The Memorial Oaks: Maintaining the Memorial, Memories

Jim Goldurs–It would have been easy not to notice (the trees) - after all, this is the Forest City. However, there is something that designates these trees from any other oak trees in the city. If you look down at the base of the trunk, you'll find a very small round bronze plaque (about four to five inches in diameter), mounted on a concrete block.

Bud Brady–This is the plaque that was installed in honor of all the servicemen that were killed in the first world war, this is one of them right here.

JG–Bud Brady is a 73-year-old retired fireman from Lakewood. Bud and I recently took a trip up North Park Blvd. in Cleveland Heights. When we got to the corner of North Park and Woodmere, we walked a short distance - where we encountered a series of huge oaks - and stopped at one in particular.

BB–This is John Francis Kelly, who happens to be my uncle on my mother's side. These markers were put in about 1920 or so, some of them are missing, some of them are still here. They start at what was then Liberty Blvd. starting up at the lake, up behind the museum, and then on to North Park and South Park Blvd.

There's 830 servicemen that they've honored. They are mostly in alphabetical order, but of course over the years, there are quite a number of them that have disappeared, either through theft, traffic pattern changes, or some of the trees being knocked down because of accidents.

JG–Bud's roots go as deep as mighty oak, beginning with his grandparents - John Francis Kelly's parents.

BB–My father, back in the 30's, told me that there was a plaque up here in regards to what would be his brother-in-law, and it just remained dormant in my brain until about 1965, 1970, somewhere in there, when one of my cousins who was interested in genealogy came up from Dayton, and we went to the WRHS. I asked the attendant there if they had any information about these plaques, and they didn't have anything. So I started calling around, and I got shifted from one place to another. I was finally told to call Joe Fredo at Cleveland City Hall. They said if Joe doesn't know, nobody will know. I guess he was an institution down there. So I called him and he said oh yes, that he had the list where they're located, etc., etc., and he asked me if I would like copies of it and I said yes. We did come up here and find where my uncles marker is.

My Uncle Johnny's plaque does not have a date on it, most of the other ones do, why I don't know.

My uncle was killed on October the 7th, 1918, in Belgium, in one of the big pushes they had there, the Battle of the Sahm and a few others. He was 24. He was working as some kind of a printer. I looked in the city directories where they had the names - it goes prior to 1917 - and his name is in there as having been some type of a printer. He was not married, two of his younger brothers were still at home - my uncle Teddy and my Uncle Joe - and of course his mother. She was widowed in 1902. Her husband was pinned by a boxcar down in the flats and he died from peritonitis, that was 1902, so she was a widow until 1923 when she passed away. She lived in a home in Lakewood she bought with the money she received from the government.

JG–Kelly was killed eight years before his nephew, Bud Brady, was even born.

BB–We have a picture of him in uniform, I have pictures of him when he was a young man. He lived in Cleveland, over near the Carnegie Bridge with his mother and two brothers and a couple of sisters. By 1918, I know a couple of them were married, I know that my mother was married in 1915, so she wasn't living at home, but she was just a short distance away.

JG–Over the last 80 years, many of the trees have come down for one reason or another - storms, accidents, traffic pattern changes. And as the trees have disappeared, so have many of the plaques. Shaker Heights City councilwoman Jan Deveraux and Al Oberst, a Cleveland Heights Resident, have strong feelings about maintaining the memorial...

"Over the last 80 years, many of the trees have come down for one reason or another - storms, accidents, traffic pattern changes. And as the trees have disappeared, so have many of the plaques."

Al Oberst–Why (did) I do it? I guess George Santiana - his quote is probably why I do it. He said, "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it." I am trying to make sure people know that these people died for us, and are now almost totally forgotten. It takes a real major effort to organize all the municipalities, the city of Cleveland having the most of them, and trying to restore them.

Jan Deveraux–The three cities - Cleveland, Cleveland Heights, and Shaker Heights - are working together now with concerns about the Doan Brook, and the preservation of the Doan Brook watershed, so that's a natural way for the cities to come together. Actually, all three cities are turning some attention to this project - for instance, when a tree dies, they're replaced by an oak. I know our service department tries to take care of the plaques when they're mowing. Some have suggested that we take all the plaques and put them in one central place to preserve the ones that are left. Restoring all these would be quite a hefty job financially, so I'm not sure how realistic that is. Certainly efforts to preserve what is here, and at this point to try to locate some of the relatives of people who are memorialized would be helpful.

JG–As Bud Brady and I stared down at the blue-green oxidized metal plate, I could sense Brady's respect for his uncle, and the pride he took in the discovery of the plaque, and his sense of satisfaction in uncovering information about his family.

DP–Having these markers for all these men who gave up their lives, whether or not it was worth it or not, when you read some of the stuff you wonder, I know that they used to put out flags, for all the markers all through the area, but they stopped that quite a number of years ago, because the veterans posts that were doing it disbanded. In fact I understand that one time they got the young people from a couple of the high schools to come out and give them a hand, putting the flags up and down Liberty Road.

Well, I wish that people would recognize that this is something that should be done. After we build these monuments, all of a sudden they just let them go, and not keep them up and refurbish them, as far as I'm concerned I'd like to see them install flags every year also. We soon forget what they did for us.

I was in service in the second world war, thank God I didn't get into any type of combat, but the guys that did, I think they deserve the recognition. I you read about it, and what they went through, it's horrifying, just horrifying.

JG–The plaques were dedicated on May 30th, 1919. On that day, the Plain Dealer printed a poem by W.R. Rose:

The little trees that line the way

Sad symbols of a nations pride, are etched against the wintry gray;

Oh let them live for those who died...

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