Queens District Attorney-elect Melinda Katz presided over her last ribbon cutting as borough president for the new Queens Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Elmhurst Park on Friday.
The memorial was a 10-year project that was pushed by the late Pat Toro, the former president of the Vietnam Veterans of America Chapter 32 in Queens. His wife, Evelyn Toro, was among the veterans and Gold Star families that were in the crowd.
“I know he is looking down and smiling,” said Toro. “Thank you for making his dreams a reality.”
Before Toro died from leukemia, which many close to him attributed to exposure from Agent Orange during his time in Vietnam with the U.S. Marine Corps, he presented the project to Katz when she was still a councilwoman between 2002 and 2009.
“One of the first things I did when I was in the council was put $150,000 10 years ago for this Vietnam Memorial,” said Katz. “Now, 10 years later, this will be my last ribbon-cutting as borough president of Queens County.”
As borough president, Katz allocated an additional $2.5 million into the project.
“Designed to offer a serene place for remembrance, the new Queens Vietnam Veterans Memorial features a curved bench flanked by two semi-enclosed granite walls,” said Parks Department Commissioner Mitchell Silver. “One of the walls bears the name of 371 men from this community who fought and died in the Vietnam War.”
The second wall featured a brief timeline and key locations that could be used as an educational tool about the war, according to Silver.
“The memorial and the flagpole would illuminate at night to create a serene space for reflective contemplation,” said Silver. “Elmhurst Park now boasts of a beautiful public space where people can come for respite in remembrance of our nation’s heroes.”
John Rowan, the national president of the Vietnam Veterans of America, was proud of the diversity of those who served, including those who were undocumented.
“You got every ethnic group you can think of on that wall, probably most religions,” said Rowan. “Many of them not citizens! They died serving a country that they were not citizens of. Part of that is that the draft made sure that everybody went, but a lot of them volunteered just as they do today. Fortunately, today, many of these folks serving in Afghanistan and Iraq are not citizens either, but they come here and adopt their new country and serve it proudly.”
Councilman Daniel Dromm (Jackson Heights) thanked Pat and Chapter 32 for marching alongside him and the LGBT community during many Pride Parades at a time when being LGBT-friendly was not popular.
“You were the first people to remember my community before it was even acceptable to serve openly in the Armed Forces,” said Dromm. “America stands for freedom for people to live their truth openly and honestly. Thank you for the service that you gave to our country.”
Before the ribbon was cut, the veterans retired the color guard and Parks Department worker Marie-Claire Giraud sang an operatic version of The Star-Spangled Banner.
Katz will serve her last day as a borough president on Dec. 31. She will be sworn in as the new Queens District Attorney on Jan. 6 at 5:30 p.m. at St. John’s University in Jamaica.