By Justin Sondel
Niagara Gazette — Rocco LaRocca's name is carved in stone on a wall in Hyde Park.
That's because the 96-year-old served as a dental surgeon for the Navy in World War II and the Korean War. The silver-haired veteran will visit the wall where his name rests alongside the names of over 1,400 other brave men and women are celebrated today during a Veterans Day ceremony at the Niagara Falls Veterans Monument. The ceremony begins at 11 a.m. at Hyde Park.
Sitting at his kitchen table in his Navy blues, LaRocca recounted being located just outside of conflict zones during the wars in the Mariana Islands and Guam. As a surgeon he never engaged in battle but was there to mend the men who fought.
"I'm luck I'm alive," he said. "I was always close to the fire but I never got burnt."
LaRocca enlisted with the Navy while still attending dental school at Temple University. All dental surgery and medical students were required to enlist with a branch of the military. LaRocca chose the Navy at the urging of his brother-in-law Anthony Mondi, also a Navy man.
Mondi, described as a generous and caring man, was not as lucky as LaRocca. Mondi lost his life at the Battle of Coral, a four-day fight that changed the course of World War II in early May of 1942. More than 550 sailors and Marines lost their lives during the battle.
"He was a dedicated Navy man," LaRocca said. "Always volunteering no matter how dangerous the mission might have been."
LaRocca said the the memorial that bares his name, Mondi's and the names of the other men and women — both those that returned from battle and those who did not — who have fought for this country serves as a constant reminder of the sacrifices that have helped to make America great.
"Those of us who are still alive, we pray for those who were called by the supreme commander and are serving the lord," LaRocca said.
LaRocca, who grew up in Niagara Falls, earned his undergraduate degree at Niagara University and still lives on 12th Street, said that he feels that Veterans Day gives all Americans, but especially military men and women, a chance to remember those who died protecting America.
"It gives me a chance, being alive, to pray for their immortal souls," LaRocca said. "They gave up their lives for our freedom."
Dave Fabrizio, a member of the Niagara Falls Memorial Commission, said that the memorial serves as a focal point for the military community in Niagara Falls, not just on days of remembrance, but all year round.
"It's a tribute to the soldiers who fought and returned and the 463 residents of Niagara Falls who gave their life in battle," Fabrizio said.
The monument gives members of the Niagara Falls community who have sacrificed for their country an opportunity to feel recognized. It also gives those in the city who have lost loved ones in battle a place to reflect on their memory, Fabrizio said.
"I think it gives their families some closure," Fabrizio said. "They won't be forgotten."