“YOU CAN’T ALWAYS GET WHAT YOU WANT”
But Man I’d Like To See It
It’s About Memorial Day
By Jack Coll
Memorial Day ignites a lot of activities, I mean a lot of activities. First and foremost is the seashore, the Jersey Shore, Ocean City, Maryland, Rehoboth Beach in Delaware and let’s not forget about the mountains. But Wait, there’s more.
My goodness, on Memorial Day Weekend we have more retail sales than America has automobiles on its highways, we all love a good sale. But the best part about Memorial Day is the family picnics, jumbo dogs, overcooked burgers, relatives we’d rather not see until Thanksgiving and cold beers, yea, all good stuff.
It seems to me that the only thing we don’t take time for on Memorial Day is to stop for a few minutes and pay tribute to our service personnel both past and present. In my opinion I don’t see Americans paying tribute. Oh sure, there are a few parades in the area and if we’re not too busy in the morning some of us take the time to attend a ceremony but as a whole, not many.
I’ve witnesses this in Conshohocken, I’ve been attending Memorial Day and Veterans Day ceremonies since 1980 in this town. Offering full disclosure for many of those years I covered the event for local newspapers, but for many of those very same years I had places to be but chose to attend the VFW events. Former Councilman Jerry McTamney once said that “The only people coming out to honor veterans on Memorial Day and Veterans Day are veterans,” he wasn’t lying.
There was a time following the World Wars and Korea that hundreds if not thousands of residents would attend these events honoring our neighbors who fought these wars. At times all four elementary schools would attend these events, and were made aware of the sacrifices made for our freedom. But somewhere along the timeline of years attendees diminished, and in recent years outside the veterans participating and attending the event, attendees can sometimes be counted on two hands.
Let’s be clear, I’m not writing this column to shame anyone or anybody, I believe that no community is more patriotic than Conshohocken. I can tell you that Conshohockenites are loyal to the flag, loyal to our Country, and loyal to our veterans. I know this first hand, we held a loyalty Day a few years back and more than a thousand residents turned out at borough hall once located at Eighth Avenue and Fayette Street, We’re a patriotic town!
But here’s what I’m getting at, On Memorial Day, our Conshohocken Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) will be out paying tribute to our fallen soldiers, and Conshohocken had plenty of them, their families still live here. They lost brothers and sisters, fathers, children, family members and neighbors. Since we are on lock-down, with no-where to go and most of the retail shops still closed, wouldn’t it be really great if we had an old-time large turn-out making a statement to our hometown veterans that we still care, maybe we’re not always in attendance and maybe we do have somewhere else to be, but we still care, just because we’re not present we still care.
In a related matter, Donna and I traveled to Las Vegas for business just before the corona-shits hit the fan. We traveled across the country for an Art and Framing Convention, (we don’t fly). The convention was really informative, as usual, however the casino sucked the money out of us like 10,000 leaches.
As we headed back home, what I mean by that is we simply drifted from state to state in the direction of Pennsylvania, we managed to visit 20 states in 20 days, during our round-trip road-trip to Vegas and back. (We went by way of Alabama, are we cool or what)!
As we closed in on the finish line we drifted into Ohio, just east of Columbus to a place called Muskingum County, population 86,000. The county covers 673 square miles with the Muskingum River running right square through-it. I was enjoying the scenery as we drifted through the county that reminded me of Montgomery County. I was a little intrigued because John Glenn, the former U.S. Astronaut and United States Senator was from Muskingum.
And as we drove down the main street I was looking at the Courthouse when something caught my eye, as I glanced over my shoulder I caught a glimpse of a monument, one like I’d never seen and man I traveled through a lot of towns and admired a lot of monuments. By the time I spotted it I was past it so I went around the block to get a better look at it.
I was absolutely fascinated by the site of this monument. It was a World War II/Korean War Memorial. The plate on the monument read:
297 men from Muskingum Co. Ohio died in World War II 1941-1945, and the Korean War 1950-1953. This monument is a tribute to that sacrifice, 297 empty helmets (symbolic of each fallen soldier, sailor, marine, and airman) have a name upon them.
They are scattered atop an earthen mound (used for millennia to honor the dead) in an irregular chaotic manner as is the nature of the battlefield and war.
To the rear of the helmets we have a 7 foot soldier in full battle gear grieving his fallen comrades, while being comforted by yet another soldier. In the front of the helmets we have a strapping young man striding forward with a purposeful gaze into the future, secured by the sacrifice of the men being honored in this monument.
There was also a bronze plaque with all 297 names of the Muskingum soldiers who gave their lives during these two wars, it was extremely touching.
While this monument was extremely touching I’m certainly proud of the Conshohocken and West Conshohocken monuments right here in our town.
