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Sgt. William Dougherty Playground

This text is part of Parks’ Historical Signs Project and can be found posted within the park.

This playground honors neighborhood resident Sergeant William T. Dougherty (d. 1944), a United States Marine of the 155th Infantry, 27th Division who fought and died in the World War II (1939-1945) Battle of Saipan.

America entered World War II after the Japanese Empire bombed Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. After several years of naval skirmishes, battles, and island-hopping amphibious assaults, the United States and her British ally had managed to push Japan’s forces back towards their home islands. Servicemen taking part in the Allied invasion of the island of Saipan, however, saw some of the bloodiest fighting of the war from an enemy that refused to surrender. Twenty thousand United States Marines, including Sergeant William T. Dougherty, came ashore on Saipan on June 15, 1944 with orders to wrest control of the island from the Japanese. The Japanese had controlled Saipan since 1920, and fought tenaciously.

On the night of July 7, the Japanese counter-attacked with the largest mass suicide mission of World War II. With a battle cry of Gyokusai – death with honor – 3,000 Japanese soldiers rushed the island. After days of bloody combat and a staggering loss of life (16,525 Americans and over 25,000 Japanese were reported dead), the Marines finally wrested control of Saipan from the Japanese and secured the island. Sergeant Dougherty died on July 9, 1944 during the fighting. For his sacrifice, he was posthumously awarded both the Purple Heart and the Bronze Star.

Under the stewardship of Parks Commissioner Robert Moses (1888-1981), new playgrounds were constructed at an astonishing rate throughout the decade. Moses hired 80,000 workers, thanks primarily to the influx of federal money to stem unemployment through large public works projects. With this labor force, Moses increased the number of playgrounds in New York City from 119 when he assumed the Commissionership in 1934 to 777 in 1960.

These playgrounds, designed for use by a wide age group, were most often large asphalt areas adorned with sandboxes, seesaws, metallic jungle gyms and monkey bars, swing sets and slides. Although Moses' playground construction program greatly benefited many overcrowded city neighborhoods, he purposefully constructed pitifully few play facilities in minority neighborhoods. Moses also battled with local residents who felt that park space should be used only for conservation of scarce open land, not for recreation.

This playground, located at the intersection of Vandervoort Avenue, Cherry, and Anthony Streets, was assigned to Parks in 1924 with additions added in 1935 and 1939. In 1948 Local Law 48 named this site after William Dougherty, who used the playground as a child. The playground, an asphalt area surrounded by a chain link fence, is filled with benches and London planetrees (Platanus x acerifolia). The playground also has a flagpole with a yardarm and a basketball and handball court.

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