Elected officials, veterans leaders and the Parks Department unveiled the schematic design for the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Elmhurst Park last Friday.
The $2.85 million project is set to begin construction next fall and be completed by fall 2019.
Parks Commissioner Mitchell Silver said the memorial will honor those who gave their lives in service of the country.
“Monuments serve their communities best when they provide a space to gather to remember, reflect and discuss,” Silver said. “This monument is designed to offer neighbors an attractive public space for remembrance, contemplation and repose within this vibrant community park.”
The memorial will feature two semicircular granite walls, one of which will list the names of more than 400 people from Queens who died in the Vietnam War. It will also have a brief timeline of the war and a map of key locations that Silver hopes will be educational for future generations.
The other wall will have the name of the memorial, the five crests of the military and the Vietnam Service Medal.
Between the walls will be a curved bench for park visitors. The flag pole and monuments will light up at night.
“New Yorkers have an emotional connection with their parks,” Silver said, “so it is fitting for us now to build a space where we can come together and remember our nation’s heroes.”
Borough President Melinda Katz’s office gave a total of $2.3 million to the project, which she first funded back in 2007, when she was still a member of the City Council.
“It went from a $500,000 project to now a $2.85 million project, and worth every single dime,” she said. “If it needs more, it will have more money to be completed.”
The borough president said she felt especially proud knowing that the community, particularly Vietnam Veterans of America Chapter 32, fought for nearly a decade for the memorial. Soon, she said, more than 400 of the Vietnam War’s fallen will be permanently memorialized in Queens.
“They should’ve been [memorialized] a long time ago when they came home,” Katz said. “Now, they’re going to get some recognition for their families and brothers and sisters-in-arms.”
Katz said the borough needs to show Vietnam veterans that they’re cared for and never forgotten.
“So many of the guys who went to Vietnam came back to not even being welcomed back into this country. We should never forget that,” said Councilman Daniel Dromm. “They deserved to be praised, to be honored, to be admired, to be held up as heroes for responding to the call for duty to our country.”
Dromm said he sees the impending memorial as a way to heal. It’s also about making sure the next generation of young people will remember the Vietnam War’s veterans, he said.
“Having this memorial here is a way to educate those children about the struggles of our country at that time,” he said.
Elected officials and veteran leaders also paid tribute to the late Pat Toro, a longtime veterans advocate and former president of Chapter 32 who passed away in 2014 from leukemia caused by exposure to Agent Orange during the war.
Toro was one of the strongest advocates pushing for the memorial.
“Pat worked tirelessly to make sure that one day, we would come here and unveil a design that will never forget the sacrifice of our Vietnam veterans from Queens,” said Councilwoman Elizabeth Crowley, who recounted meeting Toro when she was first elected. “He made that commitment to not only Vietnam veterans who were here, but to new returning veterans.
Michael O’Kane, current president of Chapter 32, said in 2008 Toro dreamed up the memorial. He would “shop it around” and talked to everybody about this idea.
“Never again shall one generation of veterans abandon another, that’s Vietnam Veterans of America’s founding principal,” O’Kane said. “If the creation of this monument is not the absolute embodiment of that, I don’t know what is.
“It’s here, it’s right, it’s just, it’s time,” he added. “We got it done.”
In May of 2016, James McClelland was honored by Chapter 32 for his nearly decade of work on the monument, a project that finally started to pick up steam in 2015 after seven years of being mired in bureaucratic red tape.
“I'm happy that this project will finally become a reality, and want to thank the borough president for funding it and the Parks design team for their work,” said McClelland.
“This is more than a memorial, it's a thank you to the Vietnam vets who paved the way for a future generation of vets like myself,” he added. “As well as the fulfillment of a promise to a dear friend in Pat Toro, who will unfortunately not be around for the ribbon cutting.”