Following World War I, West Conshohocken erected the first of three monuments in that borough honoring their residents who had served in the military. The monument was designed by Samuel Gordon Smyth Jr., (A well-known historian back in his time) and approved by the Pennsylvania Art Commission. In 1921, at a cost of less than $6,000, (remember, this was $6,000 in 1921 money) the straight white column monument reaching 30 feet towards the clouds was constructed.
The monument was dedicated on November 11, 1921, it was a damp dreary day in the Conshohocken’s as a light drizzle fell throughout the day with temperatures in the mid 40’s.
Never had the Conshohockens had a more celebrated day than they did on that date. After pleading for years, (since 1908) for a new bridge to replace the steel-bridge that was constructed in 1867, the new concrete bridge was dedicated on that same date November 11, 1921, complete with a ribbon cutting ceremony at both ends of the bridge, and two large parades that spanned both boroughs. To add to the excitement on that November day was the Grand Opening of the new Riant Theatre located at First Avenue and Fayette Street.
More than 1,000 residents attended the West Conshohocken monument dedication ceremonies. The monument was located on a triangular island at the beginning of the bridge from the West Conshohocken side. The West Conshohocken monument served the west-side residents for over three decades, a cannon was later added to the monument plaza and the towering shaft came to commemorate that one out of every six West Conshohocken residents served in World War II and the Korean War.
By 1950, two factors were working against the monument. Talk of a high speed expressway was quickly becoming a reality with entrance and exit ramps expected to be built in West Conshohocken connecting the Matsonford Bridge to the expressway. The second thing working against the monument was the deterioration of the pearl-gray shaft that could be seen for more than half a mile up Fayette Street.
In April of 1952, Francis Canuso and Son Contractors started demolition on the new monument, and the two houses directly behind the monument as you came off the Matsonford Bridge. At the same time a new war memorial was under construction by the Edward A. Carroll Company of Bala Cynwyd. The new monument was located on a triangular plot of ground just 30 feet from the site of the original monument and was dedicated on Memorial Day 1953.
Nearly 30 years after the monument dedication in 1953 it was time to move once again. The location of the monument made it extremely difficult to hold services at the busy intersection that now carried nearly 40,000 cars and trucks per day, the monument now rest on the west-side of West Conshohocken’s Borough Hall where services are still held on appropriate holidays.
In Conshohocken the Conshohocken Citizens Committee was working in conjunction with members of Town Council and members of the John F. DeHaven Post to raise money for the purpose of a monument to be built at Second Avenue and Fayette Street.
On November 11, 1928, seven years to the day when West Conshohocken dedicated their monument, Conshohocken formerly dedicated their Veterans Monument with an all-day celebration.
A write-up in the Conshohocken Recorder Newspaper was very reminiscent of an article from a few years earlier written by Grantland Rice following a football game played at the Polo Grounds in 1924. The heavily favored Army team was taking on Notre Dame, it was the year of the Four Horseman. Following the Notre Dame victory, (13-7) Grantland Rice a long time writer sat at his typewriter and wrote:
“Outlined against a blue-gray October Sky, the four horsemen rode again.
In dramatic lore they are known as Famine, Pestilence, Destruction and Death.”
The opening paragraph from an article written in the Conshohocken Recorder Newspaper from November 13, 1928, two days after the monument dedication read:
“Beneath deaden skies that seemed to providentially withhold their watery contents: In and atmosphere damp and piercing sending chills up and down the spinal columns of thousands of onlookers, one of the most colorful and largest demonstrations ever held in this borough paraded in the main thoroughfares of this borough and West Conshohocken on Saturday afternoon in celebration of Armistice Day and the presentation , and unveiling of the memorial by John DeHaven Post American Legion in memory of those from this borough who served their country in time of war.”
What a day it was as seven divisions, complete with marching bands, firemen, fire trucks and Legion post from all over Montgomery County, marched in a parade that lasted for hours. When it came time for unveiling the monument, Margaret DeHaven, sister of John DeHaven, for whom the post was named, had the honor of removing the American Flag from the monument for all to see. Miss DeHaven had a little help as the four living members of the G. A. R. George Smith Post were with her, as was Ada Sturgis, a World War I Visiting Nurse.
That chilly day all those years ago was quite an event as thousands of residents from both boroughs attended. More than half a century later, in the mid 1980’s the monument area had fallen into disrepair. Concerned veterans worked to revitalize the monument area but with limited funds were only able to put band aids on the sore spots for many years.
