Veterans hold lone vigil at WW II memorial - Old soldiers warn that Memorial Day is losing its meaning

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While there was plenty of fun in the sun at Cadman Plaza Park this past Memorial Day weekend, no one apparently went to the park to do what it was designed for – honoring the veterans.

So say a handful of scrappy World War II and Korean vets – three in all – who took it upon themselves to plant American flags around both the Korean War memorial and the World War II memorial, the borough’s largest, this past weekend. The flags were the only patriotic pride seen in the park over the three-day weekend, which some believe is slowly moving from saluting our veterans to celebrating the “unofficial start to summer.”

“A lot of people thanked us when they saw us planting the flags around the memorial,” said 81-year-old Jack Vanasco, a Fort Greene native who served with General Douglas MacArthur during World War II’s Pacific Campaign. “They said that they were glad that we were honoring the vets of the neighborhood, since no one else was.”

But for every person who thanked them at the 10 acre park, bounded by Cadman Plaza East and West and Tillary and Johnson streets, there was another that “didn’t even know that there was a war memorial in the park,” Vanasco said.

Thus describes a symptom of a much larger problem: fewer and fewer neighborhoods are hosting Memorial Day parades or wreath laying ceremonies, even though each community has at least one veteran memorial in the area.

Neighborhood officials leave the organization of these parades to the veterans themselves and if they’re too few in number, do without – even when the largest veteran memorial in the borough is in their backyard.

When contacted, neither cops from the 84th Precinct, nor members of Community Board 2 and City Councilmember David Yassky’s office knew of any Memorial Day parades in downtown Brooklyn.

The closest parades were in Greenpoint and in Bay Ridge, where Memorial Day parades are held annually.

“[The parades] are usually run by the American Legion and the Veterans of Foreign War members and most of them are in Bay Ridge,” said Vanasco. “They have their own clubs and they don’t want to go downtown.”

Vanasco said that he has been trying to find a veterans’ group that would take over the granite and limestone World War II memorial, which is dedicated to the men and women who died overseas. Over 7,000 of those soldiers lived in Brooklyn, Vanasco said.

The memorial, which has a 250-seat auditorium inside, is filled with metal plates – each representing a soldier who died protecting the country from tyranny.

The back wall of the memorial has a relief depicting a male warrior on the left and a female with a child to the right, which serve as symbols of victory and family.

Parks officials said that the idea for a large-scale borough monument was based on then–Parks Commissioner Robert Moses’s desire to create unified World War II monuments for each borough.

In the end, Brooklyn was the only borough to build such a monument, which was dedicated in November 1951.

Updated 11:48 am, January 16, 2019
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