He was an altar boy at the Catholic Church of Saint Sylvester in Brooklyn, which was just around the corner from his house. His name was Father Lawrence Edward Lynch and he was a hero.
In 1949, a triangle at Atlantic Avenue and Rockaway Boulevard, near where Woodhaven, Ozone Park and Cypress Hills all meet, was set aside as a memorial to Father Lynch and a parade was held in his honor.
But sadly, today there is no sign to commemorate the memory of this brave and compassionate man. There is no sign or any official acknowledgement of his service or sacrifice.
This will be rectified soon thanks to Councilman Eric Ulrich, who passed legislation to once again rename the triangle in honor of Father Lawrence Edward Lynch.
There will be a ceremony at the triangle on Saturday, March 9, at 10 a.m. for this long overdue rededication. There will be music and prayers, and everyone is invited. We hope you’ll add this to your calendar.
After the ceremony, the Woodhaven Cultural & Historical Society is hosting a St. Patrick’s Day Party in Father Lynch’s honor at Neir’s Tavern, just a few short blocks away.
We will provide corned beef and potatoes, and we’ll all hoist a beer or two in this good man’s memory.
When Father Lynch was assigned to the 69th Infantry Regiment, he stepped into some mighty big shoes. They were worn by the famous Father Duffy, who was immortalized on film by Pat O’Brien in “The Fighting 69th” starring James Cagney.
According to those who knew him well and had the chance to work alongside him, he filled those shoes admirably.
Brigadier General Julius Klein was his commanding officer in the Pacific during World War II, and recalled Father Lynch’s zest for justice when he stormed into his office fighting for a Jewish soldier who he felt had been unfairly passed over for promotion.
“It never mattered to him whether a soul was white or black, Jew or Christian, or unbeliever,” General Klein said of his friend. “To him, each human being was simply a child of God.”
They were at each other’s side on a rescue boat rushing to the SS Elihu Thompson, a Liberty ship that struck a mine on September 25, 1944. Eleven young men were killed and 22 were missing and never found.
While Klein was directing the rescue, Father Lynch tended to the mortally wounded, offering comfort and holding their hands so the young men did not have to die alone.
“Ego te absolve,” the absolution of sin, he whispered quietly in the ears of young men who would never see their friends or families again.
One of the young dying sailors was Jewish and asked for a rabbi. None were available, and so Father Lynch held his hand and whispered “Sh’mai, Israel, Adonai, Eloheno Adonai echad.” The young soldier died just as Father Lynch finished the prayer. Klein was overcome with emotion and never forgot the incident, often referring to the priest as his favorite Irish rabbi.
During the Battle of Okinawa, Father Lynch repeatedly sought out the battalions and regiments that were expected to see the heaviest action, giving last rites to hundreds and hundreds of the 20,000 American soldiers that would eventually lose their lives in that battle by the time it ended.
On April 25, 1945, the Japanese were shelling the battalion that Father Lynch was traveling with, and a soldier nearby screamed as he was hit.
The tough Irish priest from Elderts Lane ran to the young soldier’s side and began offering Last Rites when a second shell struck, killing both of them instantly. Father Lawrence Edward Lynch was 38 years old.
At the end of June, after victory had been secured, over 4,000 servicemen attended a mass at his graveside in Okinawa. Back home, a steady stream of servicemen visited his parents to pay their respects, long after the war had ended.
In the decades since his passing, Father Lynch’s bravery and sacrifice were sadly forgotten. This year, the neighborhoods of Woodhaven, Ozone Park and Cypress Hills will rectify that by honoring this Irish priest’s memory just in time for St. Patrick’s Day.