Barbara Coleman believes there is a Woodside story in need of telling, a story about World War I and the sacrifices people made.
“Of the approximately 250 Woodside men who served in the war, 10 never made it back,” she said.
That is why Coleman, who is the vice president of the Woodside Civic Association, wants a memorial plaque installed at the base of the doughboy statue in Doughboy Plaza off Woodside Avenue. The plaque would list the names of the 10 Woodside soldiers who died, along with the companies in which they served.
“We feel these men should not be forgotten,” Coleman said.
Councilman Eric Gioia (D Sunnyside) agrees. He has written a letter of support to the Parks Department, saying the plaque would honor the neighborhood heroes who made the ultimate sacrifice.
David Bentham, a Parks Department manager, heard about the project last week while attending a groundbreaking ceremony at adjacent Windmuller Park.
Bentham said proposals such as this aren’t common and praised the civic group for its initiative. But he cautioned the idea is still in its infancy.
The plan must make its way through a series of procedural steps at the Parks Department and eventually the community board must approve it before a plaque can be installed. “Hopefully, it will get approval and move forward,” he said.
The cost of the plaque and where the funding would come from have yet to be determined, Coleman said, also citing the newness of the project.
Sitting on a park bench in Doughboy Plaza on Monday, Coleman looked through the many pages of notes she’s collected for the project. Photographs, names and newspaper clippings detail the doughboy statue’s provenance and the men who served. “This is our beloved statue,” she said.
She pointed to a red rose lying on the monument that day, placed by an unknown person. It’s important, she said, because it shows that civic group members aren’t the only people who care about these Woodside men who served their country.
In fact, each Memorial Day, local residents gather around the statue to remember war veterans. “We have a big thing here,” she said.
But Coleman would like more people to recognize the sacrifices and understand the doughboy statue’s history. Dedicated in 1923, it was sculpted by Burt Johnson, a renowned artist.
The term “doughboy” is thought to have been coined from the large, round buttons that looked like biscuits on American uniforms. The statue was placed on the site of the former mustering grounds for Woodside’s World War I soldiers.
“It’s where they reported for duty,” Coleman explained. They gathered, got into trucks and then were given their assignments elsewhere.
All of that history on one spot is important to remember, she added. “We did not want future generations to be unaware.”