Island can be proud of."

Seaman, who lost his niece, 19-year-old Michele Becker, in the catastrophe, said his group - made up of people who live and work elsewhere - has never really come forward and asked Long Islanders for a hand caring for the memorial. But at some point, he said, it had to happen.

"The families are going to pass away," he said. "And in the end, if the community doesn't embrace it, it can't exist."

Donation checks can be sent to TWA Flight 800 Memorial Endowment, P.O. Box 1061, Clifton Park, N.Y., 12065. Saturday's memorial service at Smith Point County Park will begin at 8 p.m.

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