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Candlelight vigil honors community vets

In preparation for Memorial Day and the festivities to come, the United Veterans & Fraternal Organizations of Maspeth held a candlelight vigil to honor U.S. veterans and their loved ones.

Many community members, including veterans, gathered in Maspeth Memorial Park on Monday for an evening of patriotic spirit, entertainment, and remembrance.

The St. Stan’s Players performed “Battle Hymn of the Republic.”

Rev. Joseph Wilson of St. Stanislaus Kostka recited the invocation, thanking members of the armed forces, police officers, firefighters, corrections officers, and other emergency service personnel for saving lives and defending the rights of citizens.

Following the Pledge of Allegiance, a rendition “America the Beautiful,” sung by Kristinka, and some words of gratitude from the organization’s president, Maryanna Zero, a sentimental poem was recited by the ceremony’s Young Poet Laureate, James White.

White is a freshman at Fordham University in the Bronx, and serves as a lector at Transfiguration Church. He recited “Soldier,” a poem written by retired U.S. Army Major Ed Coet.

“That I didn’t honor him sooner, I will always regret; and I pledged that day to never again forget,” he recited. “I’m proud that my dad was a patriotic warrior; I’m honored to be the son of an American soldier.”

Queens residents Johnny Bee and Rosalia Gattuso performed a musical duet of Andrea Bocelli and Celine Dion’s “The Prayer,” and Gattuso sang “Ave Maria” after the ceremonial lighting of the candles.

The program was also joined by the St. Stan’s Players, who sang “Battle Hymn of the Republic.”

Candles for World War I were carried by the American Legion Auxiliary, World War II by Ridgewood Moose Lodge No. 1642 – Chapter 133, Korean War by Polish Legion of American Veterans Chapter 4 of the Kowalinski Post – Ladies Auxiliary, Vietnam War by Vietnam Veterans of America Queens Chapter 32 – The Honor Guard, and Desert Storm, Operation Iraqi Freedom and the American Victims of Terrorism by Francis Cardinal Spellman Council, Knights of Columbus No. 6014 Ladies Auxiliary.

Members of the United Veterans & Fraternal Organizations of Maspeth displayed a banner.

Maspeth resident Carole Stines led the event, and also recited a revised version of “My Son,” a Frank Patterson song.

“I reworked some of the lyrics to suit the occasion,” she said. “In keeping with this year’s Memorial Day Parade theme, ‘Maspeth Honors Gold Star Families,’ I recited this poem. This homage is also relevant to all of those who lost a loved one in these very difficult times.”

She was also joined by Hyunjeong Lee on keyboard and Andrew Cho on violin.

During her reading and the musical performance, the family of the late Corporal Robert Rodriguez, who died in Operation Iraqi Freedom, stood in front of the crowd, holding up his photo.

Rodriguez, who was a Maspeth resident, had his name added to the monument in Maspeth Memorial Park 12 years ago.

Maspeth’s Memorial Day Parade will kick off at 1 p.m. at Grand Avenue and 69th Street, with festivities at 11 a.m. at Queens Vietnam Memorial Elmhurst Park, 12 p.m. at the WWI Monument at 72nd Street and Grand Avenue, and followed by a memorial service at 2 p.m.

Wendell: Remembering Woodhaven’s Lt. Harry Joseph Schmitt

He was a Woodhaven boy. He lived on Jamaica Avenue. He attended PS 97 and Franklin K. Lane High School and picked up a few bucks delivering The Leader-Observer.

As a young man, he went to Queens College where he excelled in the classroom and on the baseball diamond. He was honored as a distinguished military graduate and received his commission as a 2nd Lieutenant in the Air Force, where he trained to be a pilot.

He was just 23 years old and his future was bright, but Woodhaven was still close to his heart. While stationed at an Air Force base in Dover, Delaware, as a radar observer, he kept an old postcard of Forest Parkway in his locker.

He kept in touch with his folks regularly and they spoke about his next visit to his old hometown. In fact, his bags were already packed and he was ready to go on leave.

And he would be bringing home a surprise for his family, the young woman who he was planning to make his wife.

But Harry Schmitt never came home. In July 1958, he was killed while on a routine flight over the Atlantic off the coast of Cape May, New Jersey

As with any accident, the details of what happened are as murky as the waters Harry Schmitt’s plane crashed into. It appears that the pilot did not realize how low he was flying. In fact, he may have even skipped the jet across the top of the ocean.

The pilot ordered Harry Schmitt to bail, but because the plane was so low when he ejected, his parachute never opened. The Air Force speculated that he was killed instantly but we’ll never know for certain as the young man from Woodhaven was never found.

It was front page news here in Woodhaven. Lt. Harry Joseph Schmitt was remembered at a Solemn High Mass of Requiem at St. Thomas the Apostle Church.

The Leader-Observer expressed their grief and fondly remembered the boy who delivered this newspaper.

“From the first day when he took his papers out on his route, his spirit of affable friendliness endeared him to everyone,” the paper recalled in an editorial.

They remembered his cheery greetings whenever he entered the newspaper’s office on Jamaica Avenue, and they shared how friendly Harry was to all of the customers on his paper route.

“The memory of Harry Schmitt’s grin and exuberant ‘Hi!’ will never be forgotten,” the Leader wrote.

