BROOKLYN’S VETERANS HONORED

Toba Potosky, president of the nonprofit Cadman Park Conservancy, fights to restore Brooklyn’s WWII Memorial.

Aired on November 10, 2017

TRANSCRIPT

> IT WAS SHORTLY AFTER WORLD WAR II WHEN THEN-NEW YORK CITY PARKS COMMISSIONER ROBERT MOSES PLANNED TO ERECT A TRIBUTE TO THOSE NEW YORKERS AND MEMBERS OF THE GREATEST GENERATION WHO SERVED TO KEEP OUR NATION AND THE WORLD FREE IN EVERY ONE OF THE CITY'S FIVE BOROUGHS.

OF THE FIVE MEMORIALS PLANNED ONLY THE WORLD WAR II MEMORIAL IN BROOKLYN WAS COMPLETED IN 1951.

TO HONOR THE OVER 300,000 MEN AND WOMEN FROM BROOKLYN WHO SERVED.

SHOCKINGLY IT HAS NOT BEEN ACCESSIBLE TO THE PUBLIC FOR DECADES.

FOR OVER 60 YEARS IT HAS STOOD IN CADMAN PLAZA PARK, UNUTILIZED AND ALMOST FORGOTTEN.

ONLY A HANDFUL OF PEOPLE HAVE EVER SET FOOT INSIDE THIS BUILDING.

TO OBSERVE ITS SACRED WALL OF PLAQUES DEDICATED TO THE OVER 11,000 BROOKLYNITES WHO PAID THE ULTIMATE PRICE DURING WORLD WAR II.

BUT THERE'S ONE MAN ON A MISSION FIGHTING TO BRING THIS MEMORIAL BACK TO THE PEOPLE.

MY NAME IS TOBA.

HERE IN CADMAN PLAZA PARK, HOME OF THE BROOKLYN WAR MEMORIAL.

IT IS BROOKLYN'S WORLD WAR II MEMORIAL.

300,000 PEOPLE FROM BROOKLYN SERVED IN WORLD WAR II.

12,000 OF THEM NEVER CAME HOME AGAIN.

THEIR SACRIFICE OF THEIR LIVES IS MEMORIALIZED IN THIS MEMORIAL.

THE WALL OF HONOR.

A LIST OF 12,000 NAMES OF PEOPLE FROM BROOKLYN WHO SERVED AND DIED DURING WORLD WAR II.

THIS MEMORIAL HAS BEEN CLOSED TO THE PUBLIC FOR 30 YEARS.

I LIVE IN THE NEIGHBORHOOD.

AND I SAW EVERY HOLIDAY, THE PARK WOULD BE FILLED WITH FLAGS.

AND IT TOOK ME ABOUT A YEAR OR SO TO FIND JACK AND ROY VANASCO.

EVERY YEAR ON VETERANS DAY, MEMORIAL DAY, THEY COME TO THE PARK AND THEY LINE THE PARK WITH AMERICAN FLAGS.

I WAS IN THE UNITED STATES NAVY ON A DESTROYER.

JACK WAS IN A TANKER.

WE WERE FOUR BROTHERS WHO SERVED IN WORLD WAR II AT THE SAME TIME.

WE PUT THE FLAGS UP ALL AROUND THE BUILDINGS AND EVERYTHING TO REMEMBER SOME OF THE FALLEN VETERANS THAT GOT KILLED DURING THE WAR.

IT'S OUR WAY OF REMEMBERING THEM AS WE'RE STILL DOING ACTIVE DUTY HERE.

YOUNG PEOPLE LIKE OURSELVES LEFT HIGH SCHOOLS TO JOIN UP WHEN WE WERE 17, 18 YEARS OLD.

ON MY SHIFT THEY WEREN'T MORE THAN 20 YEARS OLD.

IF ANYBODY WAS ON THE SHIP THAT WAS 25, 30 YEARS OLD, WE CALLED THEM OLD MEN.

THE NAMES ON THE WALLS INSIDE THE MEMORIAL, THOSE NAMES ARE KIDS FOR JACK AND ROY, ALL THOSE GUYS LISTED ON THE WALL OF HONOR WILL ALWAYS BE 17, 18, 19 YEARS OLD, FOREVER.

TALKING TO ROY AND JACK IS LIKE TOUCHING HISTORY.

EVENTUALLY AS I GET TO KNOW THEM I WENT BACK TO THEIR STORE.

THEIR SHOP IS AMAZING.

ONE OF THE MOST AWESOME APPLIANCE STORES YOU COULD EVER WANT TO BE PART OF.

SOMEBODY WANTS SOME, I KNOW WHAT DRAWER, WHERE IT IS IN EACH DRAWER, WHEREVER IT IS.

THESE PICTURES OF JACK AND I'S MEMORIES AS WE GREW UP.

THAT'S JACK.

IT'S CALLED ALL APPLIANCES BUT WHAT IT IS, IT'S ALMOST LIKE A MUSEUM.

IT IS A MUSEUM.

DEFINITELY A MUSEUM.

