VFW Post 6249 Commander Joe Cognitore, historian Rich Acritelli and trustee Frank Lombardi hold...

VFW Post 6249 Commander Joe Cognitore, historian Rich Acritelli and trustee Frank Lombardi hold artifacts that will be displayed at the new military history museum. Credit: Newsday/Thomas A. Ferrara

Rich Acritelli spent nine years in the Army reserves and Air National Guard and wishes he never left.

Now the teacher from Wading River is drawing on his military experiences and his love of history to develop a museum in Rocky Point that he hopes will tell the stories of local veterans through their own words and memorabilia.

The museum — officially the Post 6249 Rocky Point Veterans of Foreign Wars World War II and Military History Museum — is scheduled to open to the public Dec. 7, the 82nd anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor. 

"The big thing is the stories," said Acritelli, 48, who teaches history at Rocky Point High School and Suffolk County Community College. "They always say Long Island is at the forefront of American history, and that's what we're trying to do."

Acritelli, the VFW Post's historian, and fellow members such as Joe Cognitore, the 181-member post's commander, and Frank Lombardi are collecting artifacts donated by local veterans and their families. Items collected so far include flags, uniforms, flak jackets, pistols, a howitzer and a foot locker bearing the words, "Lt. Col. Goldblum, New York City."

Acritelli said organizers plan to raise about $30,000 for the project, adding contractors and unions have lined up to donate supplies and services such as carpentry and painting.

The museum will be housed in the restored Rocky Point train station, across the street from the VFW Post, which is on King Road. The train depot was rebuilt by Landmark Properties when the Rocky Point developer built a nearby 38-unit apartment complex. The development sets aside 25% of its units for veterans.

The museum's centerpiece will be a black granite wall bearing the names of veterans submitted by families and loved ones. Acritelli said any veteran anywhere may be listed, regardless of where they lived; there's a $125 fee to help pay for maintenance of the shrine.

About 95,000 veterans live in Suffolk and Nassau counties, according to 2022 U.S. Census figures.

Among the museum's features will be a video loop of local veterans telling their stories, and a library containing books about military history. The organizers also hope to have guest speakers and films depicting life on the front lines.

Cognitore, 76, of Rocky Point, who was an Army sergeant in Vietnam, and Lombardi, 57, of Wading River, who served in the 1991 Persian Gulf War, said they hoped the museum preserves the memories of veterans so they can be shared with people too young to remember past conflicts.

Lombardi, who was in the Army from 1986 to 2000, said learning from the past helps Americans deal with future crises, if not prevent them in the first place.

"There's an historical precedent that brought us where we are today," he said.

Acritelli left the Army in 2003 following stints as a heavy truck operator at Fort Totten in Bayside and the 106th Rescue Wing in Westhampton Beach. He said he misses the camaraderie and remains in touch with Army buddies.

He said his service reminds him that life can change instantaneously when hostilities erupt without warning, as they did on Sept. 11, 2001, when terrorists struck the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.

"9/10 was a beautiful day," he said. "No one ever knew that a 9/11 would ever happen."

Rich Acritelli spent nine years in the Army reserves and Air National Guard and wishes he never left.

Now the teacher from Wading River is drawing on his military experiences and his love of history to develop a museum in Rocky Point that he hopes will tell the stories of local veterans through their own words and memorabilia.

The museum — officially the Post 6249 Rocky Point Veterans of Foreign Wars World War II and Military History Museum — is scheduled to open to the public Dec. 7, the 82nd anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor. 

"The big thing is the stories," said Acritelli, 48, who teaches history at Rocky Point High School and Suffolk County Community College. "They always say Long Island is at the forefront of American history, and that's what we're trying to do."

Acritelli, the VFW Post's historian, and fellow members such as Joe Cognitore, the 181-member post's commander, and Frank Lombardi are collecting artifacts donated by local veterans and their families. Items collected so far include flags, uniforms, flak jackets, pistols, a howitzer and a foot locker bearing the words, "Lt. Col. Goldblum, New York City."

Acritelli said organizers plan to raise about $30,000 for the project, adding contractors and unions have lined up to donate supplies and services such as carpentry and painting.

The museum will be housed in the restored Rocky Point train station, across the street from the VFW Post, which is on King Road. The train depot was rebuilt by Landmark Properties when the Rocky Point developer built a nearby 38-unit apartment complex. The development sets aside 25% of its units for veterans.

The museum's centerpiece will be a black granite wall bearing the names of veterans submitted by families and loved ones. Acritelli said any veteran anywhere may be listed, regardless of where they lived; there's a $125 fee to help pay for maintenance of the shrine.

About 95,000 veterans live in Suffolk and Nassau counties, according to 2022 U.S. Census figures.

Among the museum's features will be a video loop of local veterans telling their stories, and a library containing books about military history. The organizers also hope to have guest speakers and films depicting life on the front lines.

Cognitore, 76, of Rocky Point, who was an Army sergeant in Vietnam, and Lombardi, 57, of Wading River, who served in the 1991 Persian Gulf War, said they hoped the museum preserves the memories of veterans so they can be shared with people too young to remember past conflicts.

Lombardi, who was in the Army from 1986 to 2000, said learning from the past helps Americans deal with future crises, if not prevent them in the first place.

"There's an historical precedent that brought us where we are today," he said.

Acritelli left the Army in 2003 following stints as a heavy truck operator at Fort Totten in Bayside and the 106th Rescue Wing in Westhampton Beach. He said he misses the camaraderie and remains in touch with Army buddies.

He said his service reminds him that life can change instantaneously when hostilities erupt without warning, as they did on Sept. 11, 2001, when terrorists struck the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.

"9/10 was a beautiful day," he said. "No one ever knew that a 9/11 would ever happen."

Organizers of the Rocky Point Veterans of Foreign Wars World War II and Military History Museum are collecting artifacts from local veterans and their families. Here's a sample of what they have so far:

  • Helmets
  • Pistols
  • Maps
  • Photographs
  • Flak jackets
  • Foot locker
  • Howitzer
  • Walkie-talkies
  • Flags
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