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Van Nest Park

The Daily Plant : Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Local Hero Honored On Veterans Day

In this 1919 photo, crowds gathered near the first Van Nest Memorial.
Photo courtesy of Nick DiBrino and Richard Vitacco.

At noon on Veterans Day, community residents will gather at the Van Nest Memorial, at Unionport and White Plains Roads in the Bronx, to commemorate the sacrifices of local heroes. The imposing granite monument at that site was erected in 1926 by the Van Nest Citizens Patriotic League to honor local men who perished in World War I. It replaced a temporary memorial erected in 1919. Later honor rolls were added for those lost in Korea and Vietnam. One such hero, Peter R. Wiesneifski, will finally get his due tomorrow—thanks to efforts of his local community and Parks—more than 37 years after his name was inadvertently omitted from an honor roll inscribed on the monument.

More than 100 people are expected to attend the event on Thursday afternoon, including Wiesneifski’s older sister, Kathleen. The inscription will give due—if delayed—honor to Wiesneifski, who died 40 years ago. He had resided at 1751 Van Buren Street, not far from the memorial site. He entered the service on August 14, 1969, and he was just 20 years old when he killed in combat in the Tay Ninh Province on February 26, 1970. He was buried with full military honors.

In September of this year, Parks’ division of Art & Antiquities learned of the omission of Wiesneifski’s name from Richard Vitacco, a volunteer guardian of the memorial site and a teacher at nearby St. Barnabas High School. Vitacco had been alerted by Van Nest residents Nick DiBrino and Al Farago, and he felt compelled to take action.

Farago had grown up with Wiesneifski and had also served in the Vietnam War. He was wounded and sent home in 1969, but he found out two years later that his childhood friend and teammate Wiesneifski had been killed in early 1970. When Farago’s cousin DiBrino invited him to attend a Memorial Day ceremony at Van Nest Park last May, he was upset to find that Wiesneifski’s name was not engraved along with the community’s other fallen soldiers. He and Di Brino then reached out to Vitacco.

After Art & Antiquities confirmed Victacco’s claim with the United States Veterans Administration, he initiated a fundraising campaign to sponsor the Wiesniefski inscription. Various local organizations donated their time and funds to the cause, including the Van Nest Neighborhood Alliance, the East Bronx History Forum, the veterans group of the Turner Club, F. Ruggiero & Sons Inc. Funeral Homes, and members of Community Board 11. Former classmates of the deceased veteran from St. Dominic’s School raised additional monies.

Under the direction of Art & Antiquities Deputy Director Sheena Brown, Crown Memorials, a long-time local business, performed the engraving, and took care to match the lettering precisely with the existing names. Upon arriving at the memorial site, the company offered to do the inscription pro-bono, and the monies raised will be instead invested in other community-based good works. Parks is pleased to have collaborated in this effort to render the memorial’s honor roll whole at long last.

Wiesneifski’s name will be added to one of over 270 memorials in New York City Parks that commemorate wars and soldiers lost. The war memorials account for between a quarter and a third of all monuments in Parks. Veterans Day has been a recognized federal holiday since 1938, but its genesis dates back to the World War I armistice that went into effect on “the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month” in 1918. President Woodrow Wilson recognized the holiday for the first time the following year, calling it Armistice Day, but after World War II and at the start of the Korean War in 1954, the name was changed to Veterans Day to honor those who had sacrificed their lives in all wars.

Vitacco told the Plant that he was grateful to Art & Antiquities for responding to his call to honor Wiesneifski.

“The personnel in Art & Antiquities were very knowledgeable and helpful at getting Peter R. Wiesneifski’s name on the monument at Van Nest Memorial Square,” Vitacco said. “It had been an oversight on the part of the community that his name was not included back in 1973. Forty years after his death in Vietnam, Peter’s memory and story will officially be home where he belongs in Van Nest at the Memorial Square.”

“We are not makers of history. We are made by history.”
Martin Luther King, Jr.
(1929 - 1968)

Directions to Van Nest Park


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