When LeRoy “Archie” Archible returned home to the Bronx after the Korean War, he spent countless days sitting on a bench and getting high in the then-dilapidated Sergeant Cornelius H. Charlton Playground on East 164th Street and Cauldwell Avenue.
In the decades since, both Archible and the playground have come a long way.
On Tuesday, August 16, after years of renovations and fundraising, the approximately half-acre park was officially reopened as Charlton-Thompson Garden. The improvements came at the urging of Archible, who is now a veterans activist and serves on the borough president’s Veterans Affairs Committee.
When Archible found out seven years go that the park’s namesake, Charlton, was an African-American Korean War veteran from the Bronx like himself, he became passionate about its revival. He also fought to have the name Thompson added to the park, in honor of Sergeant William H. Thompson, also a Bronx African-American Korea vet.
Both Charlton and Thompson were awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor for their service.
“This is such a joyous day for me,” Arhcible said at the official reopening. “I can’t believe it.”
His quest began in 2004, when he organized a group of veterans called the Friends of Charlton Garden to lobby elected officials and Community Board 3 for the park’s revival.
By that time, the park, originally opened in 1935,but named after Charlton in 1952, was completely covered in graffiti, and its stairs were in such bad shape it was a challenge to access from the street.
“When Archie came to me with the idea, I said ‘You want to do what!? Where!?” said Councilwoman Helen Diane Foster.
The reconstruction cost a total of $3.7 million. The City Council chipped in $1.9 million, the borough president’s office added $1.3 million and $500,000 came from the federal government through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.
Among the improvements are expanded landscaped planted areas, a reconstructed entrance, and a new flagpole with inscriptions in memory of Thompson and Charlton.
Charlton died in Korea at age 21, and was re-interred at Arlington National Cemetery in 2004.
“This is not just a park and playground,” Congressman Jose Serrano said. “This is a struggle for dignity and respect.”
Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr. said that he hoped the park’s reconstruction would go a long way in showing our gratitude to members of the armed forces.