The Garden of Remembrance is one of Woodhaven’s oldest Memorial Day traditions, spanning at least seven decades.
Created by American Legion Post 118, the Garden at at 91st Street and 89th Avenue consists of white markers with the names of soldiers killed in action, as well as members of the Post who are longer with us.
Over time, the Garden has grown to a few hundred markers. And in recent years, as members of the post grew older, the honor of erecting the Garden passed to the Junior ROTC of Franklin K. Lane High School.
Last year, due to COVID-19, the Garden of Remembrance was not erected, the first time in 70-plus years it was not on display for Memorial Day.
And it appeared that due to the cancellation of after-school programs over the past year, the Junior ROTC was not going to be available and the Garden would not see the light of day for the second year in a row.
It’s a quirky thing about the ending of traditions. They don’t end with any fanfare, there’s never any announcement. There’s never even any acknowledgement that something special is ending.
The people who were used to a tradition being a part of their lives quickly become used to the tradition going away. It just stops one year and then stops for another.
And then it fades away. Like Anniversary Day Parades. Like Rollback Days.
That’s why it was important for the Garden of Remembrance to be assembled this year, especially right now, coming out of a long dark year in which so many of us have lost so much. We couldn’t afford to lose this unique and beautiful tribute. We couldn’t take that chance.
And so this past Saturday, a group of local residents had the honor of taking part in this tradition, joining members of Post 118 to place the white markers in the front yard of their headquarters at 91st Street and 89th Avenue.
It was a very hot morning and there was a lot of work to be done. Using stakes and ropes to line up the markers, we started in one corner and slowly made our way across the yard.
Each marker has a name and a story of its own, and behind every marker is a family that grieved. Some of those families are no longer around, but many are. In fact, one of the volunteers had the honor of installing the marker dedicated to her great-grandfather.
Back in 2017, I received an email from a man whose uncle, Lieutenant Harry Schmitt, was killed in a plane crash in July 1958. He was stationed at Dover Air Force Base in Delaware at the time. He was just 19 and looking forward to a trip back home to Woodhaven.
Harry Schmitt went to St. Thomas the Apostle and Franklin K. Lane and had a job delivering the Leader-Observer. In a tribute to this young man, the Leader wrote: “As a boy, Harry had become known to everyone in the office. From the first day when he took his papers out on his route, his spirit of affable friendliness endeared him to everyone.”
That Memorial Day, we looked in the Garden of Remembrance for a marker with Harry Schmitt’s name and we found one.
We sent pictures of it to the family and they were very touched. It meant a great deal to them that over the decades, Woodhaven remembered. Year after year since his death, American Legion Post 118 honored Harry Schmitt and all the other heroes that were no longer with us.
The following Memorial Day, 60 years after young Lieutenant Harry Schmitt perished, his family returned to Woodhaven for the Memorial Day ceremony. Post 118 added a nice new nameplate to Harry So it was important that the Garden of Remembrance returned this year. It was important to show that Woodhaven always remembers.
If you pass by the Garden, please take a moment to stop and look at all the markers. Try not to notice that some of the rows are slightly out of alignment or a bit askew, starting off closer together than they end up.
Take notice of the names and remember. Woodhaven always remembers.