By Raanan Geberer
Brooklyn Daily Eagle
Brooklyn veterans yesterday demanded that the neglected Brooklyn War Memorial in Cadman Plaza Park must be renovated to honor the memories of those who died during World War II.
Beyond that, they pointed out with some sadness that the 61-year-old memorial never fulfilled its intended purposes, not even at the beginning. Many Brooklynites aren’t even aware that it exists, they said.
Several of the veterans — though not all — praised Parks Department Brooklyn Chief of Staff Martin Maher’s ongoing efforts to establish a museum within the building’s auditorium, calling it the best hope to raise the building’s profile.
On Wednesday’s front page, the Brooklyn Eagle traced the history of building, reporting that at several times during the past few decades, city funds for repairs was commited, only to be re-allocated to other projects.
Harold Engelmann, a Korean War veteran who is a member of the Jewish War Veterans, praised the idea of creating a museum. “It will contain exhibits on the country’s different wars, the evolution of flags, have video displays.”
This, he continued, would bring the War Memorial into the public eye. “Until about eight years ago, I didn’t even know it existed,” he said.
Although Maher has collected and installed many artifacts and the project has received donations, "it’s still a long ways off," Engelmann said.
“You have to modernize [the building],” he stressed. “It’s outmoded, there’s no handicapped access.”
Pete DeAngelis, head of the United Military Veterans of Brooklyn, agreed that the city never sufficiently publicized the War Memorial.
“It should be more actively used as a memorial. The last time I was there, it didn’t seem like it was being taken care of,” he said.
At one time, it contained offices for all of Brooklyn’s veterans’ groups, but now only the Jewish War Veterans group has an office there, he said.
“I haven’t been there since they took the offices away from us,” he said
More public parking spaces near the building would also help — “Parking around there is terrible,” he added.
Like Engelmann, DeAngelis praised the idea of the museum. Different sections, he said, display artifacts from each of America’s wars — World War I, World II, Korea, Vietnam and more.
Furthermore, he said, the plan is to display the names of Brooklynites who died in all those wars. Currently, the War Memorial’s main hall displays the names of 11,000 Brooklynites who died in World War II.
“It’s a good idea,” said De Angelis. “It will revitalize the building.”
But retired Justice Jerome Cohen, also a member of the Joint Veterans Committee, criticized the format of the museum, although he admitted that Maher has implemented some of the changes he has suggested.
“This should be dedicated to those who died in World War II,” said Cohen, who served as an aide to Gen. Douglas MacArthur during that the conflict. “The other wars have their memorials — we have a Korean War Memorial in Brooklyn, we have the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Manhattan, a wonderful place.”
Like DeAngelis, he remembers the days when many veterans’ groups had offices in the building.
“The space was given to other groups because they wanted to integrate the building with the community,” he complained.
Lack of a serious effort to modernize the building doomed its use as a veterans’ center, he said. At one time, veterans not only had offices but held many meetings there.
But as they grew older, they had less tolerance for a place that had no air conditioning and no elevator, he stressed.
“It would be great to find a way to honor our surviving World War II veterans,” said Kenneth Dunn, commander of the American Legion’s Edward F. Lekowski Post in Sunset Park. “A lot of people don’t even know the meaning of Memorial Day — for them, it’s just a holiday.
“It’s strange how [people] take for granted what was done for them.”
Nevertheless, brothers Roy and Jack Vanasco, both World War II veterans and Fort Greene residents, keep going back to the memorial — whenever they’re allowed in.
“There was a group of 25 people who lost their lives, many of whom were friends of mine, and I honor them by looking at their names,” says Roy Vanasco.
After all these years, he hasn’t gotten tired of fighting for the building’s rehabilitation.
“I think I’ve prodded every borough president on this issue since Abe Stark,” he says.
Mark Zustovich, a spokesperson for Borough President Marty Markowitz, commented, "We’re encouraged by the fact that work is underway to improve the exterior, including the addition of ramps to make it ADA-compliant, as well as the park north of the War Memorial. Marty Maher from the Parks Department has done great work in personally restoring the interior for the past three years, and the Parks Department is making significant progress in restoring not only the memorial but the surrounding Cadman Park area."