Some of my favorite memories from childhood go back to spending time with my Grandparents. Whether it was taking walks, shopping trips or simply spending time together, we always seemed to have a good time. At least early on in my childhood, my Grandparents would usually have us over for Memorial Day for a sleepover and somewhat of a cookout. This was probably about 20 years ago, so I don’t remember all of the details clearly, but I do remember very vividly that my Grandfather would walk us down to the end of their road to watch an annual ceremony that would take place each “Decoration Day” at the site of a memorial wall. After the ceremony ended, there was normally a short parade. Later in the morning, my cousins always found it a trip to look for the spent bullet shells in the gun salute that happened during the earlier ceremony.
To give you a little background, Memorial Day was initially called “Decoration Day” because it is customary to decorate a soldier’s grave with flowers – dating back to ancient times. I won’t get too preachy about the background of the holiday, but there is a lot of good information about it on the Wikipedia page with sources cited. One thing that seems to be a pet peeve among my media friends is the confusion between Memorial Day and Veterans Day. To clear it up, Memorial Day is a day of remembering the men and women who died while serving, while Veterans Day celebrates the service of all U.S. military veterans. I think it’s always a good idea to honor the memories who served or died for our freedoms regardless of the day of the year, but especially on those two days. I’m going to write a bit about the memorial wall where we would observe the annual ceremony each year with my grandfather. His name, as well of a few of his brothers appear on the wall and I always wanted to know more about it. Thanks to newspapers.com, I found a WEALTH of information. I definitely recommend getting a subscription if you are trying to research any genealogy or history topics. You won’t be disappointed.
Here’s a look at the “wall” which is called The Lee Park Honor Roll on a bright day in 2012:
There are a few other memorials setup on the site.
The area where the memorial sits is in Hanover Township on Lee Park Avenue. It is directly next to the old Lee Park Hose Company #4 (which will eventually close, if it hasn’t already, when the fire stations consolidate into their new building on the Sans Souci Parkway), it is across the street from Grace Assembly International Church and the Lee Park Elementary building, and caddy corner in either direction from the Lee Park Towers (High Rise) and Regina Street. It overlooks a recreational park below. The land that the memorial and the park sit on used to be owned by the Glen Alden Coal Company and bordered land owned by the Jersey Central Railroad. Allegedly, this area was named “American Legion Park” after the Lee Park American Legion Post 609-320, according to old newspapers, but I cannot find any other source to back this up as Hanover Township removed the section of their website regarding the area parks. If you happen to know the details, shoot me an email or leave me a message in the comments and I will add it in.
The memorial movement was just starting to gain traction in early 1943 as a committee was formed and meetings were held to raise funds for the granite statue. Women were urged to take an active role in the fundraising and many of them went door to door collecting goods and monetary donations.
By April 1943, the funds raised by the community exceeded 1,000 dollars. 1k doesn’t seem like it would go far these days, but of course this prior to a buttload of inflation that happened over the years. A quick check of the US Inflation Calculator shows that 1k would equal roughly $14,000 now. If you consider that most of the people in this community were the working poor — housewives and general laborers (most coal miners) that is pretty impressive.
Lists were posted in local businesses to collect the names of men and women who served in the various ranks of the military. Initially, around 500 names of men and women who served were collected in the districts that represent “Lee Park Proper.” After later meetings of the committees, it was agreed that the Marion Terrace, Carey Terrace and Inman Park sections of Hanover Twp. would also be included. You could just guess that there was going to be some hurt feelings and controversy over people who may have been left off the memorial. The committee agreed to make it right, but not until 1944 as noted below.
Reverse the clock to 1943 for a moment. A ground breaking celebration was held in July followed by a 10 day Bazaar to raise funds for the sandblasting of names to go on the granite memorial.
As a comparison, here’s the same angle the above photo was taken, present day (albeit slightly further back from the original spot…I wanted to get the entire church and school in the shot)…
The plan was to have the wall unveiling ceremony/dedication in time for Labor Day, but the Lee Park Honor Roll Association ran into some snags with the vendors providing the granite. The initial company that the Association entered into a contract with – Summit Hill Marble and Granite Company – wasn’t the one that they ended up going with in the end (July 1943). Summit Hill grossly under-estimated their price quote and withdrew the bid. Later in July, the Association took bids from another organizations and decided upon the Green Valley Marble Company located in Vermont.
