On a sun drenched Labor Day afternoon the citizens of Maspeth roared their approval as the service flag was stretched across 72nd Street off Grand Avenue. Patriotism was at an all-time high on September 7th, 1942 as members of the community serving in the armed forces had their names displayed on the flag.
As a boy of five the image is a bit cloudy, but with the accompanying photos and the reminiscences of my mom and dad certain clarity takes place. We lived on 72nd Street or the “Police station block” as it was referred to then. My grandfather Joseph DeBorger was the local air-raid warden and he took his job very seriously it seemed. Our house was in total darkness, even when there was no drill. As he said many times while drawing the heavy drapes “Just in case”. The siren was perched atop P.S.73 and sounded as though it was located on your very own roof.
People on the home front were very conscientious about gas and food rationing, collecting metal and paper, air raid drills and the latest news from the European and Pacific fronts. Many an evening was spent gathered near the 'Philco' console radio, hoping to capture some good news from the latest reports. My friends and I were always busy “playing war” in the nearby lots, mimicking what we saw in the newspaper and news reels.
Many homes on our block had blue star flags in the window depicting a family member was serving in the armed services or a few had gold star flags which meant that household suffered a fatality. The first gold star flag that I remember was that of the Davey family, they lived around the block. Thomas Davey was killed in France, it hit home because he was a good friend of my Uncle Tom DeBorger who was fighting in France as well. Eventually 128 Maspeth boys would pay the ultimate sacrifice for freedom during World War II.
Seventy Second Street was the best place in the world to live and not only because my family made their home on the block. A victory garden was commonplace, but a coop with thirty odd chickens and two ducks with their own swimming hole were a bit unusual. Before Sunday dinner my grandfather and I would walk the half block to Basler's to have his metal “Growler” filled. This white enamel growler was special and held between seven and eight glasses of beer. My grandmother was the careful “chemist” filling the glasses, avoiding someone getting a short pour. Our house was located four doors off Grand Avenue with the 112th Police station, housing the friendly P.A.L. officer on the end of the block and Bar and Grills on both corners on the other. Neiderburger's on the Northeast corner, boasting 10 cent, 16 oz. beers and Basler's with a free lunch counter on the southeast corner. Philip Basler donated the store used by the service center, next to his establishment and Crimi's shoe repair adjacent to the center. Mr. Crimi was a kind older man and would ask me in broken English to occasionally stick my long skinny arm into one of his scary machines to retrieve a lost object. The reward for my heroics was a piece of penny candy of my choice.
The service center was the hub for all war effort activities, from war bond rallies to air raid warden headquarters. There were flags, meeting notices and warning posters like, “Lose lips sink ships” displayed in the window. Some of the posters had Hitler, Hirohito, and Mussolini heads grotesquely super imposed on rat or pig bodies.
It was easy to understand, even at a young age, that these were evil people and had to be defeated at all cost. It was early in 1942 and people in our part of town wanted to do something special for our boys in service and at the same time boost morale on the home front. The service flag was a perfect vehicle. My grandfather, his daughter, my mom Elsie and a host of other people formed the service flag committee. Contributions poured in, permission from Christopher Merklin and Philip Basler was granted to suspend the flag from the roofs of their properties. The flag was selected, one hundred and fifty four names sewn on both sides and the dedication day selected.
A vast enthusiastic parade kicked off the festivities, a program at the service center featuring Alex Frontera as the master of ceremonies followed. It is interesting to note some program highlights:The weather was perfect, the unfurled flag enthralled the crowd and everyone went home with a feeling of accomplishment. Not for long! A hurricane whipped through Maspeth that fall and our beloved flag was ripped to shreds. Undaunted, the flag committee renewed their efforts and a new flag was manufactured and rededicated on June 27th, 1943. With the war effort in high gear the committee added one hundred new names to the flag. The home front produced many service flags, banners, billboards and such throughout America. Our town of Maspeth was but a piece of the great mosaic of America during the war years.
Now on Memorial Day we honor the memory of those who made the ultimate sacrifice. Next year display “Old Glory”, hold your hand over your heart as the glorious flag passes and say the prayer of thanks.