By Bill Parry
They came from neighborhoods like Woodside, Rockaway, Laurelton and Glendale and died in battle at places named Khe Sanh, Pleiku, Ia Drang and the A Shau Valley. To honor them, work will begin next year on the first boroughwide memorial for the 420 people who died serving in the Vietnam War.
Nearly 70 veterans of the war joined elected leaders and city Parks Department officials last Friday as they unveiled the schematic design for the $2.85 million Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Elmhurst Park.
“More veterans call Queens home than any other borough, and the Queens Vietnam Veterans Memorial will be a fitting and dignified tribute to those who served and those who made the ultimate sacrifice,” Borough President Melinda Katz said. “The vision for a physical, boroughwide memorial was first forged by our own veterans who wanted to memorialize the sacrifices made by hundreds of Queens residents and their families during what was a tumultuous period in our nation’s history. The designs unveiled today is another step forward toward the fulfillment of a promise made years ago.”
The semi-enclosed memorial will provide a contemplative space that honors those Queens residents who died with two semi-circular granite walls, one of which will list the 420 names of those that died. It will also have a timeline of the war. The other wall will have the name of the memorial, the five crests of the military and the Vietnam Service Medal. The granite walls, as well as the existing flagpole, will both be illuminated at night.
“Parks are gathering spaces where New Yorkers come to grow and play, but also to learn and reflect,” Parks Commissioner Mitchell J. Silver said. “This memorial has been designed to provide community members with a place to sit and honor their friends and loved ones, and for younger generations to read about the history of the Vietnam War. It will provide a lasting memorial to ensure that their legacy lives on.”
While many of the neighborhoods who lost the most men have memorials, the one in the northwest corner of Elmhurst Park will be the only one representing all who died from the borough. It was the mission of Pat Toro, the longtime president of Vietnam Veterans of America Chapter 32, who died of Agent orange-related blood cancer in 2014.
“It was Pat’s dream that families of fallen Vietnam Veterans would have a centralized place to gather and reflect on their loved ones’ sacrifice,” said Michael O’Kane, 69, the current president of Chapter 32. “I wish we didn’t have to wait to see this finished, but I know the design team shares our sense of urgency.”
The memorial is expected to be completed in the fall of 2019, but more than 750 Vietnam veterans pass each day, O’Kane added. The necessary capital for the project was fully secured by Katz’s allocations on $2.3 million to-date, a continuation of her commitment made initially as a member of the City Council in 2007.
“After years of anticipation, I’m so pleased to see the design for this memorial, which will honor the lives of so many who fought for our freedom,” City Councilwoman Elizabeth Crowley (D-Glendale) said. “It’s so important to have daily reminders, whether it’s in our parks or along our streets, of those who paid the ultimate sacrifice when protecting and serving our great country and ensure their legacy lives on.”
Reach reporter Bill Parry by e-mail at bparr