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Glendale veterans covet Brooklyn doughboy statue

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The bronze doughboy in Brooklyn’s Heisser Triangle stands before a backdrop of Myrtle Avenue’s corner groceries and doughnut shops, a busy thoroughfare where shoppers and residents conduct their business in the shadow of an immortalized American vet.

Although the soldier’s piercing stare focuses on the station house of his uniformed brothers at the 83rd Police Precinct, a veteran’s group from Glendale hopes to have its gaze cast on an entirely different landscape by moving the statue into Queens.

War veterans from Brewery-Keenan-Heisser Post 1815 of the American Legion have begun exploring the possibility of having the statue moved to Drum Park at the intersection of Cypress Street and Cooper Avenue, where they think it would be better protected from vandalism and litter.

The statue is set on a small grassy triangle formed where Myrtle Avenue, Knickerbocker Avenue and Bleecker Street converge, less than a mile from the Queens border. The doughboy rises well above the surrounding street, his right hand clenched in a fist and his left grasping a rifle, assuming a heroic stance that is imposing even in the shadow of the elevated subway line looming behind him.

Although the statue and the park in which it resides are maintained by the city Parks Department, members of the post have established themselves as quasi-keepers of the statue, visiting it twice a year on Memorial Day and Veteran’s Day to place wreathes and tend the grounds.

With last century’s major wars growing more distant every day, however, the veterans’ ages have handicapped their efforts to maintain the statue as well as they feel it deserves.

“Most of the fellows in our post are getting on in years,” said Wayne Osterman, a former commander of the post. “They can’t make the trip down there to do what needs to be done.”

Osterman voiced his concerns about the statue at a Community Board 5 meeting in Glendale last month, the post’s first public effort to find support for the statue-moving quest.

A Parks Department spokesman said the department would be happy to work with the group and recommended that the veterans write a letter to Parks Commissioner Henry Stern outlining their concerns.

Post 1815’s allegiance to the statue stems from its historical relationship with Brooklyn. The post was formed by the merger of three separate Brooklyn posts, acquiring its multi-hyphenated name around the time it moved to Queens more than three decades ago.

The post is also related to the statue by way of etymology. Heisser Triangle, where the statue stands, is named for the same Medal of Honor winner listed in the title of Post 1815, the Brewery-Keenan Heisser Post.

If the statue were moved to Queens, Osterman said his post would establish a separate committee charged with maintaining and preserving the statue in its new location.

Osterman said the statue’s current location makes it a prime target for vandals, whom he believes were responsible for breaking the bayonet off the end of the rifle the doughboy holds in his left hand. All that remains of the bayonet is its handle and a three-inch stump of blade.

The statue is protected by the slender vertical bars of a metal fence, with a layer of chain-link set atop the lower half of the bars, providing a haven for litter blown into the crook formed where chain-link meets the ground.

One veteran had placed a World War I whistle inside the upturned helmet which sits by the doughboy’s feet, only to discover on a later visit that the whistle had been removed.

“The Parks Department tries very hard and they do as best they can, but it’s just the general maintenance,” Osterman said. “We think we can do better and give it the respect and dignity that it needs.”

American soldiers of World War I were originally dubbed doughboys by their British counterparts, who found the Americans’ large round buttons to be reminiscent of a biscuit with the same name.

The statue is one of five bronze doughboys standing in each of the boroughs to commemorate the veterans of World War I.

Reach reporter Dustin Brown by e-mail at Timesledger@aol.com or call 229-0300, Ext. 154

Posted 7:08 pm, October 10, 2011
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