UPDATE Van Cortlandt Park: First Annual Veteran Appreciation Month Marked during 17th Annual Veterans Day Ceremony

DISTRICT 11 City Council Member Eric Dinowitz presents Herb Barrett, long-time chair of the Annual Veterans Day Ceremony held at Memorial Grove in Van Cortlandt Park, with a copy of a City Council resolution designating November as Veterans Appreciation Month during the 17th Annual Veterans Day Ceremony on  Sunday, Nov. 5, 2023, in the presence of Bronx District Attorney Darcel D. Clark and others. 
Photo by Miriam Quiñones

In recognition of New York City’s first Veteran Appreciation Month, Bronx Borough President Vanessa L. Gibson joined veterans, District 11 City Council Member Eric Dinowitz, Assembly Member Jeffrey Dinowitz (A.D. 81), NYC Department of Veterans Services Commissioner James Hendon, officials from Van Cortlandt Park Alliance, Sergio Villaverde, vice chair of Bronx Community Board 8, other board members, and guests on Sunday, Nov. 5, for Van Cortlandt Park’s 17th Annual Veterans Day Ceremony.

The ceremony kicked off at 11 a.m. at Memorial Grove, located at 6036 Broadway, just north of Manhattan College with a color guard and military procession. Later, there was a prayer, the raising of the American flag, a pledge of allegiance to the flag, the singing of the national anthem, remarks by local war veterans, and speeches by various elected officials.

The ceremony also included the formal recognition of the historic passage of a city council resolution, sponsored by Gibson and the council member, designating November as Veteran Appreciation Month in New York City.

(L to R) THE COLOR GUARD made up of Jason Materazo, Cesar Taverez-Vasquez, Jeffrey Garcia, and Jennovia Mais detachment 560 Manhattan College open up the 17th Annual Veterans Day Ceremony at Memorial Grove in Van Cortlandt Park on Sunday, Nov. 5, 2023.
Photo by Miriam Quiñones

In reference to the occasion, Gibson said, “We recognize that one day is great, but what about an entire month to celebrate our veterans, to amplify the voices of all of our veterans that have served this country with honor, with integrity, with commitment, consistency and a labor of love, defending our country’s democracy, our freedoms and liberties that we are afforded today as proud Americans? We stand on your shoulders every day!”

At a certain point, the borough president talked about Vietnam War veterans. “My uncle, Roger Gibson, he was drafted out of high school years ago and always reminds me of the work that he has done as a veteran, reminding me also of the work that must continue to be done when it comes to supporting our veterans,” she said.

Gibson said this meant addressing homelessness, health care, and mental health services, saying there were many veterans living with trauma and PTSD who needed wraparound services. “[We need to make] sure that we create a pathway for future veterans, and shout out to our boy scouts, to our color guard, and to everyone that is serving in some way,” she said. “We stand on your shoulders. This month allows us here, in The Bronx and in The City of New York, to recognize 200,000 veterans and their families.”

DISTRICT 11 CITY COUNCIL Member Eric Dinowitz presents Herb Barrett, long-time chair of the Annual Veterans Day Ceremony held at Memorial Grove in Van Cortlandt Park, with a copy of a City Council resolution designating November as Veterans Appreciation Month during the 17th Annual Veterans Day Ceremony on  Sunday, Nov. 5, 2023, in the presence of NYC Department of Veterans Services Commissioner James Hendon (left), Bronx Borough President Vanessa Gibson (right), Assemblyman Jeffrey Dinowitz (A.D. 81), second from right, Bronx District Attorney Darcel Clark (third from right), Sergio Villaverde, vice chair of Bronx Community Board 8, officials from Van Cortlandt Park Alliance, and other attendees.  
Photo by Miriam Quiñones

The borough president went on to say that she was carrying on the work of her predecessors through her office’s Veterans Advisory Council, and acknowledged the president, Luis Otero Jr., who was present on the day, along with others. Gibson also talked about James J. Peters VA Medical Center, located in Fordham Manor. “There was a time when they were talking about closing our VA hospitals, but we want to make sure that the VA hospital, New York City Department of Veterans Services, and all of our veterans services are not only maintained, but expanded on,” she said. Click here to read our previous coverage on this topic.

The borough president later addressed all veterans directly. “We are so grateful for your sacrifice, for your service, and we want to make sure that during this month, we celebrate veterans,” she said. “We reflect on their work, while we also look to the future. Yes, we have to address the needs of veterans. My uncle is a street vendor and he was one of those that returned to the workforce, so we have to talk about unemployment among veterans. We have to set aside affordable housing for veterans, we have to talk about the sacrifices that so many families are experiencing.”

