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BENNINGTON — On Saturday, a veteran who had served on the USS Bennington was recognized by his fellow sailors for creating a website to preserve the ship's history.

Lonnie Whittaker, an electronics technician aboard the aircraft carrier during the Vietnam War, received a certificate of appreciation at the annual USS Bennington memorial and wreath-laying ceremony on the town hall lawn.

Whittaker, 72, of Boulder, Mont., launched in 1999 to commemorate the World War II ship that served through the Vietnam War. Whittaker wanted the website to also bring together veterans of the USS Bennington, which carried some 3,200 crew members each time she left port within a 26-year period of operation.

Saturday's noon memorial, witnessed by some 40 people, included the recitation of the names of USS Bennington veterans who have died since last year's ceremony. It took Whittaker's fellow shipman, Joe Pires, about 10 minutes to read the 160 names.

Pires, 71, of Calabash, N.C., has taken on the role of ship historian, including documenting which former crew members pass away each year.

His reading was punctuated by the tolling of the ship's bell, displayed on the town hall lawn since 1993. This was followed by the playing of taps, whose melancholy sound caused pedestrians and motorists to stop and watch the proceedings.

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"It's very sad," said Mike Ponto, 75, of Syracuse, N.Y., the oldest among the dozen or so USS Bennington veterans who attended the ceremony. "I had a hard time keeping my cool."

Each year, the list of departed veterans gets longer, said Bennington Town Manager Stuart Hurd, who has been around since the first USS Bennington memorial ceremony in 1994. The event has become part of the town activities to mark Bennington Battle Day and draws veterans of the ship from all over the country.

The aircraft carrier, the second U.S. naval ship to be named after the Battle of Bennington, was commissioned in August 1944. After she was decommissioned in January 1970 then turned to scrap, her bell was entrusted to the Town of Bennington.

Whittaker looked emotional after receiving his framed certificate of appreciation. He said he singlehandedly runs the USS Bennington website, but works with Pires on putting together information to post online.

When asked how he felt about being recognized, Whittaker replied with a straight face: "I think it was a little overdue."