Nearly 60,000 Americans died overseas in the prolonged conflict, and many more contracted illnesses that eventually eroded their health once they returned. Vets suffered through unemployment, homelessness and issues with PTSD.
While Queens is home to more than 55,000 veterans, the most throughout the five boroughs, the borough has never had a central place where Vietnam vets and their families could honor their lost loved ones.
Thanks to the advocacy of the Vietnam Veterans of America Chapter 32 and visionary leaders like the late Pat Toro, that will soon change.
The Vietnam Veterans Memorial at Elmhurst Park will bear the names of 371 people from Queens who died in the war. Another plaque will pay tribute to those who died from sickness related to their service overseas.
It’s hard to believe that it took so long –– 45 years after the Vietnam War ended –– to have a memorial like this in Queens. The veterans advocates who relentlessly pushed the idea, and never gave up hope that it would come to fruition, should be applauded and thanked for their efforts.
For a project like this to get done, it takes extraordinary collaboration between elected officials, city agencies and advocates. Though there were many bumps along the way, the most important thing is that it finally got done.
Michael O’Kane, former president of Chapter 32, said Toro’s dying wish was to make sure the Vietnam Veterans Memorial becomes reality.
Although we wish Toro had lived long enough to see the fruits of his labor, we’re sure he will be smiling down on Queens when the ribbon will be cut to the memorial next year.