In 1948, Chestnut Hill built a monument to the 81 area soldiers who died in World War II, and to commemorate all those who served.
In 1948, a few years after WWII ended, Chestnut Hill community leaders joined together to fund and build a monument to the 81 area soldiers who died in the war and to commemorate all those who served.
Planners included Frederick Peck, the renowned landscape architect, who envisioned the memorial area as a peaceful, reflective space filled with beautiful plants and trees. The chair of the memorial committee was Sidney Dexter, the first president of the newly formed Chestnut Hill Community Association, who wrote in a letter to the community with “the great hope that you may find it possible to contribute a minimum of $5 toward the monument… and if $5 is too much, send us as much as you feel able.”
Because of their efforts these many years ago, we now enjoy this lovely area while remembering the sacrifices of the soldiers memorialized there. Recent research is underway to learn more about these soldiers. Here are a few of their stories.
Thomas Meehan III was the great-grandson of the famous botanist and father of Philadelphia parks, Thomas Meehan. Young Tom was a talented artist and as a teenager taught horseback riding along with an accomplished young lady who he came to admire, Anne Shore. They would fall in love and marry in 1942 and, in 1943, soon after the birth of their daughter Barrie, Tom went off to war. Theirs was a very loving relationship and Tom wrote long and eloquent letters expressing his feelings for Anne and signing them “Your Tom.”
Anne waited for him along with the daughter who, unfortunately, was destined to grow up never knowing her father. First Lt. Thomas Meehan, commanding officer of Easy Company, and everyone who was in the plane with him perished when it was hit by flak and crashed during the epic battle known as D-Day, on June 6, 1944. The story of Easy Company has been immortalized in Stephen Ambrose’s classic story of the war known as “Band of Brothers.”
The Meehans are a family of military heroes. Over his lifetime Tom’s dad Thomas Jr. served in three wars, and Tom’s uncle J Franklin’s name appears right under Tom’s on the memorial plaque for also making the ultimate sacrifice. This legacy would continue many years later with J Franklin’s son, Richard Woods Meehan, who died in the Vietnam War.
Another soldier listed on the memorial plaque is Joseph Ettore Massaro. Joe was a proud member of the first graduating class of Jenks School in 1925. Joe would end his education after 8th grade to go to work and help provide for his mother and siblings after the untimely death of his father.
Years later, while at war, Joe wrote longingly of the beauty of Chestnut Hill, the friends and family he missed, and how he couldn’t wait to come home when the world was finally at peace. Joe was killed on February 2, 1945, leaving behind a wife and daughter who would never forget him.
In remembering her life with her widowed mother Elizabeth, daughter Carol said, “War has many victims, some who were just innocent bystanders.” Nonetheless, Carol describes her childhood in Chestnut Hill as a happy one, surrounded by wonderful friends and the Massaro cousins, who were like siblings to her.
Another soldier memorialized on the plaque is Joseph Morasco, who had an amazing encounter while fighting in France. It was September 29, 1944, when by chance, Joe met a friend from home, Tom Galante. Tom told Joe that some soldiers had found a farmhouse that they were going to stay in that night and that Joe should come with him, but Joe said that he would stay with his platoon and would see him later.
That was the night Joe was killed. It was many years later, in another chance meeting, this time at the local Acme, that Tom, who by then was frail and nearly blind, would tell Joe’s son Jack this amazing story.
In reflecting on his father’s life, Jack says, “He left behind a beautiful young wife Sarah, a son who was 7 months old, loving parents, brothers, sisters and friends. His is a tragedy of a life not lived, with a son he never saw grow up and marry, grandkids whom he never knew, and friends who never again enjoyed his company. Gone, but remembered, he was just one man of many thousands who never came home from war.”
These are just a few of the soldiers among many whose names appear on the brass plaques at the Water Tower World War ll Memorial. They were the fathers, brothers, and sons, who gave their lives for their country. They are the grandfathers, great-grandfathers, uncles and cousins many of us never knew, but cherish their stories nonetheless.
This Memorial Day, the Chestnut Hill VFW Post 5205 is inviting community members to visit each of the war memorials, starting at Buckley Park, at 11 a.m., Monday, May 29. We’ll then visit the WWl and ll memorial parks before ending with a luncheon hosted by the VFW at their building at 8217 Germantown Ave.
Passersby may have noticed that the memorial plaques have recently been removed. The Water Tower Advisory Council has been raising funds to refurbish the War Memorial and the brass plaques, repair the slate paths, and provide beautiful new lights and landscaping to this area of the recreation center property.
Research on the soldiers continues, with plans to preserve and share their stories with present and future generations. A link will be posted at the park so visitors can access the soldiers’ histories and other fascinating information about the historic Chestnut Hill Water Tower, which is nearby. We have so far raised $95,445.75 of the $100,000 needed to complete this project so we are almost there.
To donate, please visit wtrec.org. If you have already done so, thank you very much!
Mary Pomichteris a Water Tower Advisory Council volunteer.