Op-ed: Showing veterans their importance remains a high priority

Lawmakers are promising to do their part to make those who served know their worth.

By U.S. Rep. Brendan Boyle, City Councilman Brian O’Neill and state Rep. Jared Solomon

“To honor the valiant sons of Burholme and all others who served their country in the World War, 1917–1918”

This inscription adorns the Honor Square Memorial in the middle of Five Points in Burholme. This year, it is more important than ever to remember the First World War on the occasion of the 100th anniversary of the Armistice ending the “war to end all wars.”

Every day, we are inspired by the bravery and sacrifice of the men and women who have worn our country’s uniform. It is as much to honor their legacy, as anything else, that we proudly serve the people of Northeast Philadelphia in City Council, the Pennsylvania General Assembly and the United States Congress. Whether in City Hall, Harrisburg or Washington, D.C., we fight every day to ensure that our veterans are properly taken care of both on the battlefield and here at home.

But still, we must do more to honor their legacy. In the Northeast, this should start with the World War I Memorial in Burholme. Many Northeast residents are not aware that the memorial honors local veterans from the First World War. It is hard to blame them — a curious pedestrian would be risking their life to brave Five Points traffic to read the inscription above. Once across the street, any parent with a stroller, older adult with a walker or wheelchair, or even a veteran would find the memorial inaccessible because there are no curb ramps. As a result, the message and purpose of the memorial become a brief blur as we pass by in our everyday pursuits. It is a cruel irony that these pursuits are enabled only by the profound sacrifice of the men and women memorialized just a few feet away.

But it’s not for a lack of trying. Over the years, many community stakeholders have given the memorial the attention and care it deserves. Boy Scout Troop 773 of Emmanuel Lutheran Church has been a faithful steward of the memorial for years. The Burholme Town Watch and Civic Association have both applied for beautification grants from the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society. The Philadelphia City Planning Commission, noting that the memorial is currently “lost” in the Five Point congestion, made recommendations in its Central Northeast District Plan for streetscape improvements around Honor Square and additional investments in the memorial itself. Rightly so, the Planning Commission refers to the memorial as the “defining element” of the Five Points intersection.

In the same way the memorial at Five Points is lost among the roads around it, so, too, has it been lost over many years in the bureaucracy of various civic associations and the federal, state and city government.

This is why we now stand united to pledge our joint and coordinated effort at all levels of government to give the WWI Honor Square Memorial the respect it is due. Our goal is to work closely with the local VFW and American Legion posts, civic organizations and government agencies to bring about a plan that more appropriately commemorates those “valiant sons of Burholme” who served this country 100 years ago, and the sons and daughters who continue to do so every day. We call on the community to join us in this effort. ••