By Karen Zautyk
On May 27, 1922, an estimated 25,000 people gathered in the streets around the small park where Kearny Ave. and Beech St. meet, to witness Gen. John J. Pershing personally dedicate the towering granite monument honoring the Kearny men who died in the Great War.
Pershing had been commander of the American Expeditionary Forces during the “War to End All Wars.” We all know how that turned out.
Ensuing years saw Monument Park add memorials to those who died in World War II, Korea and Vietnam. And last week, it became home to yet another, dedicated to the military victims in the War on Terrorism.
Carved from Vermont gray granite, like the original, it bears only one date: 2001. Which marks the beginning of the battle whose end no one dare predict.
Thus far, it carries only one name, that of Staff Sgt. Edward Karolasz, a Kearny soldier killed in Iraq nine years ago this week. He was just 25.
Its official dedication took place Nov. 11 during the annual Veterans Day ceremony sponsored by American Legion Post 99, with support from the VFW and Marine Corps League. Among those attending were the soldier’s mother, Krystyna Karolasz, and his sisters Kristine Lancha and Donna Kornas.
Mayor Alberto Santos, standing before the WWI pillar, noted, “Our community has assembled at this monument for the last 92 years — at the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month” — which was when the guns finally fell silent on the Western Front.
There was optimism then, but as Santos noted, “That optimism, that hope for peace, was shattered just a generation later.”
What followed was a century of conflicts, including the overarching Cold War. Then on Nov. 9, 1989, the world witnessed the fall of the Berlin Wall — prime symbol of the Cold War. “And like before,” Santos said, “we spoke of peace, a lasting peace. But that was not to be.”
After America was attacked on Sept. 11, 2001, we took up arms against terrorists and the regimes that harbor them. The new battlefields have stretched from Iraq to Aghanistan to Pakistan to Syria to the Sahara and beyond. The newest enemy to make its murderous appearance is ISIS. What will be the next cowardly extremist group seeking blood? And where will it be spawned?
Fortunately, our nation has always harbored the brave and the courageous: freedom-cherishing men and women willing to make the ultimate sacrifice in the name of that freedom.
The Nov. 11 ceremony was about them, too. The living and the dead. To each of whom we owe an eternal debt of gratitude.
How many of us pass Kearny’s Monument Park on a daily basis, and never give it a thought? Next time you drive by, you might offer a prayer, or just a simple “Thank you.”
You might even stop to take a close-up look at all the monuments.
Including the one unveiled just last week.
You will note that it bears only one name. But it has room for more.
God willing, that space will remain blank.