SEE, WE WORK WELL TOGETHER.

ROY.

THIS IS YOU WITH PRESIDENT HOWARD GOLDEN BUT I DON'T KNOW WHO THIS GUY IS.

JACK.

THAT'S JACK?

YEAH.

THREE WORLD WAR II VETS RIGHT HERE.

RIGHT.

JACK, YOU LOOK BETTER NOW.

JACK AND I HAVE BEEN GONE THROUGH AMERICAN LEGION POST ALL THESE YEARS AND EVERYONE PROMISED THAT THEY WERE GOING TO HELP KEEP THIS PLACE OPEN.

SO PEOPLE CAN AT LEAST WALK IN AND WALK OUT AND SEE THE 12,000 NAMES.

THE BUILDING NEEDS A LOT OF REPAIRS INSIDE.

AND OUTSIDE.

VETERANS WHO ARE DISABLED IN WHEELCHAIRS CAN COME THERE, PUT THEMSELVES ON AN ELEVATOR, AND GET UP TO THE FIRST FLOOR AND GO INTO THE BUILDING.

THE 1940s, ROBERT MOSES, INFAMOUS ROBERT MOSES, COMMISSIONED FIVE WORLD WAR II MEMORIALS, ONE IN EVERY BOROUGH.

THIS IS THE ONLY ONE THAT WAS BUILT.

WHEN I TALKED TO THE VETS, THE VETS WHO WERE AROUND AS THE MEMORIAL WAS BEING BUILT, THEY SAID THE CONCEPT BEHIND THIS MEMORIAL WAS TO COUNTER WHAT HITLER WAS TRYING TO CREATE.

AND SORT OF THAT THIS WOULD BE A FREE CENTER.

SO THAT ANY FAITH, ANY GROUP OF PEOPLE, COULD COME IN AND RENT THIS SPACE AND HAVE A CELEBRATION IN HERE, OR HAVE LIKE EDUCATIONAL SEMINARS INSIDE HERE, A COMMUNITY SPACE, A CIVIL ARTS SPACE.

SO THAT'S WHAT WE HOPE IT WILL BE.

WE'RE WORKING ON THIS FOR ABOUT FOUR YEARS OR SO.

RAISING AWARENESS.

ON THIS DECK OUT HERE WE HAD 26 WORLD WAR II VETERANS LAST MAY THAT WE HONORED.

JUST TO SAY THANK YOU.

TWO OF THEM ARE NO LONGER WITH US IN A MATTER OF JUST A COUPLE OF MONTHS.

I'M JUST HONORED BY THE FACT THAT I GOT A CHANCE TO KNOW THEM.

THIS IS ABOUT SAYING THANK YOU.

THOSE PEOPLE WHO HAVE SACRIFICED.

WHETHER THEY WERE IN EUROPE, WHETHER THEY WERE IN THE PACIFIC.

THEIR SACRIFICE BENEFITED THE REST OF THE WORLD.

I THINK IT WILL BE INSPIRING TO FUTURE GENERATIONS.

I THINK THAT IT WILL INSPIRE PEOPLE TO LOOK AT THE NAMES OF THE PEOPLE WHO DID SACRIFICE.

AND IT COULD HAVE A PROFOUND EFFECT ON THEIR LIVES.

WHETHER IT LEADS TO ANY KIND OF SERVICE, WHETHER IT'S MILITARY SERVICE OR POLITICAL SERVICE OR SERVICE IN THE COMMUNITY.

I THINK THAT THAT IS INSPIRING.

JOINING US IS THE MAN BEHIND THE MOVE TO MAKE BROOKLYN'S WORLD WAR II MEMORIAL A LACE FOR ALL OF US TO ENJOY, TOBA PETUSKY, WELCOME TO YOU.

WHAT REACTION ARE YOU GETTING WHEN YOU'RE GETTING OUT THERE SAYING TO PEOPLE, WE NEED TO DO SOMETHING TO BRING THIS MEMORIAL BACK?

EVERY TIME WE TALK TO SOMEBODY, PEOPLE TURN TO US AND THEY SAY, HOW CAN WE HELP?

IT STARTED WITH OUR STATE SENATOR DAN SQUADRON AND THEN JOANN SUNN, OUR ASSEMBLYWOMAN.

SHE TALKED ABOUT BECOMING A 501-C-3, A NONPROFIT.

OUR CITY COUNCIL GOT US MONEY TO TAKE CARE OF THE GROUNDS FOR THE MEMORIAL.

THEN OF COURSE IN AUGUST THE BOROUGH PRESIDENT, ERIC ADAMS, CONTACTED US.

TELL US THAT STORY.

THAT IS AMAZING.

IN MAY WE HONORED THE 26 WORLD BROOKLYN WORLD WAR II VETERANS WHO ARE STILL WITH US.

IT WAS BEAUTIFUL.

THE NAVY CAME OUT WITH A MARCHING BAND.

THE AIR FORCE CAME OUT.

