Louis John Acompora’s Navy uniform hangs in a new military history museum in Rocky Point, along with the same oil-soaked dollar that was in his wallet when it was recovered from a sunken battleship at Pearl Harbor.
His family loaned the uniform for display at the new VFW Post 6249 Suffolk County World War II and Military History Museum, across from the VFW on King Road in Rocky Point, which is slated to open Thursday morning for National Pearl Harbor Remembrance Day.
Acompora was 19 on that quiet Sunday morning when Japanese planes attacked the naval base, where he was stationed on the USS California in the waters off Hawaii.
While the attack was underway, he and other sailors dove off the ship and clung to a life raft as they swam about two miles to Ford Island to safety. Three days later, he sent a Navy-issued postcard to his mother only stating, “I am well.” He came under attack twice more at Guadalcanal and at the Battle of the Coral Sea.
“He didn’t talk much about it. He made it sound like it was no big deal. They took turns on the life raft. He said he hung on the side a bit and swam a bit and got picked up,” his son John Acompora said Wednesday about his late father. “He never made it sound like it was as bad as it was.”
Acompora’s uniform was framed along with the postcard, coins and the dollar bill recovered from his wallet after the ship was raised nearly four months later. It was initially a gift for his 75th birthday and the family loaned it for display after learning of the museum, 13 years after his death.
The museum, which was built in a one-room replica of the former Rocky Point train station, features more than 1,000 artifacts and exhibits from every conflict and war spanning from the Revolutionary War to the War on Terror.
Other artifacts include a rifle from 1816, a Confederate carbine , a Japanese Samurai sword, Nazi paraphernalia and war helmets and cannon balls. Most were donated to the VFW by Long Islanders.
The curator of the museum, Rocky Point High School history teacher and U.S. Army reservist and Air Force National Guard veteran Rich Acritelli, has raised about $60,000 since April while collecting the exhibits.
“The purpose of the museum is to highlight veterans’ military experiences, their stories, and to be thankful to all of our local and national veterans.” Acritelli said. “People don't want to get rid of their own heirlooms from their family. But it's sitting in the box, it's upstairs, it's in basements, and the garage ... we want the kids to see this. We want local citizens to see this.”
He said he wants to use the museum to teach classes, and give tours to Cub Scouts to share stories about military history.
The museum also highlights Long Island’s military history, including George Washington’s spy trail and Albert Einstein’s influence on the atomic bomb while staying on the North Fork. There is also a Sept. 11 memorial that includes a tribute to U.S. Marine Corps and NYPD Sgt. Michael Curtin, of Rocky Point, who died while responding to the Twin Towers.
The museum also showcases uniforms and stories of veterans from Long Island, including World War II fighter pilots who were shot down over Germany, and baseball memorabilia from veterans Yogi Berra and Ted Williams. Williams flew in the Marines with Hicksville native Paul Bowler.
A wall of honor stands outside the museum to recognize the names of veterans who served. A military flyover is planned for Thursday.
"It's a whole gamut of things, and most of all, patriotism,” Rocky Point’s VFW Commander Joe Cognitore said of the museum. “After 9/11, I could not believe the feelings that the American people had. And I'd like to see that come back.”
VFW Post 6249 Suffolk County World War II and Military History Museum
Military artifacts and exhibits from the Revolutionary War to the War on Terror
Located at 108 King Rd., Rocky Point,
Opening Ceremony: 10:30 a.m. Thursday, followed by tours by appointment or VFW programs.