Ahead of Memorial Day weekend, Queens Borough President Donovan Richards hosted his annual observance at Borough Hall Wednesday.
Queens is home to more veterans than any other borough, and several of them were recognized for their heroism and valor.
“It’s always a proud day at Borough Hall when we get to commemorate the bravery and sacrifices of the members of the United States Armed Services,” Richards said. “We must always remember that we live freely because of all these men and women have done for us.”
The wreath laying event was held a day after an 18-year-old gunman massacred 19 children and their two teachers at Robb Elementary in Uvalde, Texas.
“You sort of look at this time, turmoil in this country, political divisions,” Richards said. “You look at mass shootings such as what we saw in Texas yesterday, the continuous rise of hate crimes across our city and nation, and the folks who died and sacrificed for us didn’t die and sacrifice for us to live through these times this way.”
Councilman Robert Holden shared his personal connection to Memorial Day as he stepped to the podium and placed a portrait he found in his mother’s scrapbook of 19-year-old soldier Edward Hoyt, who lived above his mother’s home in Maspeth when she was growing up. Hoyt was killed on the USS Jacob Jones when it was struck by a German torpedo and sunk off Cape May, New Jersey in 1942.
After Hoyt’s death, his mother’s cries touched Holden’s mother and she took it upon herself to write to as many soldiers as possible to “keep them company.”
One of them was Holden’s father, who was serving in the Philippines with his uncle.
“I wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for his [Hoyt’s] sacrifice,” Holden said. “We were all proud of our fathers and mothers who gave us everything to help pull this country through one of the most horrific wars in the world that we’ve ever experienced.”
He added that he would make it his mission now to help veterans as chairman of the Veterans Committee, which includes Councilwoman Joann Ariola. She spoke at Borough Hall, saying it is because of soldiers’ ultimate sacrifice that we have the lives we live today.
“We have family, spouses, children, grandchildren. That is a debt we could never repay,” Ariola said. “But what we can say is may their souls continue to rest in God’s eternal peace and may their families have peace in knowing that we live with the freedom we have today, because of their ultimate sacrifice.”
State Senator James Sanders, who served his country in the United States Marine Corps for three years, wishes more veterans would enter public service during these troubled times.
“It’s the non-military people who are the most warlike. Military people don’t want war; they want peace. They understand the cost of war,” Sanders said. “I find it more that folk who have never been and never will go [are the] most warlike folk that you could ever imagine, ready to fight to the last drop of somebody else’s blood. We have to have veterans going into politics. We have to have people going in there who know the cost of all of this.”
Queens District Attorney Melinda Katz, who was instrumental in establishing the Queens Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Elmhurst Park when she was borough president, spoke of the men and women who served during that era.
“I have memories of men coming off the buses and being chastised and being insulted by individuals as they came home from Vietnam,” Katz said. “That is a very, very strong memory to me as a child and so I wanted a way, as an elected official, to honor especially those that served in the Vietnam War.”
The memorial in Elmhurst Park features the names of 371 of the borough’s service members who died during the Vietnam War or served and are classified as “missing in action.” The memorial also recognizes borough veterans who have since lost their lives as a result of their service during the conflict.
This Memorial Day weekend, as she has done in the past, Katz will join events all across Queens to pay tribute to the heroic men and women who have served in our military branches.
“It really is about paying honor and tribute and taking moments of silence, remembering that the reason that I can put my two kids to sleep every single night in their bed in a safe country is because of those of us who fought for us and those of us that died,” she said. “Their sacrifice is never forgotten.”
Additional reporting by Paul Frangipane.