Historic Fort Greene Park Houses Monument To America’s First POWs
Oft-Forgotten Treasure: Iconic, Monolithic Martyrs Monument
As First Vice President and in the absence of Society of Old Brooklynites President George Broadhead, we had the honor and responsibility of presiding over the Society’s 114th Annual Memorial Tribute to the Prison Ship Martyrs of the American Revolution. The remembrance ceremonies and commemoration of the 245th anniversary of the Battle of Brooklyn took place at the base of the 149-foot tall Prison Ship Martyrs Monument on the hilltop in Fort Greene Park, on Saturday morning, August 28.
Opening ceremonies began with the FDNY ceremonial unit color guard and FDNY Bagpipes presenting the colors. Then program chairman and Society official Michael Spinner led the attendees in the Pledge of Allegiance which was followed by a stirring rendition of the National Anthem by Metropolitan Opera baritone Daniel Sutin. Spinner continued to emcee the solemn proceedings introducing guest speakers Brooklyn Parks Commissioner Marty Maher and Fort Greene Conservancy executive director Rosemond Fletcher. He then called upon a young ballerina from the Young Dancers in Repertory to perform a brief interpretative dance of mourning. This was followed by the symbolic maritime piping ceremony where the narrator virtually pipes the deceased POW’s from below the towering monument.
For many years U.S. Merchant Marine World War II veteran Ensign Bernie Flatow, the President of the National Merchant Marine Veterans Association conducted this Memorial Piping Ceremony saluting the memory of the 11,500 patriots entombed in a crypt 40 feet below the monument. ” Distinguished guests, fellow seafarers, veterans and ladies and gentlemen. From this sacred site, I am about to conduct a special recognition to those patriots who gave their lives over 245 years ago so that we can assemble here today in this free country, the United States of America! In the olden days, The Bosun was responsible for handling the ship’s crew and he used a Bosun’s pipe, a high pitched call signal which could be heard across the howling wind and the tumult of the towering waves as they came crashing over the decks. That was when the Bosun most needed his men to listen to the whistle’s signals, be it men aloft, all hands on deck, general quarters, let go, or pipe the side. Piped the side, a mark of respect, or honor for a president, admiral or other person of high rank as he boards or leaves the ship. Also during a funeral aboard ship when a coffin passes over the side. Narrator pipes the side and cupped his hand and yells do you hear me down? Do you hear me down there? I have been designated as Chief Bosun by the Society of Old Brooklynites to conduct a special memorial service to accord all you men who served so bravely and gallantly from 1775 to 1784 during the Revolutionary War. We have not forgotten you! We know of your hardships — the sickness, disease, pestilence, starvation, hypothermia and inhuman treatment by the British during your incarceration aboard the British Ships in Wallabout Bay. We don’t know exactly how many of you are down there, but we can only guess that there are about 11,500. The only log of prisoners’ names kept on the JERSEY and it lists only 8,000. No other ship kept a listing of names although ships’ logs show prisoners coming aboard and being taken off. As I call the name of the prison ship you were confined to I want you to muster on the quarterdeck of your prison ship to receive the recognition and honor you all deserve and never received. We will now pipe you aboard. Narrator Pipes the Side and calls out each prison ship. HMS WHIBY, KITTY, GOOD HOPE, CAPTAIN NELSON, WOODLAND, PRINCE OF WALES, STROMBOLO, SCORPION, HUNTER, FALMOUTH, JERSEY, JOHN, FREDERICK, PERSEVERANCE and BRISTOL. Since you are now all assembled, I will ask all present to rise and stand at attention as TAPS is sounded and 8 slow bells are tolled. And now may the great master of the universe who watches over all seafarers and prisoners of war be with us until we meet again. Narrator Pipes the Side and announces, Patriots you may return to your eternal rest.”
The program concluded with the ceremonial wreath being walked to the Monument by Society Treasurer Sherman Silverman and Fort Greene DAR Chapter Regent Melinda Attison as the Navy Hymn “Eternal Father” was played, and with Sutin singing “God Bless America.”
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