She added, “We certainly have to talk about what is happening now in the Middle East. Many of our members of the armed services have now been pulled back out of reserve to serve. So, we know that veterans are in our communities every single day.” Gibson concluded, in part saying, “That is why the work of the New York City Council and legislators is so important because the work must continue. So once again, on behalf of my team at Bronx Borough Hall, my Veterans Advisory Council, thank you veterans. Thank you for what you have done!”

(L to R) JOSHUA TORRES, WHO received a Military Veteran Certificate of Appreciation, poses for a photo with his parents and a copy his certificate during the 17th Annual Veterans Day Ceremony on  Sunday, Nov. 5, 2023.   
Photo by Miriam Quiñones

Herb Barrett, a veteran and longtime chair of the Annual Veterans Day Ceremony at Memorial Grove, who was behind its renovation as a site dedicated to veterans, was later honored during the ceremony. “Everything here, you know, is, I think, because of you, and all of us are here and safe because of the work you do, and so many veterans like you have done,” Eric Dinowitz said addressing Barrett. “So, I would like to present you with a copy of the resolution which marks this month, November 2023, as the first Veteran Appreciation Month in New York City.”

The councilman also talked about the debt Americans owe veterans. “Last week, I went to the Museum of Jewish Heritage, where there were a few hundred Holocaust survivors gathered together, and I had the real honor to address them.” he said. “I looked out and I just thought how many are here today, and how many of their families are here today because a veteran saved their lives and that is, I think, the story of so many of us here, and it’s a question we can all ask.”

He went on to talk about a prior veterans’ event held at Manhattan College, where he and others talked about what they could do to recognize and uplift veterans. “That is when we started discussing Veteran Appreciation Month,” he said in part. “In New York City, we are doing a lot of work. I no longer chair the veterans’ committee, but the work I do for our veterans still continues. Here, in New York City, we recognize our veterans by uplifting them with things like Veteran Appreciation Month.”

ALINA DOWE, BRONX borough director of the Mayor’s Community Affairs Unit poses with(L to R) Joshua Torres, who received a Military Veteran Certificate of Appreciation, poses for a photo with a copy of a City Council resolution designating November as Veterans Appreciation Month during the 17th Annual Veterans Day Ceremony on Sunday, Nov. 5, 2023.   
Photo by Miriam Quiñones

Dinowitz went on to say that his first bill to pass as a council member amended the city charter to ensure all veterans who served, regardless of discharge status, were recognized as veterans in New York City, and were able to access the same services that the city provided. He said that in addition to the discharge status upgrades, $340,000 had been allocated, via the City Council, for veterans’ homeless prevention, $200,000 for veterans’ job placement support, $600,000 for veterans’ legal services, $420,000 for veterans’ mental health services, and $1.27 million for veterans’ community development. He said this was in addition to the work NYC Department of Veterans Services carries out.

The councilman went on to say that in conjunction with Hendon, the city charter was also revised to include changes to the Veteran Advisory Board, which he said now includes members of families who he said also have had to make sacrifices when veterans go to war. He said there is further proposed legislation that requires city agencies to ask, “Are you a veteran?” on intake forms at senior centers, Parks’ centers, and elsewhere so that NYC Department of Veteran Services can best know who the city’s veterans are, and serve them with other legislation which he said is also being passed to better their mental health, which he said, was so often overlooked.

Dinowitz said that in addition to the legislation passed, the council had also funded programs to serve veteran residents in District 11. He announced that his office is now working with NYC Department of Veterans Services to have a representative from that department present at his Kingsbridge office to enable northwest Bronx veterans obtain veterans’ services directly. He thanked Gibson, Clark, and the assemblyman for their “shared values” in terms of their commitment to supporting veterans.