But as the years went by, it would appear that the memory of young Harry Schmitt began to fade away in Woodhaven, but he was never forgotten, certainly not by American Legion Post 118.

Starting in 1961, our local American Legion has been honoring its members in their Garden of Remembrance, which was planned to be a “miniature Arlington Cemetery,” with a marker honoring residents of Woodhaven who died in service or afterwards.

It is a beautiful sight, a field of crosses filling the front yard of the post, each marker representing someone who is no longer with us. A ceremony is held every year in honor of those that the markers represent.

And every year since 1961, Harry Schmitt has been part of that Garden of Remembrance; a cross bearing his name has been on display, with all the others, every Memorial Day.

The Schmitt family left Woodhaven just a year after young Harry perished and they were unaware that the Post had continued to honor Harry in their garden each year. It touched them deeply that their Harry had never been forgotten.

In 2018, 60 years after Harry was lost, the Schmitt family returned to Woodhaven for Memorial Day services at the Post. Harry’s sister Margaret was presented with a memorial flag while everyone observed a moment of silence.

During the ceremony, Commander John Lawless asked everyone to look at the Garden of Remembrance. “Sadly, each year, our garden grows,” he said.

Each new marker is a new name that will forever be remembered and honored by American Legion Post 118 and the residents of Woodhaven.

Please note that American Legion Post 118 will be hosting a Memorial Day Observance at Forest Parkway and Jamaica Avenue on Thursday, May 26th starting at 6:30 p.m. And on Memorial Day itself, resident will begin gathering at 10:30 for the annual Memorial Day Observance outside the post, in front of the Garden of Remembrance.

Support our vets

Dear Editor,
As the nation prepares to celebrate Veteran’s Day next week, Americans should all be grateful for the sacrifices these brave men and women have made in the past and continue to make for our nation.
Our veterans need our support now more than ever, and government must help them and their families. Instead of worrying so much about the illegal immigrants who continue to cross into our country, the government should be taking care of our veterans.
Thank you for your bravery, service and dedication protecting this country.
Sincerely,
John Amato
Fresh Meadows

Queens Vietnam Veterans Memorial vandalized

The Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Elmhurst Park was vandalized sometime between Tuesday night and early Wednesday morning.
Graffiti vandals spray-painted “Baby Killers” and swastikas, among other things, in the shadow of several wreaths that were placed there last Thursday morning during a Memorial Day ceremony.
The memorial was dedicated on December 26, 2019. It culminated a decade-long push for the $2.85 million monument, which features a curved bench flanked by two semi-closed granite walls.
One wall bears the names of 371 men from Queens who fought and died in the Vietnam War. The second features a timeline of the war and a map of key locations.
An additional plaque honors the lives of veterans who died from illnesses related to their service in Vietnam. It includes the name of Pat Toro, a former president of the Vietnam Veterans of America Chapter 32 who began the push for a memorial in 2008.
He passed away in 2014 due to complications from exposure to Agent Orange during his time in service.

Long overdue honor for Vietnam vets

In honor of Memorial Day, we revisited some undated photos we found in our archives. When we first ran them, we heard from two people who actually took part in the event.
From John Rowan, national president and CEO of the Vietnam Veterans of America, founding president of Chapter 32 in Queens, and a resident of Glendale:
This picture is from the May 1985 Welcome Home Parade as part of the dedication of New York City’s Vietnam Veterans Memorial at 55 Water Street in Manhattan.
The flag bearer on the left is John Zimmerman, and behind him is Mike Boyle in the cap, who has since died due to complications from Agent Orange exposure.
To his left is Dominic Yezzon, Esq. I am in the flight suit to the left of Borough President Donald Manes. To my right is Willie Hill. The vet in the wheelchair is Matt Raible. ‎Three men to his left is Ron Renne. The Marine to Ron’s left is Mike Kern.
It was quite a day.
And from longtime Chapter 32 member Don Fedynak:
The photo is actually from the “The New York Vietnam Veterans Memorial Parade” which took place in May 1985. The veterans marched across the Brooklyn Bridge into Manhattan, past City Hall and down Broadway’s Canyon of Hero’s in a hail of ticker tape.
For most of the veterans it was long overdue. For this was the first time they had been afforded such an honor since their return home from Vietnam.
To Donald Manes’ left is Vietnam Veterans of America National President John Rowan. Directly behind John is me, Don Fedynak. Also in the photo are longtime chapter members Dominic Yezzo, Bill Ellis, Ron Renne, Ken Trautman, John Zimmerman, Bob Delgato, and way too many to mention here.

Homeless & forgotten

Dear Editor
I’m a veteran and have been homeless for almost two years. My patience has run out.
I have been in numerous shelters during those two years. At present, I’m at a shelter at 22 Sumner Place for the elderly. All day we just sit in our room. There are no programs to entertain us.
The staff wishes to help us, bu the higher-ups do not give the staff funds to purchase things to keep our minds active.
Other shelters get the funds to keep their clients happy. They go to the movies or they go bowling.
They also have people who work there to find permanent housing quickly. At my current shelter, there is only one person to help find housing for over 100 residents. There are people here who have been waiting for housing for over a year.
I feel like they just want us to die here.
Many of us at the shelter are veterans. We stood up when we were called to defend this country with our lives. Now people write about the issues facing veterans, but there is no action from the government.
Sincerely,
Bartram Dalney
Williamsburg

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