Construction begins for Vietnam Veterans Memorial
by Benjamin Fang
Dec 05, 2018 | 7446 views | 0 0 comments | 274 274 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Former Chapter 32 president Michael O'Kane speaks at the ceremony.
Former Chapter 32 president Michael O'Kane speaks at the ceremony.
Ten years ago, Pat Toro, former president of the Vietnam Veterans of America Chapter 32, came up with the idea of building a memorial to Vietnam veterans of Queens.

Though Toro passed away in 2014 from cancer related to exposure to Agent Orange, his dream is set to become reality next fall.

Construction has begun on the Vietnam Veterans Memorial at Elmhurst Park, a $2.85 million project that will create two semicircular granite walls. The first wall will have the name of the memorial, the five crests of the military and the Vietnam Service Medal.

The second wall will bear the names of 371 Queens residents who fought and died during the war. It will also feature a timeline of key dates and a map of significant locations during the Vietnam War.

An additional plaque will be installed to honor the lives of veterans who died from illnesses related to the war. Toro’s name will be among those acknowledged.

Between the two walls will be a radial bench, and new plantings will be added on the edges. At night, both the granite walls and the flagpole will be illuminated.

Former Chapter 32 President Michael O’Kane, a close friend of Toro’s, recalled that he visited the leading veterans advocate in the hospital several times before he died.

“One of the last things he said to me was in regard to this memorial. ‘Get it done,’ he said,” recalled O’Kane . “This was literally his dying wish.”

Borough President Melinda Katz fully funded the project, including a $550,000 allocation a decade ago when she served in the City Council. Because of the bureaucratic red tape the memorial endured, Katz said she never thought she would see this day.

“To all of those that are ill because of serving our country in the war, for those who have died after serving our country during the war,” she said, “you are remembered, you are acknowledged, and from a very grateful nation, you are thanked.”

The borough president recalled the “horror” of the era when Vietnam veterans returned home, only to be greeted with an ungrateful nation. She said she hopes future generations will learn of and appreciate those veterans’ sacrifices.

“For generations, people will come here and see this monument, this memorial,” said State Senator Joseph Addabbo, “and they will understand, know and see the sacrifices, the pain and dedication that Vietnam veterans experienced both in Vietnam and at home.”

John Rowan, national president of the Vietnam Veterans of America and an Elmhurst native, said the names on the wall will be indicative of those who lived in Queens back then. But it will also represent the residents who live in Queens now, specifically those who came from other countries.

“This wall will represent the entire United States of America,” Rowan said, “the people who were born here or came later.”

For O’Kane, who championed the project during his stewardship of Chapter 32, the memorial will be a place for families of the fallen to go to remember their loved ones. It will also educate the youth about what service to the country means.

“We will have given all citizens of New York a place to honor these men and women who made sacrifices in their service,” O’Kane said.

James McClelland, worked on the project for nearly a decade and was honored by Chapter 32 in May 2016, said seeing the memorial to completion meant a lot to both him and his dear friend, Pat Toro.

McClelland recalled that when the idea was first brought up, the Parks Department had an issue with building a war memorial, specifically with imagery of weapons, inside a park.

But after years of back and forth, including important meetings brokered by elected officials, all parties agreed on a design.

The most important part of the memorial was the 371 names that would be honored.

“We weren’t going to back off of that,” McClelland said. “Everything else was negotiable.”

McClelland said the Vietnam veterans had tears in their eyes when the design was revealed, which was exactly the type of emotion that Toro had hoped to evoke.

“It’s very rewarding and humbling at the same time,” he said. “I hope Pat will be proud.”
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