An Oakland Gardens veteran celebrated his centennial birthday with his favorite people in his favorite spot — Alley Pond Park.
Phil Marcus was honored by dozens of family, neighbors, friends and area leaders March 24 to commemorate his long life dedicated to serving others.
The World War II veteran was honored with a lengthy car parade in the 76th Avenue Alley Pond parking lot in front of the temporary Alley Pond Environmental Center building. Cars decked out in American flags and Army vehicles, courtesy of veterans organizations Team Red, White, and Blue and the Big Apple Honor Flight circled the lot last Wednesday morning.
The predicted dreary weather held off long enough for the group to enjoy an outdoor party after the parade, complete with a birthday cake.
The event was organized by the Alley Pond Striders, a running group Marcus is a member of. Though Marcus is beyond his running days, he continues to join the excursions as a walker. The group has evolved into a family, member Steve Appel said, adding that many of them meet for breakfast each morning and take turns driving Marcus to doctors appointments. The birthday celebration seemed like a natural thing to do for Marcus.
“We support each other,” Appel said, referring to the Marine Corps motto: Semper fidelis, meaning “Always faithful.” “We’re all going to age. We’re all going to need help in our lives ... We need people to be faithful to each other.”
Marcus, originally from Brooklyn, volunteered as an Air Force pilot in 1943 at the age of 23, but then was transferred to work as a foreman for construction workers in the Hunan province of China after a supervisor found him “too sensitive” for the pilot job. He had previously studied art at Cooper Union and put his skills to the test during his down time in the war by sketching the Chinese workers and families. He sent them back home to his sister, who brought them to PM magazine, a daily city tabloid in the ’40s.
“[She] showed them to the editor and he liked them and said, ‘Would $50 be alright?’ and she thought she had to pay $50 to have them published,” Marcus, wearing his Army jacket, told the story at his birthday party. “So she said ‘$50?!’ And he said ‘OK, OK, $75.’”
After serving in the Army for three years, Marcus returned to New York City and married his wife, Muriel, with whom he had two daughters, Michelle and Julie. He worked as an English language teacher for immigrants until he was 98, a job for which he commuted into Manhattan each day. He continued his artwork throughout his 10 decades of life, as well.
“Thank you for your service to our nation. Not just in World War II, but for living a long and healthy life and for being a responsible citizen,” said City Councilmember Barry Grodenchik (D-Oakland Gardens), who presented Marcus with a Council citation. City Parks Commissioner Mitchell Silver also joined the festivities to honor the veteran who spends his centennial days enjoying the neighborhood green space.