One Korean War veterans battle to maintain a veteran’s memorial upkeep has proved to be a labor of love and a salute to fellow Bronx veterans like himself.
The now 88-year-old Herb Barret said he stumbled upon the Grove Memorial in the early 2000’s while sitting on a park bench on the edge of Van Cortlandt Park along Broadway Ave. when he noticed what looked like a rock sticking out of the ground in a barren plot of land among fallen trees and no fence enclosure.
Barret got up to take a closer look to find a plinth with a bronze plaque honoring a WWII hero.
Barret, an aircraft mechanic in the Marine Corp. and friend, Don Tannen, a WWII Navy flight line controller, began their mission to spruce up the long forgotten memorial.
Being a member of the Jewish War Veterans of the U.S.A., he began contacting the local American Legion and Veteran of Foreign Wars Post asking how Memorial Grove came about.
Memorial Grove was designed by the Parks Department in partnership with the Peter G. Lehman No. 8646 VFW Post to honor WWII veterans in 1949.
The plot is also home to memorials to honor Franklin Delano Roosevelt and Bronx chapter of the sons of the American Gold Star Mothers, a group dedicated to mothers whose sons were lost in the war.
Barret’s questioning and pestering of local officials, assemblymen and councilmen to have the park restored became a full-time job for the retired Marine.
According to Barret, most veterans in the Kingsbridge/Riverdale area did not even know of the memorial.
“The Parks Department forgot about that, it got trashed over the years, people came and barbequed and littered all over the grove,” Barret said.
In 2007, the nuisance Barret had become to local officials proved worthy. Assemblyman Jeffrey Dinowitz had leveraged the Parks Department to installing a full enclosing fence and cleaning the property.
Barret remembered back in 2009 Councilman Koppell and himself meeting with the Parks Dept. Commissioner on a rainy day standing underneath the awning of the maintenance building.
“Mr. Koppell is a very tall man, towering over the woman, kept asking her ‘how much money do you need to restore the park?’ and finally she said $250.
The councilman allocated $250,000 to the Parks Department and set out to find a contractor.
After a considerable amount of time due to delays in finding a contractor that fit the criteria, the park was restored.
Since then, Barret has taken it upon himself to replace missing flags and keep faux flowers alongside each plaque.
“I always keep the flags in the trunk of my car and my wife buys the flowers at all the discount stores around here,” Barret said.
Barret is turning 89 next month, but can still be found raking leaves into piles at Memorial Grove for the Parks Department to collect.