By KRISTINA JOHNSON
Walk through Queens, and you’re walking through more than 200 years of military history. All over the borough, the names of streets and parks pay tribute to veterans—many of whom made the ultimate sacrifice for their country. And while their names might be well known thanks to the places that bear them, their stories are sometimes more obscure.
You may have driven down Corporal Kennedy Street in Bayside, but you probably don’t know what Corporal Kennedy did to have a street and playground named after him. William Kennedy’s story is a sad one. A lifelong Bayside resident whose father was a police officer, Kennedy was killed in 1918 while fighting in France in World War I. He was just 25 years old. The street he lived on, previously known as Gardener Street, was renamed for him in 1925.
Just a few blocks over in Bayside you’ll find Corporal Stone Street. The corporal’s full name was Charles Stone, and he was also a casualty of World War I. Few details of his life survive, but Stone’s body was brought home from Europe and now lies in Arlington National Cemetery, according to FindAGrave.com.
Stone and Kennedy were just two of the nearly 14,000 New Yorkers killed in WWI. Ozone Park’s Corporal Ruoff Square represents yet another. Corporal John Ruoff was killed in action in 1918, becoming the first native son of Ozone Park to die during the Great War. Ruff also lends his name to American Legion Post 632 in Ozone Park.
South Ozone Park has its own hero. Wilbur Colyer, the namesake of Sergeant Colyer Square, was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor for his heroic actions in Verdun, France, in 1918. According to the Military Times’ Hall of Valor Project, Colyer volunteered to take out a German machine-gun nest, blowing it up with a German grenade. He was later killed in action.
Rockaway Beach honored Daniel M. O’Connell with a namesake playground in 1934. O’Connell, a St. Rose of Lima altar boy, was killed in action in France in 1918. He was just 18 years old, and became one of the youngest people ever to be honored with the Croix de Guerre from the French government.
Richmond Hill suffered its first casualty of the war in 1918. Lt. Frank McConnell, who was honored with a park naming in 1964, would have graduated from Princeton in 1919 had the war not interrupted his studies. He was killed in action during the Second Battle of the Marne.
Woodhaven’s Lt. Clinton L. Whiting Square is named for another WWI hero. Fighting in the Forest of Argonne in France in 1918, Whiting managed to lead his men to safety while under heavy enemy fire. He earned a Distinguished Service Medal for Heroism in Action for doing so. He was killed in action a month later.
While heroes of WWI abound in Queens history, there are also links to even earlier conflicts. Bayside’s Dermody Triangle is named for Captain William Dermody, an abolitionist who fought and died for the Union during the Civil War battle of Spotsylvania. The spot was set aside as a memorial for Darmody by his sister in 1866, and rededicated in 1935.
The Spanish American War is also represented in Queens’ history. Jamaica’s Captain Tilly Park is named for George H. Tilly, who was killed in action in the Philippines in 1902. A monument in the park pays homage to other veterans of that war who were killed in places like Puerto Rico and Cuba.
Some Queens veterans survived to see the honors bestowed upon them. Elmhurst’s General Hart playground is named for Brigadier General Joseph T. Hart, who commanded forces in the Pacific Theater of World War II. After the war, Hart held several positions in the office of the Queens borough president.
South Ozone Park veteran Frederick B. Judge survived WWI, living until 1955. One year after his death, the playground that bears his name was dedicated.