Commander Eugene S. Sarsfield (1902-43) served his country with distinction during World War II and went down with his ship, the U.S.S. Maddox, during the amphibious invasion of Sicily. Born and raised in Brooklyn, he received his high school degree from Cathedral College in 1921. Upon his graduation from the U.S. Naval Academy in 1926, Ensign Sarsfield served on several ships. He later was assigned to New York to instruct naval reservists. He returned to sea duty in 1940 and took command of the U.S.S. Kearny, which was torpedoed off the coast of Iceland in 1941.
In 1942 Lieutenant Commander Sarsfield assumed leadership of the Maddox. The destroyer arrived in Algeria in June 1943 to join the assault force for the invasion of Sicily. When the troops landed in Gela on July 10, the Maddox was on anti-submarine patrol about sixteen miles offshore. A German dive bomber attacked and gravely damaged the vessel. As the Maddox rolled over, Sarsfield stayed on board to supervise the abandonment of the ship and helped to save the lives of seventy-four crewmen. The destroyer sank within two minutes of the assault. Officially presumed dead the next day, Sarsfield was posthumously awarded the Legion of Merit and the Navy Cross. A destroyer, U.S.S. Sarsfield, was named for him in 1945.
Commander Eugene S. Sarsfield Playground encompasses the entire block bounded by East 38th Street, Avenue M, Flatlands Avenue, and Ryder Street in the Flatlands neighborhood of Brooklyn. Parks acquired part of the area in 1940 and designed a playground, which was built by the Works Projects Administration in 1941. Play equipment consisted of an irrigated sand pit, swings, seesaws, slides, and monkey bars. A shower basin, benches, drinking fountains, lighting, drainage, irrigation, paving, fences, and seventeen Norway maple trees completed the project.
In 1943 Parks acquired an adjacent parcel of land and renovated it for use as a plaza. In 1949 the entire property was named for Sarsfield, whose family lived nearby at 3717 Avenue M. The 1949 dedication included a parade of veterans from Catholic War Veterans Post No. 123 and members of the Holy Name Society of St. Thomas Aquinas Roman Catholic Church. Sarsfield’s widow, Anne, and their two young daughters participated in the ceremony.
In 1997-98, the playground and plaza were reconstructed. The project included the installation of play equipment, swings, safety surfacing, pavements, fencing, and benches; creating a new link between plaza and playground; renovating the comfort station; reconstructing the site’s drainage and water supply system; greening the park; and installing a yardarm on the flagpole.
The playground and plaza reflect a nautical theme inspired by Commander Sarsfield’s naval career and the park’s proximity to the Atlantic Ocean. Among the many marine motifs are a starfish and seashell spray shower; two seahorse bas-reliefs flanking a portal emblazoned with an anchor and ship’s wheel; and a compass rosette with a sailboat north arrow. Atop the comfort station is a metal weathervane which depicts a sea captain gazing through his spyglass. As the wind changes, he may look west towards the Narrows, north towards the East River, east towards Jamaica Bay, and south towards the Atlantic Ocean.