Memorial Day, celebrated on the last Monday in May every year, honors to the men and women who lost their lives while serving in the military.
Due to the lingering effects of COVID-19, there won’t be the usual public observations this Memorial Day, but there are several monuments around Woodhaven dedicated to soldiers you can visit.
American Legion Post 118 on 91st Street and 89th Avenue is the site of one of seven memorials in Woodhaven to those who lost their lives defending our country. In the front yard of Post 118 is a large granite monument with a plaque containing the names of young men who lost their lives in World War I. This large monument once sat in Forest Park, where Memorial Day parades used to conclude, but it was moved to the American Legion when the new post building was built in the early ’40s.
And after a one-year hiatus due to COVID, American Legion Post 118 intends on installing their Garden of Remembrance this year, turning their front yard into a miniature cemetery covered in markers dedicated to those no longer with us.
And that’s the point of Memorial Day: to remember.
In 2018, the family of Air Force Lieutenant Harry Schmitt returned to Woodhaven, where a cross bearing his name has been displayed every Memorial Day since he was killed in a plane crash 60 years earlier.
A second monument to the war dead is on 84th Street and 91st Avenue in Lieutenant Clinton L. Whiting Square, also known as “The Rock.” Erected in the late 1920s, it memorializes a local lad who died in World War I. The local VFW, which was just a few houses away on 91st Avenue, was also named after Lieutenant Whiting.
The third monument sits on Forest Parkway and Jamaica Avenue and was erected in the early 1950s to honor local youth killed in World War II. For many years, this was an important stop for Memorial Day parades, and they even used to perform 21-gun salutes at this location. The GWDC and the American Legion have held Memorial Day observances at this monument for decades.
A fourth monument is the rediscovered Memorial Trees of Woodhaven, which run along Forest Park Drive from Park Lane South past Oak Ridge and toward the Forest Park Carousel. These trees were planted for local soldiers who lost their lives in World War I.
Family members and residents used to decorate the trees with wreaths and patriotic ribbons on Memorial Day, a tradition that faded away once the granite monument was moved and Memorial Day parades no longer ended in the park. The Woodhaven Cultural and Historical Society and American Legion Post 118 Auxiliary revived the act of decorating the trees back in 2015, and it has remained a yearly tradition since then. They will be decorated again this year.
A fifth monument sits just to the east of the trees along Forest Park Drive. Private First Class Lawrence Strack Memorial Pond was named after the first local youth killed in Vietnam. At the time it was dedicated, the pond had been converted to ballfields.
American Legion Post 118 adopted a resolution asking the city to dedicate the fields to the local young man who played for Rich Haven Little League and was only 18 years old when he was killed in 1967. The ballfields didn’t last, as they were always prone to flooding. In 2004, the Parks Department finished a project converting the fields back to a pond and rededicated it to PFC Strack.
A sixth monument is a location we’re all familiar with, but might not realize it was dedicated to the war dead. Victory Field was built and dedicated to “the unknown soldier of World War I.”
And finally, a seventh monument sits inside St. Thomas the Apostle Church. Brass plaques with the names of young men from the parish who died in both world wars used to be outside on the church wall, but when one of the plaques was stolen the other was moved inside. The missing plaque was recreated through the efforts of Woodhaven resident and veteran Joe Virgona and returned to the church in 2009.
And there you have the seven Woodhaven monuments to soldiers that lost their lives serving their country. COVID-19 may restrict our activities this Memorial Day, but it will never be able to restrict our ability to remember and honor the sacrifices of others in defense of our country.