In 1998, a committee calling itself “CONVET,” meaning Conshohocken Veterans, formed to revitalize the monument area. The committee decided to incorporate a bronze sculpture representing the American family at war time. The revitalization of the monument would cost $100,000. Considering the original monument cost a cool $3,000 back in 1928 that was quite a jump. Members of the CONVET Committee included Chairman Joseph Graham; Treasurer Joseph Bowe, and Secretary Sharon Santoro. The Financial Committee was made up of Philip Coyne and Vince Radatti. The Publicity Committee was headed by Jack Coll, Debbie Stanish and Betsy Gilland. Other members of the Committee included George Barr, Gerry McTamney, Bob Frost, Joe Collins, Arnie Martinelli, M. Colonzi, Joe Horn, George Gunning, Len Travaline, Joe Pagnoli, Joe Kelly, John DeRusso, Steve Venezia and James Campbell.
On May 30, 1999, a Sunday, members of the community gathered at the monument for rededication services. Standing at the monument on that bright sunny Sunday afternoon, it was sad to realize that the monument no longer represented just three wars, two World Wars and Korea, now, Vietnam, Desert Storm, and all the wars and conflicts that followed are now reflected at the monument. Where does it stop? God bless our children.
So here’s the thing, I would really love to see you and a really large supportive gathering of residents at the Second Avenue monument on this Memorial Day. It’s only a few minutes of your time and HEY, most of us have been locked down for some time now, a whole lot of us won’t be down –the-shore. It’s an outdoor event, social distancing will be practiced, there’s a whole lot of space down at the monument to spread-out and our veterans would love to see you.
Now more than ever this would be a great opportunity to give your children a history lesson. After all these Conshohocken Veterans served and died for us, the least we can do is show a little gratitude for their sacrifice.
Photographs above and below include:
*****Four photographs of the monument in Muskingum, Ohio. The 297 helmets highlight the sacrifice made by the residents of Muskingum, their War Memorial is really something to see and one I’m sure the residents are proud of.
*****A photograph of the dedication of the West Conshohocken Monument taken on November 11, 1921. The photograph show a dreary-overcast day where a light drizzle fell throughout the day. The dedication was highlighted with day-long parades, the dedication and other activities. One view shows cars parading across the bridge, if you look to the left of the photo you can barely see the St. Mary’s church steeple sticking up above the woolen mills. Looking up Fayette Street you can recognize St. Matthew’s Church at Third Avenue, Calvary Church Steeple at Fourth Avenue and just to the left side on Fayette Street was the Presbyterian Church.
*****A photograph taken in the summer of 1928 shows members of the Conshohocken Borough Streets Department employees preparing the base for the foundation of the Conshohocken Monument at Second Avenue and Fayette Street. The building behind them is the P. O. S. of A. building where the Patriotic Order of Sons would meet, on the ground floor was a restaurant and on the left of the restaurant is where the Conshohocken Post Office was once located in the early part of the century. The building just behind the P. O. S. of A. was the Odd Fellows Building constructed in 1884. Barley seen at the end of East Second Avenue is the two stone pillars leading into the driveway of the one-time Harry homestead, later to be occupied by Dr. Joseph Leary and his family.
*****On November 11, 1928 the dedication services were held for the Conshohocken Monument at Second Avenue and Fayette Street. Just like the West Conshohocken Monument dedication held exactly seven years earlier it was an overcast damp dreary day. Members of the John DeHaven American Legion Post are seen in the center of the photo marching past the flag-draped monument shaft into position for the dedication services.
On the right Margaret DeHaven, who at that time lived at 916 East Hector Street and the sister of John DeHaven, whom the Post was named after, prepares to unveil the monument by removing the American Flag. The building on the right was the Conshohocken Penn Club’s headquarters.
*****On November 11, 2011 this photograph was taken by Stephen Phipps on Veterans Day in front of the VFW Post Home located at Fifth Avenue and Wells Street. The event was attended by about a dozen spectators, many of whom were veterans. It sure would be nice to see a big Conshohocken crowd at the Second Avenue monument this Memorial Day, it would make this writer extremely happy, not to mention our veterans.
VFW Post 1074
Memorial Day Schedule For May 25th, 2020
8:20 Memorial Services at Calvary Cemetery
8:40 Memorial Services at Gulf Christian Church Cemetery
10:00 Memorial Services at St. Benedict’s Cemetery
10:30 Memorial Services at St. Matthew’s Cemetery—North Lane and Butler Pike
11:00 Memorial Services at St. Matthew’s Cemetery—Fayette Street
11:30 Memorial Services at the Conshohocken Veterans Memorial—
Second Avenue and Fayette Street
12:00 Memorial Services at VFW Post 1074—300 East 5th Avenue
I really hope to see you at one of their stops, if you’re looking for me I’ll be at Second Avenue and Fayette Street, a quick stop and a quick prayer and I’ll feel pretty good about our veterans.