More than 16 million men and women served in the United States Armed Forces in World War II, at home, at sea and on battlefields from North Africa, Italy, France, Germany, China, the Pacific islands and the skies over Japan. They were ordinary Americans, called from every walk of life to oppose and ultimately annihilate the most powerful armed forces ever raised against the USA. By the end of 2011, the Department of Veterans Affairs estimated that approximately 1,711,000 American veterans were still living. During 2012, it is estimated that nearly 1,000 World War II veterans have or will pass away each day, evidence that the gradual loss of the World War II generation is accelerating.
Take a look at obituaries in the papers today or any day of the week for the painful proof that The Greatest Generation is diminishing fast. You will see death notice after death notice for an American World War II veteran — the World War II veteran population is expected to fall below 1.5 million by the end of this year; that is less than one-tenth of the 16 million who served!
Think about it — in the seven decades since the end of World War II, nearly 15 million World War II veterans have died and are near forgotten. Take a look around at all of the “grandpas” that you no longer see walking the streets. A few of us still remember the fallen and the veteran, but that number is dwindling. Gold Star Mothers remember, but they too are passing away rapidly. The Kingsbridge VA hospital has a nursing home with a long waiting list — many will never make it.
Of all of the wars in recent memory, it was World War II that truly threatened our very existence as a nation — and as a culturally diverse, free society. It was the men and women of World War II, the veterans and those that did not come home, that made all of what we have today possible.
We have a World War II memorial right here in the Kingsbridge area — the only one of its kind in the area! But it had been forgotten by all; the NYC Parks Department, the area Veteran organizations and the general public. Hundreds of thousands passed by it on Broadway and did not even take notice — a decaying and neglected war memorial. We all allowed this to happen — a war memorial that was allowed to be trashed, memorial plaques to be vandalized or stolen and grounds to be littered with garbage and acceptable to be unkempt. Somehow we did — but not any longer!
The World War II Memorial Grove in Van Cortlandt Park has been restored — all should go see the restoration, read the plaques that honor the 37 lives lost in the war and sit on one of the new benches in this two-acre memorial and reflect on how life could have been if it weren’t for these fallen heroes.
In 2006, I became aware of the Memorial Grove and its horrible condition and initiated a restoration campaign. I frequently contacted Parks Department officials, enlisted help of several area politicians and brought my cause to Community Board 8 numerous times; frankly, I became a pest. In 2011, Councilman Oliver Koppell graciously allocated restoration funds in the amount of $250,000 — and as of May 28, 2012 there is a restored World War II memorial in Van Cortlandt Park that was first erected by VFW Post 8646 in 1947. It consists of two acres of land, 40 remounted plaques at the base of 40 oak trees with a few new trees, a few benches to sit and relax and a new permanent fence marking the memorial’s boundaries.
Please do not ignore this World War II memorial any longer — come to Broadway and West 246th Street to see it for yourself; there are no other monuments in the Riverdale/ Kingsbridge area quite like this one. We, my partner Don and I (the Memorial Grove Restoration Group) will be holding a ceremony in honor of the restoration and those named in the memorial on Sunday, Nov. 4, at 1 p.m. and all are invited to attend and/or participate; your attendance will assure the Grove’s recognition in our community and its continued care.
Memorial Grove is located at the western edge of Van Cortlandt Park on Broadway at the West 246th Street bus stop.
Herb Barret is a Kingsbridge resident and a Korean War veteran. The Points of View column is open to all readers.