Annual Wreath-Laying Ceremony Returns to Chelsea
BY SCOTT STIFFLER | A decades-old tradition honoring local veterans, long ago consigned to history, is coming back.
On Veterans Day, the 10th Precinct Community Council will pay tribute to all Chelsea residents who have served their nation as members of the United States Armed Forces, while acknowledging the centenary observance of the start of World War I.
U.S. Coast Guard veteran and Community Council Recording Secretary Frank Meade — who coordinates the local stop of the annual Father Mychal Judge 9/11 Memorial Walk of Remembrance — organized the effort to reestablish a Veterans Day wreath-laying ceremony at the Chelsea Doughboy Statue.
Meade, who attended the service while growing up, notes that what used to be an annual event hasn’t taken place since the late 1960s. Along with likeminded members of the 10th Precinct, Meade decided to revive the tradition, simply because “It’s the right thing to do. Their service to our nation, and the sacrifices made by their families, are deeply appreciated and deserve our respect and acknowledgement.”
The event’s location is a sobering reminder that WWI — dubbed by the often uncanny prognosticator H.G. Wells as “The War That Will End War” — was not the last global conflict to claim local lives. Just months before the signing of the The U.S.-German Peace Treaty, a ceremony unveiled what would become known as the Chelsea Doughboy Statue.
Dedicated to the soldiers and sailors of Chelsea who served from 1914-1918, the NYC Department of Parks & Recreation website recalls that this gift from the Chelsea Memorial Committee “was placed in the heart of a working-class tenement district” on April 7, 1921. With a design by architect Charles Rollinson Lamb and a statue by sculptor Philip Martiny, the monument “consists of a 14-foot-tall granite stele on which a bronze ‘doughboy’ soldier is displayed. He holds a rifle, has a flag draped over his shoulders, and is depicted as if in the midst of battle.”
State Senator Brad Hoylman, whose office is providing the wreath, will attend the ceremony, along with Auxiliary Officers of the 10th Precinct and the precinct’s newly installed Commanding Officer, Deputy Inspector Michele Irizarry.
Meade says that his remarks prior to the wreath laying will call attention to the area’s “deep roots of military service” — including the 69th Infantry Regiment, the 1919 Clemson-Class destroyer USS Reuben James, the WWII Coast Guard cutter USCGC Spencer and “the Merchant Marines, whose last steps on solid ground were taken on Chelsea docks, less than a half-mile from the Doughboy statue.”
National Guard members and reservists will also be acknowledged, along with the volunteerism of active duty troops. “My supposition,” asserts Meade, “is that most of the people in this neighborhood who go into military service are from Fulton and Chelsea-Elliot [NYCHA] Houses. They are our native sons and daughters, who are willing to carry a weight that most people are not willing to carry and have given their time, their youth, and in some cases their lives, for a greater good. They are the ones who, as the saying goes, have signed a blank check made payable to the order of the people of the United States of America. In doing so, they’ve secured the safety and freedom of our nation and of the world.”
The wreath-laying ceremony takes place on Tuesday, November 11, rain or shine. It begins at approximately 10:15 a.m. and lasts around 15 minutes. Meet on the west side of Ninth Avenue, between 27th & 28th Streets. For more information on the history of the Chelsea Park Doughboy statue, visit nycgovparks.org/parks/chelsea-park/monuments/232.