Honoring soldiers of color on the Parkway

Mayor Nutter prepares to lay a wreath during the Memorial Day program in front of the All Wars Memorial to Colored Soldiers and Sailors. PHOTOS: DAVID MAIALETTI / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER
Mayor Nutter prepares to lay a wreath during the Memorial Day program in front of the All Wars Memorial to Colored Soldiers and Sailors. PHOTOS: DAVID MAIALETTI / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER
Posted: May 29, 2012

On a shady patch of grass, yards from the All Wars Memorial to Colored Soldiers and Sailors, Ronald Richardson, dressed in a gray jacket that looked almost like a Civil War uniform, stood tall and erect as a mountain.

He saluted while a trumpeter played "Taps" and a military honor guard lay two wreaths at the monument Monday near Logan Circle on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway.

"My family was in World War II. My Uncle Dan, may he rest in peace, and my [other] uncle, he was in World War I. They’re all gone now," said Richardson, 74, tears welling up in his eyes. Richardson said he had served stateside in the Army Reserves between 1964 and 1970 during the Vietnam War.

"A lot of Indians were in this too, like myself," said Richardson, who described himself as Cherokee.

The monument was moved to 20th and the Parkway in 1994, after a committee worked to raise money to restore it and move it from its former location, tucked away in near-obscurity for 60 years behind Memorial Hall in Fairmount Park.

"It’s a great day to remember heroes of color, like the Tuskegee Airmen, or Navy Cook Third-Class Doris Miller [a Pearl Harbor hero] or the slaves and the freed who fought in wars spanning from the American Revolution to the Civil War to the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq," Mayor Nutter told the crowd.

"It is our duty and our honor to never let those brave military members, the men and women who wore the uniform, the sailors and airmen and the others that died in battle, they can never be forgotten and they will not be forgotten.

“This memorial was somewhere else not too long ago and now it is on one of the most prominent boulevards of anywhere in the City of Philadelphia, where it rightly should be, and we, as a city, must do a better job of making sure as people, whatever they come to see, that they know what this spot is about, that they know what this memorial is about, that they understand the history and the people behind it."

A woman who lives in the area, who gave her name as Cynthia, said she walks by the monument on her way to grocery shopping all the time and "I never paid attention to it. I just though it was just another park."

When she heard the statue had once been hidden from view because city officials in the 1930s refused to place a monument to colored soldiers near the Parkway, Cynthia said, "I’m moved to tears over this. I’m genuinely moved."

Michael Roepel, president of the Committee to Restore and Relocate the All Wars Memorial to Colored Soldiers and Sailors, said the group would now raise money to pay for maintaining the monument for another 30 years.

Contact Valerie Russ at 215-854-5987 or russv@phillynews.com.

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