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Somber salute at Salem Fields - Bravery defies the grave

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The Kings County Council-Jewish War Veterans, under the guidance of Executive Director Harold Engelmann, presented a special memorial service at the Salem Fields Cemetery, 775 Jamaica Avenue, honoring the Civil War dead, as well as those who served in other conflicts, including World War I, World War II, the Spanish American War, and Korea and Vietnam.

The joint posts celebrated in advance of Memorial Day in order to be able to join the community for the annual Memorial Day March in Bay Ridge.

In 1900, Maurice Simmons, then commander of the Hebrew Union Veterans Association, appealed to the general public and their own members on behalf of a monument that they hoped to build honoring fallen brethren in the Civil War. There were approximately 7,000 of the Jewish faith who served the Union cause, and of those, about 1,096 served from the New York area.

Commander Simmons was assisted in his project by Jewish philanthropists and business leaders of the day, including Jacob Schiff, Lyman Bloomingdale, James Seligman, financier, and Nathan Straus, of Abraham & Strauss. Temple Emanu-El agreed to dedicate part of their Salem Fields Cemetery for this project.

Four years later, a monument was erected, standing 50 feet in height and topped by a ball and eagle. The inscription on the monument reads: “In memory of the soldiers of the Hebrew faith who responded to the call of their country, and gave their lives for its salvation during the dark days of its need, so that the nation might live 1861-1865.”

Several members — including Benjamin Batlan Levy and Abraham Cohn — were awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor for this conflict, and were buried in the New York City area.

Immediately in front of the monument is a tableau erected by the Veterans Corps-69th Regiment in memory of Jewish soldiers who served with the 165th Infantry (old 69th New York in WWI) and laid down their lives in the service of their country. It is estimated that 250,000 Jews served in WWI.

The New York County JWV is working with the 69th Infantry activated unit in sending over packages requested by the servicemen for toiletries, food items and used clothes, particularly socks. It is estimated that there are approximately 5,000 soldiers of Jewish faith serving in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Other headstones include a marker for the Spanish American War, Cuba and Puerto Rico, and a second marker, which includes WWII, Korea and Vietnam. Plans are being made to include a marker for Bosnia, Iraq and Afghanistan.

According to experts in Washington, DC at the National Museum of American Jewish Military History, it is estimated that 500,000 served in WWII, 30,000 in Korea, and 250,000 in Vietnam.

The Veterans Grove has yearly visitors, and many others come to admire the monument, hailed as one of the largest in the United States dedicated to the Civil War cause. New York City was the gateway for many immigrants who came to the United States in the 19th century. The immigrants were immediately impressed with the freedom and opportunity in their new homeland, and volunteered to protect these rights.

Among the events highlights, the Kings County Council Color Guard presented arms, Junior Vice Commander Arthur Feigenbaum delivered the address, and Post member Sidney Tanzer offered the official benediction, along with a rendition of taps. American flags at the Veterans Grove were replaced.

Immediately following services at Salem Fields, the Kings County Council-JWV traveled to Mt. Lebanon Cemetery, 7800 Myrtle Avenue in Glendale, Queens, where they visited a special section of headstones, part of the Workmen’s Circle section, and held a similar ceremony of reverence, by raising the American flag, with a short service, followed by members replacing flags with fresh flags for the new season.

Kings County Council, formed in 1932, has continued as a service organization to help fellow soldiers at the hospital and in the community. Currently, they are working with Congress to try and procure better benefits for returning soldiers from Afghanistan and Iraq, including larger grants for college education.

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