New Public Parks at Fort to Remember The Fallen

May 28, 2017
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A memorial stone dedicated to Fort Monmouth soldiers and civilians who fought worldwide.

By Laura D.C. Kolnoski |

FORT MONMOUTH – Just in time for Memorial Day, Flag Day, and the Fort Monmouth Centennial, the first of three new veterans’ monument parks on the former U.S. Army base has opened to the public.

Centralizing the multitude of stone monuments, markers, and plaques scattered throughout the 1,126-acre fort for public viewing in perpetuity has been a goal for members of the Fort Monmouth Economic Revitalization Authority (FMERA) since the beginning of planning its redevelopment following closure by the U.S. Army.

The newly completed Cowan Park includes pathways, benches, and landscaping. It is located inside the Oceanport Avenue Main Gate entrance, in the area where Oceanport is relocating much of their municipal operations.

Cowan Park was originally dedicated in 1961 in honor of Col. Arthur S. Cowan who commanded Fort Monmouth from 1929 to 1937 and consolidated the Signal Corps there. The work to create an expanded park suitable for public visitors was done by staff of the Monmouth County Department of Public Works and Engineering (DPW).

“Our Public Works personnel have taken extreme pride in working on this base,” said John Tobia, the county’s director of Public Works and Engineering, at the May 17 FMERA meeting when the park’s completion was announced.

“When we ask for volunteers to work on projects, so many stepped up we have to turn some down. Many have ties to the base. Some, their grandparents met here, so it means a lot to them. Our personnel particularly want to honor those who served.” Tobia explained that each monument has a dedicated tree accompanying it.

The county workers also upgraded and beautified the stone monuments dedicated to Signal Corps soldiers who died during World War II along The Avenue of Memories, an extension of County Route 537, prior to its recent re-opening to public traffic. There, some of the original trees were damaged, diseased, or missing. Each was either replanted or trimmed while the entire roadway underwent landscaping and road improvements to make it safe and consistent with current highway standards.

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The county DPW has a permanent presence on the fort. Early in the redevelopment process, Monmouth County Freeholder Director Lillian Burry secured the base’s former motor pool for county use. It was renovated and modernized into an eastern outpost for county vehicles and operations, improving the speed and ability to respond to road and snow emergencies and perform other work.

The DPW continues to maintain Route 537 and work with FMERA on other projects throughout the fort. The county also now owns and operates the fort’s former recreation center and pool, and recently acquired adjacent parkland. All county acquisitions on the fort to date have been accomplished through in-kind service agreements. Burry is also seeking to identify and obtain an unused fort building to convert into a Veterans Affairs hub offering a variety of services and assistance.

Cowan Park will also be the site of Fort Monmouth’s annual Flag Day celebration, scheduled for 2:30 p.m., Wednesday, June 14. The public ceremony will also mark the 242nd “birthday” of the U.S. Army. The first 100 attendees on Flag Day will receive a Fort Monmouth 100th Anniversary Commemorative Hat.

The next phase of the monument consolidation effort involves moving all World War II-related monuments throughout the fort to the existing WWII War Memorial Area on the Main Post. (The Avenue of Memories monuments will remain in place.) Among the items to be moved are the Van Kirk stone bench, the D-Day Monument, the Kain Memorial (named for Wesley L. Kain, who died in action on December 16, 1944) and the Augenstine Memorial and plaque (named for Chief Warrant Officer Edwin Daniel Augenstine, a native of West Long Branch who served at Fort Monmouth from 1936 to 1942, and then deployed to Europe and Manila. He died of an unknown tropical disease in November 1945.)

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A new Monument Park will also be created near Kaplan Hall in Oceanport. Monuments to be relocated there include the Purple Heart Memorial, the World War 1 Wright Memorial, the Defense of Freedom memorials associated with the Vietnam War, and the Soldiers Park Monument currently located in Soldiers Park.

Auction Postponed

At the May 17 meeting, it was announced that the fort’s first public auction of small lot items left behind by the Army was postponed from its May 20 date.

“A team goes out to as many buildings as we can, but there was so much stuff to be looked at, inventoried, and categorized,” said FMERA Executive Director Bruce Steadman. “We didn’t want to postpone the public auction but it became a logistical nightmare. Rather than hold it during the summer when people are away, September seems like the best time.” A new date will be announced, with details posted on the FMERA website – fortmonmouthnj.com – when available.


This article was first published in the May 25-June 1, 2017 print edition of The Two River Times.

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