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Queens Chronicle

Strack Memorial Pond Unveiled After Two Years Of Construction

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Posted: Thursday, May 27, 2004 12:00 am

Thirty-five years ago, Mayor John Lindsay named two baseball fields in Forest Park after Pfc Laurence Strack, the first Woodhaven soldier killed in Vietnam. They were meant to be a living memorial to the 19-year-old, who loved Little League baseball.

But for 35 years, the earth wouldn’t cooperate. The soggy, low-lying fields were known for their mudflats and mosquitoes instead of balls and strikes.

The Parks Department took note, and after two years of construction by the agency’s Natural Resources Group, unveiled the Pfc Laurence Strack Memorial Pond Thursday at the site of the former fields. The once-barren area has become a haven for preservationists and birdwatchers, and, but for the slight drone of traffic nearby, is completely closed off from city life.

“You could throw a rock and hit Woodhaven Boulevard and I feel like I’m in the middle of the Adirondacks,” said Department of Parks and Recreation Commissioner Adrian Benepe.

Benepe was joined by Gilbert Strack, the late serviceman’s brother, and his daughter, Samantha; New York Secretary of State Randy Daniels; Councilman Dennis Gallagher; Vietnam Veterans of America Chapter 32 President Pat Toro and dozens of parks officials and war veterans.

Strack was overcome with emotion during the reopening. “It’s been since ‘69, but it seems like it was yesterday. There’s not a day that goes by that I don’t think of my brother,” he said.

The pond’s construction was made possible by a $275,000 grant from the State Clean Water/Clean Air Act and an additional $275,000 allocation by Mayor Michael Bloomberg. Daniels called the park “a model for the state and the city” and vowed never to forget the sacrifices of veterans.

“Just as any wetland is not appreciated by society, Vietnam veterans have not always been appreciated by society. Today we take a step toward correcting that,” he said.

Toro said that “history shows that the war in Vietnam ended in 1975, but what history doesn’t show is that the war continues.” Gallagher vowed to support “anything that we can do to pay tribute to and honor a true American hero.”

The pond, which is located in the former “soup bowl” area of the park, is a kettle pond that is home to plants and flowers, salamanders, frogs and exotic bird species including red-tailed hawks and great blue herons. The Parks Department tried to re-create the lively conditions of the area, which was formed over 20,000 years ago when the last glacier retreated from New York.

“When you walk into something like this, you’re reminded of the higher powers of God or nature,” Benepe said. “You have no idea this is the work of humans. You see this and say ‘nature did this,’ and that’s the idea.”

Laurence Strack was killed on March 3, 1967, during a combat parachute jump in Vietnam. Strack, a member of the 173rd Airborne Brigade, did not survive a fierce firefight when he reached the ground.

He posthumously received the Combat Infantryman’s Badge, the Vietnam Service Medal, the Parachutist Badge, the New York State Conspicuous Service Medal and the Bronze Star with Valor Device and Purple Heart.

The Strack brothers used to ice skate on pond during the winter. Laurence Strack would skate around in a Bobby Hull jersey the former Chicago Blackhawks superstar once threw to him after a game.

Gilbert Strack visited Chicago last year and was eating in a restaurant when he spotted Hull at a nearby table. He told him the story, and the sports legend, touched, introduced him to his son, Brett, who is also a hockey star.

After the re-dedication, the Strack family, veterans and the elected officials broke ground for a tree planting near the pond, and the serenity of the moment struck Queens Parks Commissioner Richard Murphy, who is also a Vietnam veteran. “The difference between where Pfc Strack was and where we are today is incredible,” he said.

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