This year’s annual Veterans Day Ceremony at Van Cortlandt Park’s Memorial Grove was a little bit more special because a resolution was recently passed to designate November as New York city’s first ever “Veteran Appreciation Month.”
The resolution was spearheaded by Bronx borough president Vanessa Gibson and sponsored by Councilman Eric Dinowitz. The passage came just in time for the 17th annual Veterans Day Ceremony at Memorial Grove in Van Cortlandt Park Sunday.
“I think days are great, but I want to celebrate veterans for the entire month,” Gibson, the niece of a Vietnam War veteran, told The Riverdale Press. “Because veterans and their families have made so much sacrifices through their service, serving our country, defending our democracy, our freedoms, our liberties, that we are afforded as American citizens. And I think we had to do more to show our support for veterans beyond the day.”
The ceremony was attended by Assemblyman Jeffrey Dinowitz, District Attorney Darcel Clark, Community Board 8 members, NYC Parks, Van Cortlandt Park Alliance deputy director Christina Taylor, Hebrew Institute of Riverdale Rabbi Bracha Jaffe, Scout Troop 240, Manhattan College’s ROTC color guards, commissioner of the city’s Department of Veterans’ Services James Hendon, chair of the borough president’s Veteran Advisee Council Luis Soltero and local treasured veterans.
“When I joined the council, I was made the chair of the veterans committee,” said former chair of the veterans committee Councilman Dinowitz. “And I think that was really the first true eye opening experience about how much debt we owe to our veterans.”
Speaking on recently addressing hundreds of Holocaust survivors at the Jewish Museum of Heritage, the councilman said, “I looked out at them and I just thought how many of them are here today and how many of their families are here today because a veteran saved their lives? And that, I think, is the story of so many of us here and it’s a question we can all ask, how many of us are here because a veteran made a sacrifice?”
The idea of the recent designation came to Councilman Dinowitz and Gibson about a year ago when the two were at an event supporting Manhattan College veteran students. They discussed the work that was needed to recognize and uplift the city’s 200,000 plus veterans, who many struggle with PTSD, healthcare, unemployment and homelessness. Ultimately they came up with the idea of designating November “Veteran Appreciation Month.”
One of those veterans who is appreciated is Herb Baret, who served in the Marine Corps. during the Korean War, who in addition to his service played an instrumental role in the restoration of the Memorial Grove. The grove was designed in 1949 to pay tribute to local servicemen who lost their lives while fighting for their country, explained Taylor. Thanks to the advocacy of Herb Baret in 2012, city council restored and enhanced the grove with replacement memorial plaques.
Councilman Dinowitz presented Baret with a copy of the resolution marking November as Veteran Appreciation Month. Baret told The Press he was thinking about giving the plaque to James J. Peters Department of Veterans Affairs Medical Center where it can be in a more public area.
CB8 vice chair Sergio Villaverde, organizer of the ceremony and a veteran himself, made a point of there also being young veterans as he called up recently discharged veteran Joshua Torres. The young veteran was awarded with a certification for service in the U.S. Marine Corps. from 2019 to 2023.
“Veterans are by nature humble people,” said Villaverde. “Veterans don’t seek the limelight. Usually it’s important for us to remember them because they will usually never say ‘Hey, you know I’m here, you need to do something for me.’ But we all need to carry that with us.”
DA Clark spoke about how veterans are sometimes intertwined with the justice system, which is why it is important to her they have a veterans court where special attention can be given to those who have served and sacrificed for their country.
“We all know that Veterans Day is everyday, 365 days a year,” Clark said. “Because when they go out to serve, they don’t think about Nov. 11 or whether it’s November. They go out there, put their heart and soul into protecting our democracy and our freedom, and that for others as well.”
Councilman Dinowitz spoke about how the City Council has allocated millions of dollars to services for veterans including mental health and discharge status upgrades, with 340,000 for homeless prevention, 200,000 for job placement support, 600,000 for legal services, 420,000 for mental health services and 1.27 million for veterans committee developments.
He also announced that they are working with the city department of veteran services to have a representative from their office monthly in District 11’s Kingsbridge office so veterans in the Northwest Bronx can get direct services from the DVS.
Isha Taylor, a U.S. Air Force veteran, told The Press the new “Veteran Appreciation Month” designation is an amazing thing for veterans.
“We deserve so much more to be honest,” she said. “And veterans, we kind of just fly under the radar, but we’ve contributed so much to the well-being of everybody around us. It’s not often that we get poured back into like that so I think it’s amazing.”
She went on to say honoring veterans doesn’t always have to come from a place of deficiency, but from they’ve earned that appreciation.
“We earned it,” Isha Taylor said. “We wrote checks that we can never cash in.”