Hundreds gathered on Main Street outside Huntington Town Hall Sunday to watch town officials unveil two new plaques to add 365 names of World War II veterans to the memorial wall.
Sunday’s ceremony was an emotional occasion for Nick Haridopolos, 96, of Eatons Neck, one of the veterans whose names were added.
"I'm very, very thankful," said Haridopolos, who served in the U.S. Marine Corps. "It certainly is nice to know that so many people have done so much for us veterans."
The World War II Memorial in Huntington’s Veterans Plaza was dedicated in 1996. But the list of names on it has grown. Over the years, 6,000 names were added in four phases on 15 plaques to the wall. Sunday’s addition brings the total to 6,365 names.
"It is somewhat of a living memorial, growing over time," Supervisor Chad Lupinacci said.
William Ober, chairman of Huntington's Veterans Advisory Board, said more than 6,000 Huntington residents had served in World War II.
"It has come to our attention that many names were missing," Ober said. "That oversight will be corrected today."
The unveiling ceremony was to take place in June 2020 but was delayed due to the coronavirus pandemic.
The postponement, however, allowed Carol Rocco, the town’s veterans affairs coordinator, to find one more name for the wall. She learned about Joseph B. Bennett through a Newsday article published in February about Tuskegee Airmen.
Bennett was one of five Long Islanders who graduated from the training program at the Tuskegee Institute in Tuskegee, Alabama. Rocco then found an obituary that said Bennett, of Fair Haven, New Jersey, died in January due to complications of COVID-19 at the age of 93. She reached out to his family and got their permission to include him.
Bennett was the last name added to the list.
"The family was hugging me today," Rocco said Sunday. "They thanked me so much for following through … It's just so gratifying to honor veterans and to help families honor the loved ones that they lost."
Another name added to the wall was Murry Bakel, a World War II and Korean War veteran who died in 2018 at the age of 91.
His daughter, Mary Bakel, 44, of Baltimore, wiped away tears at the ceremony that she attended with her siblings Gertrude Allen, John Bakel and Arlene Giagrande. The siblings grew up in Greenlawn.
Mary Bakel said it had been their parents’ wish to see her father's name on the memorial wall. Murry Bakel served as a Merchant Marine during World War II and was in the Army for the Korean War. Their mother Arlene Bakel died in 2016.
"It's nice to see him memorialized for his service," said John Bakel, 48, of Brooklyn.
Allen, 50, of Long Island City, said the memorial also "helps the young generation recognize what it means to be in the war and how important it is to serve your country."