In 2006, Vietnam Veterans of America Chapter 32 President Pat Toro had an epiphany. He had traveled all over the borough visiting different war memorials. He realized that there wasn’t one specific Vietnam Veterans War memorial for all of Queens; one that would encompass the whole borough From Bayside to Laurelton, Springfield Gardens to Ridgewood. Most neighborhoods had their own monuments, the one in Rosedale being the first and therefore the oldest. He wanted one memorial that would list all of the fallen in one place.
Pat brought it up at several meetings when the chapter headquarters was in Glendale. The membership was generally receptive to the idea, while questioning whether or not we were prepared and able to take on a project of such magnitude. We’d already hosted “The Moving Wall”, a scale replica of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington D.C., at Cunningham Park and later at Juniper Valley Park. Both were tremendous successes.
So we began planning. We needed support from the community as well as the politicians. Pat began visiting City Council members at their offices. With the assistance of James McClelland, Tony Nunziato and Vic Mimoni an organization was cobbled together titled “Friends of the Vietnam Wall”. They sold ball caps and along with Pat talked up the Memorial to anyone who would listen.
Melinda Katz, then a council member, secured a grant to get things started. In the interim, life got in the way; Pat was elected Southern District Director of the Vietnam Veterans of America. So the project wallowed in limbo for a number of years. Pat was diagnosed with a rare blood cancer caused by Agent Orange exposure. He passed away in July of 2014. I visited with him shortly before he passed. We spoke of many things regarding Chapter 32 business, among them this memorial. Literally the last thing he mentioned to me was “Get this done!”
Paul Narson was Chapter President at that time and it’s to his credit that Chapter 32 got back at work on the Memorial. When he decided not to seek re-election, I took the job. On Memorial Day of 2015, Melinda Katz, by that time Borough President of Queens, announced that the project was to be fully funded by Borough Hall.
We began meeting with The Parks Department about design and construction of the Memorial, at first at “The Arsenal” in Central Park and then at “The Overlook” in Forest Park. Among those at those first meetings were Denise Mattes, Frank Varro, Dorothy Lewandowski and Joanne Amagrande from Parks, National VVA President John Rowan, Chapter 32 founding member Don Fedynak, Chapter 32 Treasurer Paul Feddern, James McClelland and me, who at that time was President of Chapter 32.
We decided at those meetings to seek design ideas from Chapter 32 members. We decided to incorporate design elements from Don Fednyak and Paul Narson. The design was to be two semicircles. On one of the walls the names of the fallen were to be inscribed with a short history of the war below the names. On the other wall, a pattern of elephant grass was to be etched. A map of Vietnam would be reproduced on the deck at the center of the memorial.
After much anticipation, the memorial was dedicated on December 20, 2019 in the presence of many veterans of the war, families of the fallen and residents of Queens wishing to pay their respects. Since that day, many have visited the monument to honor and remember those listed. We hope it will continue to be a place for quiet reflection as well as an educational resource for generations to come.