You’re probably not that likely to associate military veterans with Greenwich Village and the East Village; in the popular mind, the neighborhoods’ profile is much more strongly associated with peace movements and anti-war protestors (though of course some veterans have played key roles in those efforts). But in fact, reminders of, tributes to, and memorials for military veterans can be found all around us, sometimes hiding in plain sight, sometimes proudly proclaiming their purpose, which can nevertheless be easily overlooked in the never-ending hub-bub of city life. Here’s an overview:
The Granddaddy of all Veterans — George Washington
Greenwich Village has a strong connections to the father of our country, who also led the army as a general which secured its freedom in military battle. That began with General George Washington setting up headquarters in our neighborhood in 1776 in the Richmond Hill Estate (now demolished, and home of the Charlton-King-VanDam Historic District). Of course Washington and the Continental Army were eventually driven out of Richmond Hill and all of Manhattan, but he returned again, or at least his administration did, when Richmond Hill was turned into the Vice-President’s official residence during his Presidency and New York’s brief stint as the nation’s capital (Washington himself chose to live on Cherry Street, much closer to the center of government, located on Wall Street).
Beyond this long-gone physical connection to Washington’s time in our neighborhood, Washington is of course memorialized all over the place, including his role as a military man. The neighborhood’s central park was named for Washington not long after it was converted from a potter’s field to a military parade ground (another connection to veterans) on July 4, 1826, to mark the fiftieth anniversary of the Declaration of Independence, before eventually becoming today’s Washington Square Park.
On the hundredth anniversary of Washington’s swearing in as President on Wall Street, a wooden triumphal arch was erected on the southern end of Fifth Avenue just north of Washington Square to commemorate the event. The temporary wooden arch was so popular that a permanent marble one bearing his name was soon planned and executed just to the south in the Park, which was completed in 1895. In 1918, two statues of Washington were added to the north side of the Arch, “Washington in War” to salute his military service and leadership, and “Washington in Peace” to salute his statesmanship. Beyond the park and arch, Washington Street in the Far West Village, and Washington Place, which runs (theoretically) through the Park between Seventh Avenue South and Broadway, also honor the nation’s first president and first military hero.
Street Names for Veterans
Washington Street and Place aren’t the only thoroughfares in our neighborhood named to honor military leaders for their service; they’re not even the only ones which honor generals from the Revolutionary War. All the streets that run south of Washington Square — MacDougal, Sullivan, Thompson, Wooster, Greene, and Mercer Streets — are named for Revolutionary War generals: Alexander McDougall—his father spelled the name as the street is spelled today—was a New York merchant who eventually succeeded Benedict Arnold in command of defenses of West Point; William Thompson, of Pennsylvania; David Wooster, of Connecticut; Nathanael Greene, a Rhode Island Quaker; and Hugh Mercer, a Scottish-born surgeon who advised Washington to undertake the successful march on Princeton. And of course Lafayette Street in NoHo is named for the Marquis de Lafayette, the French military genius who helped the Continental Army in its successful routing of the British (the adjoining Colonnade Row, sometimes also known as “La Grange Terrace,” is actually named after Lafayette’s own country estate in France).
As most of our neighborhoods’ street names date to the early 19th century, the Revolutionary War dominates their sourcing. But at least one other local street name commemorates a military leader from a later war — Perry Street is named for Commodore Oliver Hazard Perry, the naval commander also known as “the Hero of the Battle of Lake Erie,” a turning point in the War of 1812.
Remembering the Rank and File
But it’s not just the generals and great military leaders whose service is memorialized in our neighborhoods; the rank and file citizens who served their country in the armed forces and in many cases gave their lives are also remembered — on both public and private property. Here are some examples:
The Abingdon Square Doughboy was installed on October 31st, 1921, following a procession through Village streets to Abingdon Square, culminating in over 20,000 people witnessing Mayor Hylan’s unveiling of the statue to commemorate all those lost in World War I (Veteran’s Day actually began in 1919 as “Armistice Day,” commemorating the end of World War I on that date, and only became “Veterans Day after World War II). It was reported that over 200 Gold Star Mothers (those who lost their sons in World War I battle) were in attendance.
McCarthy Square, a triangle of land where 7th Avenue South, Charles Street and Waverly Place intersect, honors the memory of Marine Private Bernard McCarthy, who was killed in action at Guadalcanal in 1942. The triangle is located just down the block from where Private McCarthy lived at 12 Charles Street, and was renamed in 1943 by Mayor LaGuardia and the City Council to commemorate McCarthy’s service. The twenty-two year old Marine was the first resident of Greenwich Village to be reported killed in action during World War II.
On Hudson Street between Gansevoort and Horatio Streets we find Corporal John A. Seravalli Playground, which commemorates the sacrifice of another young Village resident. John Seravalli served in the Army’s 1st Infantry Division and was killed in action at the age of twenty in Tay Ninh, South Vietnam in 1967. Seravelli’s family requested that the park—the space for which was cleared and built in the late 1950s — be renamed in honor of their son. The City Council agreed, and a plaque noting Corporal Seravelli’s service was dedicated in 1968.
Abe Lebewohl Park, where Second Avenue meets 10th and Stuyvesant Streets, has as its centerpiece a marble flagpole which says “Dedicated to American Heroes of all Nationalities who died for their country in the Second World War. Erected by Ukrainian-Americans of Greater New York in memory of their sons, July 4th, 1944.”
Also in the East Village, at 33 East 7th Street between Second and Third Avenues, we come to our first site on private property honoring veterans. A large bronze plaque affixed to the building at eye level states it was placed “To Honor the Brave Men of this Block Who Loyally Served Their Country in World War II,” also noting it was placed by “their grateful neighbors.” According to NYC Parks Department director of art and antiquities Jonathan Kuhn as stated in a 2014 New York Times story, “The plaque on the wall was placed long ago by the Saint George Catholic War Veterans Post No. 401, a local Ukrainian-American veterans organization which then owned the building, later ceding it to the St. George Ukrainian Catholic Church down the block.” In addition to many Ukrainian names listed on the plaque, one can also find many Italians, Irish, German, and Jewish names, reflecting the ethnic diversity of the neighborhood at the time. In total, 180 men from the block are memorialized.
An even larger plaque honoring an even larger community can be found at St. Jospeh’s Church at Sixth Avenue at Washington Place. There a bold black and gold Art Deco-style plaque was placed in 1946 under the heading “Honor Roll,” which states it was placed “In honor of the men and women who served in the Second World War and dedicated to the memory of our hero dead,” showing over 540 names of individuals connected to the church.