While having a vendor back out was controversial enough, It turns out the the Green Valley Marble Company had some issues of their own. The dedication ceremony of the wall was pushed back yet again due to issues with cutting the granite to the specification provided by the Association. The article below was posted to a local paper in November of 1943.
FINALLY at long last, on December 12, 1943, the wall was dedicated at approximately 1:30 in the afternoon. There was a parade around Lee Park comprised of 5 divisions before heading back over to the park for the dedication service. The local school’s band and chorus played music and sang before the wall was dedicated. Initially 500 names were placed on the wall, but there were room for an additional 200 or so to be sandblasted on after the fact.
If you compare the above photo to the one I originally posted of the wall, you’ll notice that it is missing a few sections. They were added after the fact. My grandfather’s name appears in one of the add-on sections (spelled wrong, because of course)…”Russel Hrevnack.” The truth is that my Grandfather’s family came to America speaking no English, so whoever was taking their paper work at the port they came in on or the census workers probably had NO IDEA how to spell it properly, nor did my ancestors know how to communicate with them to spell it correctly.
My Grandfather’s two brothers appeared in the original sections of the wall – John and Peter.
As of 2001, there are now over 850 names on the wall. If you look closely at some of the names on the wall, you may notice a star or an O before their name. The O signifies that they were a prisoner of war, the star indicates that they were killed in the line of duty. Here are a few of the panels of the wall showing examples of each. Source
One particularly interesting story, is that of Margaret A. Nash. I specifically came to the wall this afternoon looking for her name because I believed she was the only woman on the wall that was held as a prisoner of war – I was right. There are very few names of women on the wall, but she’s the only POW that I was able to see. I’ve visited this wall probably a zillion times and I never knew or noticed the markers before the name. Of course when I found this little nugget, I was down another Google wormhole and researched all about Margaret A. Nash. Without getting too far off topic, Margaret was a Navy nurse. She was captured and held as a prisoner of war by the Japanese during World War II, she neglected her own health to nurse hundreds of her fellow prisoners suffering from disease and near-starvation in the Philippine Islands. She was still struggling to survive when the camp was finally liberated by US forces three years later. This woman came from your backyard NEPA…how truly incredible.
Below is a quick article snippet from when she was well enough to come back home in 1945. Margaret has since passed away, but not before moving to California and teaching an entire new generation of nurses at the University of California in Berkley.
After the wall was built, the Lee Park Honor Roll Association continued to raise funds through community picnics, bingos, dances, and other events to build the park and pavilion that exists between the Hose Company and the Lee Park Towers. I know they eventually turned their attention to creating recreational parks in other areas of Hanover Township. It continued to remain a civic minded organization throughout the years.
So what now?
Well the last time I visited the wall, It wasn’t in the best of shape landscaping-wise, but to be fair, it was a fall day when most lawn care equipment has been packed up and stored for the season in preparation of the cold weather.
As I mentioned earlier, the Lee Park Honor Roll Association still seems to exist and may be headed up by members of the Lee Park Hose Company or the American Legion. The caretakers are probably getting up there in age – and the younger folks will likely be moving away when the Fire Departments consolidate. Some of the things in the memorial park have been removed, such as a memorial bench. I am unable to find any reasons why this may have happened, but can only imagine that it was because of decay and age. I know that the wall has been hit by graffiti vandals at least once, but I’m sure it’s probably happened more than just that one occasion and that hurts my heart. Why would you destroy a piece of history?
The parades and memorial services that would be held at the site (the ones that I remembered from my childhood) no longer happen. I do know there are neighboring communities (such as Ashley for example) that observe the holiday. Still in all, I wish that even if for just one more time, the site could be honored in some kind of way because it is truly special and the history behind it is fascinating. Maybe I will send this blog post along to some local community leaders to see what can be done, but I don’t want to step on anyone’s toes. Just based on the Margaret Nash story, I believe it should be fair came for a PA historical marker, but I’m not sure what the application process would be for something like that.
At any rate, whatever your plans are today, take the time to remember the men and women that sacrificed so much for your freedoms.
Have a safe and healthy Memorial Day weekend.