Last year, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs reported that there are nearly 300,000 World War II veterans alive and well throughout the entire world; approximately 60,500 of them still reside here on Long Island, across Nassau and Suffolk counties. This is sharply down from the original estimated 16 million troops that served during the war era.
This week, Long Island historian and author Christopher Verga charts the rise of Long Island and its role in the second world war with his new book World War II Long Island: The Homefront in Nassau and Suffolk.
“Documenting these veterans’ experiences accurately perseveres their legacy for
the generations to come,” Verga said.
He added, “A soldier can face two deaths and one of the two is the death of being forgotten.”
Long Island was transformed from a pastoral rural community to a modern suburban behemoth by playing an integral role in the homefront of World War II. Dozens of Nazi spies infiltrated industry throughout the island and communicated industrial secrets back to Germany as the FBI chased them down.
“Other factors as to why this topic is important, is it shapes our basic understanding of our community,” Verga said. “Who we honor, our shared values and our complexities are rooted in the events that followed the war.”
Long Island held the record for producing the most fighter planes in the country with the rapid rebirth of its aviation sector. Five distinguished Medal of Honor recipients called the region home.
Long Island as we know it was shaped by World War II’s outcome.
“Between the years of America’s involvement in the war, the island’s region modernized,” Verga said. “In the span of the war and the decade that followed, the region transformed from light to moderate manufacturing, surrounded by potato fields, to a modern suburbia, with some of the most innovative aircraft industries throughout the country.”
At the close of the war, the United Nations established itself in a weapons factory in Lake Success. The dozens of military men and women who served this country during the Greatest Generation are exponentially dwindling, but are truly living legends.
Verga is an instructor of Long Island history and on the foundations of American history at Suffolk Community College, as well as a contributor to the online local news sites Greater Babylon, Greater Bay Shore and Greater Patchogue. His published works include Images of America: Civil Rights Movement on Long Island, Images of America: Bay Shore and Saving Fire Island From Robert Moses. Verga has his educational doctorate from St. John’s University. His dissertation work included Long Island Native Americans and the impact of tribal recognition within their cultural identity.