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Naval & Military Park launches 2017 season

Photo by Marian Hetherly

The Buffalo & Erie County Naval & Military Park kicked off its 2017 season Saturday. This year marks the 40th anniversary of the arrival of two of the park's main attractions -- the Little Rock and the Sullivans. The park was established two years later in 1979.

The upcoming season will be a memorable one. Park Board Chairman Donald Alessi said the highlight will be in September when the new Little Rock naval ship is commissioned in Buffalo.

"This will be the first time in the history of the United States Navy that a ship will be commissioned next to its retired namesake," Alessi said. "There has never been a commissioning ceremony in the City of Buffalo."

The 2017 season is dedicated to the memory of Colonel Patrick Cunningham, who served as naval park director since 1993. He died Thursday following a lengthy illness.

Captain Brian Roche was introduced as the new executive director at Saturday's opening ceremony. Roche is a 36-year veteran of the Coast Guard.

Alessi said Cunningham had recommended Roche as his successor and had been working with him.

"The Colonel (Cunningham) had given enough direction to Captain Roche about moving forward," Alessi said. "We look forward to working with Captain Roche."