Expressway now honors military unit

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As the result of a legislative initiative last year by state Sen. Frank Padavan (R-Bellerose) and Assemblywoman Ann Margaret Carrozza (D-Bayside), the 40-year-old Clearview Expressway now commemorates one of the most valorous military units in U.S. history, a unit of foot soldiers who originally left all walks of life in New York City to serve their country.

The 5.3-mile freeway, constructed between 1957 and 1963 at a cost of $50 million, carries signs also proclaiming the roadway The U.S. 77th Infantry Division Expressway.

The two legislators jointly sponsored the bill to honor the 77th, known as the Statue of Liberty Division, with the highway designation. It passed the Legislature and was signed by Gov. George Pataki July 30.

Padavan has a particular interest in the commemoration as he holds the rank of colonel in the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, serving for more than 30 years in the U.S. Army Reserve at Fort Totten.

“This honors the men and women of the 77th Division currently deployed at home and in other parts of the world as well as the thousands who fought and sacrificed with their lives in the name of freedom since 1917,” Padavan said.

Padavan served as commander of the 411th Engineer Brigade and chief of staff of the 77th Army Reserve Command in the headquarters of the New York State Army Reserve. He is a graduate of the U.S. Army Command General and Staff College.

The 77th Infantry Division, troops whose insignia shoulder patch bears a gold Statue of Liberty against a blue background, was activated Aug. 18, 1917 and was originally known as the Metropolitan Division because its recruits came almost entirely from New York City. The first 23,000 men included Manhattan taxi drivers, Bronx tailors, Brooklyn factory workers, Wall Street executives, Queens merchants and first-generation immigrants from many lands.

Troops of the 77th were the first U.S. doughboys to arrive in France in World War I to fight the German kaiser.

The 77th fought in the Meuse-Argonne, Oise-Aisne, Aisne-Marne and Baccarat campaigns in France, suffering 2,375 men killed or missing and 7,302 wounded.

Soldiers of the famed Lost Battalion of the 77th made a heroic stand against German troops. For three days, the Americans repulsed repeated attacks by the Germans, who sent a note demanding surrender. But Maj. Charles S. Whittlesey, the U.S. commander, replied: “Come and Get Us,” an act for which he was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor.

The 252 survivors of the 679 men of the Lost Battalion were finally rescued by Allied troops. The valiant members of the beleaguered unit are honored today by the Lost Battalion Building in Rego Park.

During World War II, the 77th fought in the Western Pacific, and took part in the recapture of the Philippines and the Ryukus Islands. On April 16, 1945, the 77th landed on Ie Shima, a small island off Okinawa, captured the airfield and engaged the Japanese in a two bloody battles. During the fighting, Ernie Pyle, the famous war correspondent who was with the 77th, who was killed by a Japanese sniper.

The 77th also took part in the assault on Guam and suffered heavy casualties from Japanese Kamikaze attacks while at sea.

“Every time we travel down that stretch of the Clearview Expressway, we’ll be reminded of the sacrifices veterans of the famed Statue of Liberty Division have made for us,” Carrozza said in a statement when the measure passed the Assembly.

Reach contributing writer Philip Newman by e-mail at or call 229-0300, Ext. 136.

Posted 7:02 pm, October 10, 2011
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