On Memorial Day, we remember those who served but never came home.
Memorial Day is observed on the last Monday in May, which this year is May 29. There are several ceremonies this year that you should mark on your calendar. The first will take place at noon on Saturday, May 20, at Oak Ridge in Forest Park.
During WWI, residents of Woodhaven nervously looked at headlines each week to see the latest grim announcements that more local boys had been killed. In all, 70 young men from Woodhaven lost their lives in what would become known as “The Great War.”
In May 1919, American Legion Post 118 planted trees in the name of each fallen soldier along Forest Park Drive, across from the golf clubhouse. Each Memorial Day, families of the fallen would decorate the trees with patriotic bows and ribbons.
For many years, a ceremony at these Memorial Trees followed the annual Memorial Day Parade.
When Post 118’s headquarters were relocated due to the widening of Woodhaven Boulevard, the large granite monument that sat among these trees was moved to their new building. The parade route was moved and the tradition of decorating these trees was largely forgotten until recently.
The Memorial Trees of Woodhaven will be decorated once again this year, and on May 20 there will be a special ceremony as Forest Park Drive is officially co-named Forest Park Memorial Drive.
The addition of the word “Memorial” to the road not only acknowledges our trees, but the many other memorials along that roadway.
Those include PFC Lawrence Strack Memorial Pond, Victory Field, which is named in honor of the Unknown Soldiers of World War I, as well as the Buddy Monument and Sergeant Schaeffer Oval in Richmond Hill.
On Thursday, May 25, at 7:30 p.m., the Greater Woodhaven Development Corporation will hold its annual Memorial Day Observance at the monument located at Forest Parkway and Jamaica Avenue. This is a great “small town” ceremony complete with the American Legion, ROTC, and patriotic music.
As we have seen over the years, many traditions have sadly disappeared. Maria Thomson and the rest of the GWDC deserve a lot of credit for keeping the tradition of the Forest Parkway ceremony alive.
In the weeks leading up to Memorial Day, the student ROTC of Franklin K. Lane Campus will erect the Garden of Remembrance in the front yard of American Legion Post 118 at 89-02 91st Street, which is behind PS 60.
This is one of Woodhaven’s most touching and beautiful traditions. A white cross or white Star of David is placed in honor of a former member of the post who is no longer with us. And sadly, that garden has grown larger as the years have gone by.
In the 1950s and 60s, this was called the “Cemetery in Miniature” due to its resemblance to Arlington Cemetery. And this will serve as the setting for our American Legion’s 98th Annual Memorial Day Observance on Monday, May 29, at 11:30 a.m.
This is a beautiful ceremony full of tradition and patriotism. And afterward, everyone is invited inside for refreshments, including hot dogs and soda.
In years past hundreds of Woodhaven residents would come out to this ceremony, but in recent years attendance has dwindled down to a few dozen, maybe less.
Last year, a former resident of Woodhaven sent me American Legion Post 118’s handbook on Memorial Day services published back in 1923. It was remarkably similar to the ceremony that is held today. That tells me that it isn’t the Legion that has changed, it’s us.
We owe it to the soldiers who gave their all to remember their sacrifices this Memorial Day. Please make every effort to attend at least one of these ceremonies, because not only will you be honoring the sacrifices of the fallen, you will be sending all the men and women who served a very simple message: Thank You.
It’s the very least we, as a community, can do.