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Vets outraged by fallen war memorial in Brooklyn Heights

The Brooklyn Paper
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Armed with a priest and a fist full of American flags, four aging warriors honored the more than 7,000 Brooklynites who died in World War II on a different type of battlefield this past Veterans Day — inside a memorial dedicated to the great conflict which the city uses as a glorified storage shed.

Stepping over rolled-up rugs and squirming between boxes and crates filled with cut-up logs, the seniors looked over the large bronze plates adorning the walls inside the memorial at the center of Cadman Plaza Park. The plates held the names of Brooklynites who perished in World War II — many of whom 83-year-old Jack Vanasco and his friends knew.

“I grew up with a lot of the guys on this wall,” Vanasco explained. “Many of them were from my old neighborhood and my brother and I would play ball with them.”

Yet with the exception of Vanasco and his squad, the names aren’t read by anyone anymore, save for the few Parks employees who drop off supplies and materials as they pass through the 250-seat auditorium.

The memorial is usually closed to the public. Vanasco and his team only gained entry after a kind-hearted city Parks employee let them inside to pay their respects on Veterans Day.

“It’s truly a disgrace,” Vanasco said. “People should be coming in here so they can look at these names, but instead the city fills it with junk.”

As Parks commissioner in the 1940s, master planner Robert Moses wanted to put a World War II memorial in each borough. The memorial in Cadman Plaza Park near Pineapple Street in Brooklyn Heights — where statues of a male warrior and a woman and child symbolize victory and family — was the only one ever built.

After its dedication in 1951, Brooklynites flocked to the memorial to pay tribute to fallen neighbors and family members. The building’s auditorium was often used as a meeting place for clubs and civic associations, Vanasco remembered.

But as time passed, fewer and fewer people showed up. The memorial was pretty much forgotten about by the 1980s, when the city began using the granite and limestone building for storage.

Yet a brighter future could be around the corner: The city, which plunked down $2.9 million to revitalize the park three years ago, said it intends to refurbish the memorial once it can secure funding. A group of veterans led by former Borough President Howard Golden is also pushing to have the building turned into a memorial for veterans of all American wars, including Desert Storm and the current conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan.

That sounds fine to Vanasco and his troop, as long as the borough’s World War II veterans aren’t forgotten in the process.

“A nation is judged on how they treat their veterans,” said Monsignor Louis Elias Milazzo of St. Lucy’s Church on Kent Avenue in Williamsburg, who officiated at Vanasco’s brief service. “The lives of the men and women who sacrificed themselves in a cause for freedom are being disrespected by the condition of this memorial. What does say about us as a nation?”

Updated 3:40 pm, November 12, 2010
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Reasonable discourse

Doug Schwab from Bay Ridge says:
A few years ago Brooklyn College had an arrangement to use the War Memorial for their MFA Thesis Shows. This was a good thing on many levels, one being that the War Memorial was was being used and visited by the public.

Unfortunately one show with some sexual content caused the powers that be to end the the agreement between Brooklyn College and whoever it was that originally sanctioned shows there. It's too bad, but it shows that using that space for public events is a great way to keep it from falling into disuse, and would probably help bring in more funding for its upkeep. It's a terrific space and of course, it's quite moving to see the plaques with the names of our borough's fallen war heroes.
Nov. 12, 2010, 7:14 pm
millman from brooklyn says:
This really makes me sad. It is within site of Marty Markowitz's office and yet he does nothing about this. If you go to Prospect Park, the WW 1 memorial is in bad shape, and the monument to the Maryland 400, who basically saved the American Revolution at the Battle of Brooklyn, is small and insignificant and does not even explain what they did or even include the names of those who were killed, and it was almost all of the 400 who were killed.
Their bodies have never been located, although it is rumored that they lay in an unmarked mass grave near the elevated subway tracks by 4th ave.
Grand Army Plaza, which is a memorial to soldiers of the civil war was allowed to get in such bad shape it became a menace to the public, and the park slope armory which has now been converted to a track and is run by the YMCA actually closed down and barred members from using the track and workout machines for a day to hold a party celebrating Mexican independence day.
It would be nice if Brooklyn did a better job on these issues, and it would be nice if people were more aware of these things.
Nov. 14, 2010, 1:19 am
Sue E from Staten Island says:
I just saw this article. When my father and I worked at the nearby high school together, somebody took us to see the War Memorial and we saw the name of my Uncle Frank Esposito WW Army Engineer. He died in France in 1944. I don't know much about him but I wish I did. Since then, I tried to see the wall again. It is very difficult to find it open.
Aug. 31, 2011, 9:31 pm
richard ellis from jackson heights, ny says:
i was just recently made aware of the ww11 memorial in brooklyn. having lost two brothers in ww11 i am very interested in seeing this memorial. how does one get to see this lasting tribute to those brave men who made the supreme sacrifice?
March 1, 2013, 2:04 am
Lisa Hogan from Suffolk County says:
I'm sadden to hear that the wall with the 11,000 names of men KIA during WWII is in a room with brooms, buckets and mops. I'd like to see this wall as my uncle's name is on it. He died in the Pacific.
Sept. 9, 2014, 6:06 pm

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