We’re very fortunate to have as many of the original trees as we do, about 36 of them appear to be the originally planted Memorial Trees, but each year we lose more and more of them.
Over this past winter it appears that we lost three more, leaving empty tree pits in place of the Pin Oak trees that stood tall for nearly a century.
Memorial Day is a day that is set aside to honor and remember those who died while serving our country. But it is also a time to remember all of those who served and who are no longer with us, because for the soldier, their service to our country never ends.
This past week, Woodhaven lost one of its heroes. Albert Matukonis passed away at the age of 99, just a few months shy of the century mark.
He was affectionately known as Hot Dog Al by his fellow members at American Legion Post 118. He got that name because for many years he was a fixture at Memorial Day events at the post, serving hot dogs from the kitchen.
His daughter Elizabeth told us that he was looking forward to attending this year’s observance, where members of the post gather around the Garden of Remembrance, a beautiful tribute to former members who are no longer with us.
Instead, that memorial will grow by one as a marker is added to the garden in Al’s name.
Matukonis was a proud veteran of World War II, and like our Memorial Trees of Woodhaven, each year we lose more and more of them. And like the Memorial Trees, their loss leaves behind a void that’s hard to fill, and painful to see.
When we posted the news of Matukonis' passing on social media, the response was tremendous. The American Legion’s Twitter account saluted Matukonis and retweeted it to their 82,000 followers.
The news was shared hundreds of times, and many more people left some very touching comments, many of them offering prayers and thanking Matukonis for his service.
The family is grateful for the prayers and good wishes for Matukonis. And Hot Dog Al’s second family, American Legion Post 118, is also very appreciative.
I think it’s wonderful the way people have responded, but I wish that more people would show more appreciation and love for our older veterans while they are still here. From year to year, we’ve watched attendance at our local Memorial Day observations dwindle.
We’ve watched as Memorial Day has become hijacked and turned into a three-day weekend, an opportunity to go on vacation, to barbecue in your backyard, or a corporate excuse to advertise sales and bargains.
That’s all good and well, but have we gotten to the point where we’ve placed more importance on having the day off from work, on the vacation or the barbecue, than the service and the sacrifice of our veterans?
Here’s the really good news: there’s room for both. American Legion Post 118 will honor the veterans that died so that we could enjoy these privileges in a beautiful ceremony at 11:30 a.m. on Monday, May 29, outside their headquarters at 89-02 91st Street on 89th Avenue behind PS 60.
The ceremony will take place in front of the Garden of Remembrance that is erected every year in their front yard by the student ROTC from Franklin K. Lane. The front yard will be turned into a cemetery in miniature, with a white marker representing those who served who are no longer with us.
And this year, a new marker will be added to the Garden of Remembrance in honor of Woodhaven’s Albert Matukonis. He has rejoined his fellow World War II veterans and friends, and he will be remembered and honored in this memorial for generations to come.
After the observance, everyone is invited inside the post for refreshments. The post will serve hot dogs from the kitchen, where Hot Dog Al’s hat has been hung permanently in another touching memorial to this good man.
So as a favor to Matukonis and all of the other veterans that have always made this country great, we hope that you’ll sacrifice an hour out of your Memorial Day to come down and pay respect and honor to those who are no longer with us.
And just as importantly, by coming out you’ll also be paying tribute to those veterans who are still with us. And you’ll be doing it while they are still around to appreciate your good wishes.