HERB BARRET (CENTER), longtime chair of the Annual Veterans Day Ceremony held at Memorial Grove in Van Cortlandt Park, poses with a copy of a City Council resolution designating November as Veterans Appreciation Month during the 17th Annual Veterans Day Ceremony on  Sunday, Nov. 5, 2023, in the presence of NYC Department of Veterans Services Commissioner James Hendon (second left), Bronx District Attorney Darcel Clark (third from left), Alina Dowe, Bronx borough director of the Mayor’s Community Affairs Unit (fourth from right), Bronx Borough President Vanessa Gibson (3rd from right), (L to R) Joshua Torres (right), Sergio Villaverde vice chair of Bronx Community Board 8, officials from Van Cortlandt Park Alliance, and other attendees.  
Photo by Miriam Quiñones

During his remarks, the assemblyman thanked all the veterans present, singling out Barrett in particular, who he referred to as a “veteran extraordinaire.”  He continued, “I remember.. it has to be like 15 years or more since Herb started his quest to restore Memorial Grove, and it took a lot of work, and he showed what can really be done if you really work for a just cause in our community.”

Dinowitz added, “He got it done and we’ve been here recognizing veterans ever since, so Herb, thank you so much, and thank you to the community board for sponsoring this. Herb was the organizer for many, many years and he passed the torch to Sergio Villaverde and the community board but he’s still here, and I’m glad you’re here, Herb. Thank you.”

In light of the Hamas attacks on Oct. 7 in Southern Israel, and the war that has raged in Gaza since then, which is due to resume in the coming days after a 4-day ceasefire, the assemblyman spoke about Hamas killing 1,400 Jews (since revised to 1,200) on Oct. 7, referring to the organization as “evil.” He added, “Some of them were Americans. They kidnapped 240 people. Some of them are Americans, and so our role in the world, through wartime and through not quite wartime, is so important.”

ASSEMBLYMAN JEFFREY DINOWITZ (A.D. 81) addresses attendees at the 17th Annual Veterans Day Ceremony held in Van Cortlandt Park on  Sunday, Nov. 5, 2023.
Photo by Miriam Quiñones

The assemblyman continued, “You know more U.S. military were sent over to that region of the world because we have to maintain a very strong position in order to keep the peace, and the people who do that are those who serve in the military and those who have served in the military, and I think we should show our appreciation for them all the time, certainly during Veterans Month, but all year round, seriously.”[Pro-Palestinian supporters argue that the U.S. backing of Israel is causing “genocide,” with more than 11,100 Palestinians killed in Gaza since Oct. 7, according to Gaza’s Health Ministry. ]

Dinowitz went on to talk about how veterans were the ones who made, and make, sacrifices for everyday Americans to enjoy certain freedoms. “When people who serve in the military, and we say we got to support our military, when they come home, we still have to support them. We have to always support them.” he said in part. “Thank you Veterans. Thank you, Herb.”

During her remarks, Clark said she had met Barrett several times, that he was a joy and inspiration for not only having served his country, but also his community. “Thank you so much for all that you do,” she said, amid applause from the crowd. She also thanked all who attended the ceremony to celebrate Veteran Appreciation Month. “But, we all know that Veterans Day is every day, 365 days a year, because when they go out to serve, they don’t think about November 11th or whether it’s November. They go out there and put their heart and soul into protecting our democracy and our freedom, and that for others as well, so I appreciate veterans so much,” she added.

NYC Department of Veterans Services Commissioner James Hendon addresses attendees at the 17th Annual Veterans Day Ceremony held in Van Cortlandt Park on  Sunday, Nov. 5, 2023.
Photo by Miriam Quiñones

The district attorney went on to say that her work is public safety, and that that is also what veterans do. “But also, they find themselves sometimes intertwined with the criminal justice system, and you need to have a DA that understands that,” she said. “As a judge, I understood that, and as a DA, I understand that now. That’s why we have our Veterans Court to make sure that special attention is given to those who [served] and sacrificed on behalf of our country, and as they come into our criminal justice system, to make sure that we have the intervention that they need for the special people that they are,” she added in part.

Hendon also addressed the crowd, while veteran, Joshua Torres, was presented with the Military Veteran Certificate of Appreciation, during the event. Also in attendance was Alina Dowe, Bronx borough director of the Mayor’s Community Affairs Unit.

MEMORIAL GROVE IN Van Cortlandt Park is adorned with U.S. flags in November 2023, in appreciation of veterans. 
Photo by Miriam Quiñones

Dinowitz later wrote that he had been deeply honored to commemorate past and present veterans at the ceremony and called to unite to magnify the voices of veterans, recognizing what he said was their unwavering commitment and sacrifices for the nation. “We owe a debt of gratitude to these individuals who have tirelessly defended our democracy, freedom, and liberties,” he said. “As we observe Veterans Day, we celebrate their contributions with heartfelt appreciation and respect.”

As reported, a veterans’ crisis helpline is available at 988.

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