Do you know that area on Rockaway Beach Blvd. that has two semi-circular paths bounded by Beach 120th Street and 121st Street? There are London Plane trees all around it, American flags, benches, and sometimes flowers. I never really stopped to look around. I never looked at the concrete and metal markers surrounding both sides of the park. It’s worth a look, and maybe more. Those markers are in honor of fallen World War II soldiers who lost their lives defending our right to live in the freedom that we sometimes take for granted. There are 33 of those plaques, and recently three more were added, Marine Corps Lance Corporal Michael Glover; Army 1st Class Private John McGonigal and Dennis Connor who perished on the SS Dorchester in 1943. All of those honored made the supreme sacrifice. Too often we take these things for granted, especially when we live in a democracy that allows us to choose our leaders.
Memorial Circle, as a place of honor, has a long history, going back to 1947 when the ladies of the Belle Harbor Garden Club dedicated the Circle. The Circle dates back to the early 1900s when it was part of the development of the local real estate environment. The Belle Harbor Garden Club, with the help of the Jewish War Veterans, maintained the site. More recently, the Friends of Memorial Circle have cared for the Circle and its grounds. It’s amazing to me what incredible things can be accomplished by everyday people who take the time and energy to do good works. They never ask for any thanks, they just do the right thing. The Friends of Memorial Circle is a 501(c)3 charitable organization that accepts donations to help defray the costs of maintaining the Circle.
More recently, the markers had fallen into disrepair due mainly to the ground sinking around them. Soil erosion is generally a bigger job than the usual kind of maintenance and requires more professional help. Luckily for Rockaway, the Parks Department has a program designed specifically for the care and maintenance of these types of markers. The NYC Park’s Citywide Monuments Conservation Program (CMCP) was designed to provide high quality care for upwards of 500 sites annually around the city. And Memorial Circle is one of those locations. Typically, they simply clean and re-wax the markers, but last year they recognized that many of the markers were sinking, so they recently completed a repair project to reset nearly half the markers evenly on a bed of gravel, raising them almost six inches up so that you can actually see and read them. Upon inspection, it looks like they did a splendid job.
Rockaway has many such monuments dotted around the beach; it sometimes seems that this small peninsula contributes in a great proportion to these ultimate sacrifices. Or maybe it’s just that we have a lot of everyday heroes walking among us who care deeply about our community, our town, our country. We are certainly blessed in that regard. And I’m glad that after being a resident here for almost forty years, I finally stopped to read each of those plaques and to offer my thanks to those that gave their lives.
I salute the Parks Department for doing a terrific job and without any fanfare, and I certainly salute those who take the time to make sure that the Circle provides the dignity it so richly deserves without ever asking for thanks. Rockaway thanks you!
By Lou Pastina