Downtown

WWII vet Jack Vanasco, 95, honored at Brooklyn Veterans Day ceremony

Worked for decades to reopen the Brooklyn War Memorial

November 14, 2022 Mary Frost
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DOWNTOWN BROOKLYN — Jack Vanasco, a World War II Army veteran who served under General McArthur, was honored on Sunday at a ceremony in Downtown Brooklyn hosted by the Cadman Park Conservancy and sponsored by Veterans for Political Innovation (VPI).

The ceremony also honored veterans who have served in conflicts ranging from Iraq to Afghanistan. 

Vanasco, 95, and his brothers Terry, Roy and Joe all served during the war from 1939-47 and, beating the odds, all made it home afterward. Jack and his older brother Roy have been working for decades to reopen the shuttered Brooklyn War Memorial. An ADA-accessible ramp and elevator have been installed but more repairs are underway, including reconstructing the restrooms.

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Vanasco showed the Brooklyn Eagle a photo of an interior wall inscribed with the names of more than 11,000 Brooklyn soldiers who lost their lives in World War II. 

“There’s 11,000 names on that wall, men and women from Brooklyn,” he said. “There’s about 15 or 17 people that we played ball with — they got killed in the Battle of the Bulge and Iwo Jima and a lot of the islands. We all grew up together and lived in the same neighborhood.” 

Jack Vanasco shares conversation and laughs as he shares his binder full of photographs and press clippings. Photo by Beth Eisgrau-Heller/Beth Heller Photo

When the War Memorial opens again, “It will be something accomplished,” he said. “Me and my brother [worked] for a long time to get it to open up. People don’t even know that the names of their fathers and mothers and relatives are on the wall.”

The Memorial was built in 1951 and was used for a variety of public events, but was closed after the federal Disabilities Act was signed into law. Restoration efforts were stymied over the decades by shifting priorities and elusive funding. Now Vanasco has hopes that he may actually see the Memorial open again.

Those who wish to be named from left to right: Michael Matos, Glomani Bravo-Lopez, Jack Vanasco, Ivan Snook, and Doreen Gallo. The gentleman on the far left and the Army veteran in the blue t-shirt to the right of the wreath wished to remain anonymous. Photo by Beth Eisgrau-Heller/Beth Heller Photo

‘Getting closer to that goal’

“What sets Jack and his brother Roy apart and makes them so special to us is their tenacious advocacy and devotion to the Brooklyn War Memorial with the goal of its reopening.” Doreen Gallo, president of the Cadman Park Conservancy, told the crowd. 

“Jack has fought hard for the War Memorial to fulfill its ADA compliance work so that the Memorial will be open to the public. We’re getting closer to that goal,” she said.

Councilmember Lincoln Restler (Brooklyn Heights – Greenpoint) thanked Vanasco for his service. “It’s quite an extraordinary thing to have four brothers go off to war and serve this country. They call it the Greatest Generation for a reason.”

Coast Guard Reserve Member Michael Matos. Photo by Beth Eisgrau-Heller/Beth Heller Photo

Restler said that the Vanasco brothers had made reopening the Memorial a “lifetime work.” 

“I want you to know you have a partner in me, in Marty [Brooklyn Parks Commissioner Martin Maher] and the whole team to finally make this War Memorial everything it can and should be for our community.” 

Restler recently procured funds for a new artificial turf field at Cadman Park. “We’re thrilled to finally get new turf here; it will be installed next year,” he said.

Gallo said that Maher — a veteran who served in the United States Coast Guard during Desert Storm, “has worked tirelessly for the Brooklyn War Memorial to reopen.” 

Ivan Snook is a Marine Corps veteran and Columbia University history professor. He spoke about the place memorials hold in our society. “Their message is not set in stone…“[their meaning are only conveyed] through practices like what we’re doing right now, which are called ‘acts of remembrance.’” Photo by Beth Eisgrau-Heller/Beth Heller Photo
Veterans for Political Innovation back Final-Five Voting

Veterans for Political Innovation, a non-partisan group supporting electoral reform by way of “Final-Five Voting,” sponsored the event.

In a Final-Five Voting primary, all candidates running for Congress appear on a single ballot, and all voters can participate in the primary regardless of party. In a general election, voters use a ranked-choice ballot.

Former Staten Island Councilmember Sal Albanese, chair of Final-Five Voting NYC, said that this system would empower Independents, who can’t currently vote in party primaries. 

Former Staten Island Councilmember Sal Albanese is the chair of Final-Five Voting NYC. The group advocates for all Congressional candidates to appear on a single ballot, so all NYers regardless of their party can vote in primary elections. “In New York City, we have 1.2 million Independents, and about 300,000 are veterans that are registered as ‘blanks.’ That means they can’t participate in the most important election in the city,” Photo by Beth Eisgrau-Heller/Beth Heller Photo

“In New York City, we have 1.2 million Independents, and about 300,000 are veterans that are registered as ‘blanks.’ That means they can’t participate in the most important election in the city,” Albanese said. 

Other veterans who volunteer with VPI spoke about the alarming division they have seen in the country, and how they feel Final-Five Voting will help bring Americans together again. These included Glomani Bravo-Lopez, a Marine Corps veteran and previous deputy chief of staff to former Councilmember Stephen Levin; veteran’s advocate and Coast Guard Reserve member Michael Matos; and another veteran who did not wish to be identified because of his work.

Marine Corp veteran and Columbia University history professor Ivan Snook spoke about the meaning of memorials.

Ninety-five-year-old WWII veteran Jack Vanesco looks on with delight during the ceremony honoring him at the Brooklyn War Memorial in Cadman Park. He has advocated for the reopening of the Memorial for decades. Photo by Beth Eisgrau-Heller/Beth Heller Photo

The two large relief figures on the south wall, by sculptor Charles Keck, were done in the Art Deco style, Snook said. “They’re very bold, very self-certain, which was what the country was when this monument was built.” 

“Memorials, their message is not set in stone,” Snook said. “It’s only through practices like what we’re doing right now, which are called ‘acts of remembrance.’”

City Council Member Lincoln Restler (Brooklyn Heights-Greenpoint) beamed, “I want you to know you have a partner in me, in Marty [Brooklyn Parks Commissioner Martin Maher]…to finally make this War Memorial everything it can and should be for our community.” Restler recently secured new turf for Cadman’s playing field. Installation is scheduled for 2023. Photo by Beth Eisgrau-Heller/Beth Heller Photo
Glomani Bravo-Lopez is a Marine Corps veteran and the former chief of staff to former Councilmember Stephen Levin. Photo by Beth Eisgrau-Heller/Beth Heller Photo
Doreen Gallo is the President of the Cadman Park Conservancy. “What sets Jack and his brother Roy apart and makes them so special to us is their tenacious advocacy and devotion to the Brooklyn War Memorial.” Photo by Beth Eisgrau-Heller/Beth Heller Photo
Jack Vanasco holds a photo of himself, a friend, and his brother Roy standing in front of the wall of 11,000 names of Brooklynites killed in WWII. “Me and my brother [worked] for a long time to get it to open up. People don’t even know that the names of their fathers and mothers and relatives are on the wall.” Photo by Beth Eisgrau-Heller/Beth Heller Photo
A commemorative wreath honors the men and women of Brooklyn killed in the line of duty. The Memorial was built in 1951 but was closed after the federal Disabilities Act was signed into law. It has not been open to the public for decades. Photo by Beth Eisgrau-Heller/Beth Heller Photo

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