ERIC ADAMS WAS ONE OF THE SPEAKERS AND HE SAW WHAT WAS HAPPENING AND WHAT WE WERE DOING.

AND THEN HIS CHIEF OF STAFF SAID TO ME AT THE END OF THE EVENT, WE NEED TO TALK ABOUT THIS A LITTLE BIT.

THIS IS AT THE FOOT OF THE BROOKLYN BRIDGE.

AS YOU COME OVER THE BRIDGE, HERE'S THIS MEMORIAL THAT NOBODY KNOWS ANYTHING ABOUT.

AND HE SAID, WE SHOULD REALLY FOCUS A LITTLE BIT ON IT.

THEN IN A MATTER OF WEEKS THEY CALLED ME AND SAID, WE WANT TO TALK TO YOU.

THEY SAID, WE'RE GOING TO SUBMIT $1 MILLION TOWARDS THE RESTORATION.

WHAT DID YOU THINK WHEN YOU HEARD THAT?

WHEN HE SAID THAT TO US, TO ME AND THEN I GOT THIS BIG PAPER CHECK THAT SAID $1 MILLION, IT'S -- IT'S BEYOND BELIEF.

BEYOND BELIEF.

FOR ANYBODY WHO'S BEEN INVOLVED IN SHOULD GO THAT YOU'RE PASSIONATE ABOUT, I KNOW WHAT THE GOAL IS, RIGHT?

AND SO $1 MILLION, I KNOW THE CHECKLIST, I KNOW MAYBE THAT GETS US A RAMP BECAUSE IT'S NOT HANDICAP ACCESSIBLE, A RAMP NEEDS TO BE BUILT.

AND SOMETHING THAT IS WORTHY OF THE MEMORIAL.

IT'S A GRANITE AND LIMESTONE BUILDING.

IT NEEDS TO HAVE THAT TYPE OF RAMP.

WHAT'S YOUR VISION FOR IT?

I SAY YOU, I MEAN EVERYBODY WHO'S INVOLVED.

FOR ALL OF US, TO BE FAIR WE'RE PARTNERED UP WITH THE PARKS DEPARTMENT, PARTNERED UP WITH ELECTED OFFICIALS AND PRIVATE DONATIONS.

THE VISION FOR THE MEMORIAL IS SELF-SUSTAINING.

IT HAS TO BE A SELF-SUSTAINING MEMORIAL, EDUCATION CENTER, VETERANS CENTER.

A PLACE FOR SEMINARS AND ALSO CELEBRATION, WHICH WAS THE ORIGINAL GOAL.

I THINK WE HAD TALKED EARLIER AND I HAD SAID, IT'S AMAZING, THE MORE I LEARN ABOUT HOW THE MEMORIAL BEGAN AND HOW WE PARALLELED THAT GROUP, THERE WAS A GROUP OF PEOPLE, IT STARTED WITH THE PUBLISHER OF 'THE BROOKLYN EAGLE' WHO SAID -- PHILIP SHROTH, WHO SAID, WE NEED TO MOVE ON THIS.

1944, HE STARTED TALKING ABOUT IT.

THEY STARTED A NONPROFIT.

AND RAISED $520,000.

AND THE CITY WITH THE HELP OF THE PARKS COMMISSIONER, ROBERT MOSES, THEY DONATED THE LAND WHICH BECAME THE PARKLAND.

AND SO TOGETHER THEY PUT IT TOGETHER.

NOW WE'RE WORKING WITH THE PARKS DEPARTMENT.

ALMOST A CLOSING OF THE CIRCLE.

70 YEARS.

IT IS AMAZING.

BUT I HAVE TO SAY, TO GET TO YOUR QUESTION, IS THAT PEOPLE HAVE REACHED OUT TO US IN EVERY WAY THAT THEY CAN.

AND SAID, WE WANT TO BE PART OF IT.

BIG AND SMALL.

WE'LL RAKE LEAVES ON WEEKENDS AROUND THE MEMORIAL.

WE'LL TEND THE GROUNDS.

IN ASSOCIATION WITH THE PARKS DEPARTMENT.

YESTERDAY WE HAD 20 4-YEAR-OLDS FROM THE LOCAL PRESCHOOL, WE BOUGHT RAKES THIS SIZE, THEY CLEANED UP, THEY WERE PART OF THE PARK.

THAT'S SOMETHING THE PARKS COMMISSIONER SAID, WE'RE CONNECTING PEOPLE TO THE PARK LIKE NEVER BEFORE.

I'M EXAMPLE OF IT.

I'VE LIVED ACROSS THE STREET FOR 30 YEARS, NOT KNOWING WHAT THIS BUILDING WAS.

IT'S A GREAT STORY OF WHAT PEOPLE WITH GOOD HEART AND GOOD SOUL CAN DO TO REMIND US OF THE GREATEST GENERATION, ESPECIALLY AS WE ARE LOSING THEM.

THANKS FOR SPENDING TIME WITH US AND GOOD LUCK.

THANK YOU FOR HAVING ME, I REALLY APPRECIATE IT.

Funders

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