Stockton playground location: Dwight, Parkview, Detroit River
~ Thanks to Sandy L. and especially Linda G. who generously opened their digital family photo album. You meet the kindest-hearted, left handed folks through genealogy. andreag
Local Yokel, Business Man, Soldier
This is a story of a life interrupted.
David Frederick Stockton [1911-1944] became a Detroiter via the hills of Cookeville, TN. His story is short and like many men who served in WWII, David’s life ended in an act of courage. He was the only son of Houston Albert Stockton and Daisy Pearl Kinnaird. Love those southern names. The Stockton’s left the family cow in Tennessee and headed to Michigan in the 1920’s. [Sorry I didn’t get the cow picture.. but it exists]. They landed in Gratiot Township which would later become Harper Woods. Both father and son worked at US Rubber in the tire factory; Houston as a rubber former, David as a ‘box man’.
I have said it before and I’ve got to say it again.. I meet the kindest people when writing and researching these stories. When details are scant; I go looking for folks.
This time I found the Atwell family who are direct relations of Lorwyn Peterson. It was a great pleasure to meet you personally!!
Thanks again for the tidbits of information and the use of the photos.
Truly – ag
PS. We will get to Fred Nagle next..
PETE IN CHARGE
Location: Pickford, Curtis and Greenfield
Lorwyn Elwyn Peterson (1908-1945) graduated from Michigan State College in 1930 with a degree in Business Administration. The son of Elwyn and Marie, he was raised in Brooklyn, a small town located in the Irish Hills area of Michigan.
Peterson enlisted for duty in World War II and rose rank to Lieutenant Colonel and Commander of the 716th Tank Battalion, 43rd Infantry Armored Division. Peterson’s relatives tell us he was to be made a full Colonel, however preferred to stay on with the men he trained for duty. Continue reading “Lt. Colonel Lorwyn E. Peterson – Park #73”
The first thing I ever read about Walter Sak Playground was in a city report stating it was “a forlorn park in a forlorn neighborhood”. Little evidence of a playground remained when I first rolled by. The surrounding neighborhood was a mixed bag of hope and blight with some new construction and steadfast neighbors just trying to keep it all together.
All who knew him, loved him and enjoyed working with him because of his patience and perseverance in surmounting obstacles. We felt that we had lost a true and good friend, when we heard of his passing, but his memory consoles us in our loss. We believe that he was all that being a good American means. We who knew Peter believe we are better off, by having known him and having the privilege of calling him, my friend, Peter Maheras. Sincerely, Curtis Laing – Mantle Club Secretary, 1947Continue reading “Maheras – Gentry Field #60”
It was October 1948 when Myrtle Downey first contacted the Detroit War Memorial Committee about naming a park for her fallen son. It was her first letter and wouldn’t be her last.
She had four sons enter the WWII effort, three returned. She was a widow and dedicated mother who actively participated in the VFW 873 Ladies Auxiliary and the Detroit chapters of the Gold Star Mothers and the Blue Star Mothers.
She gave birth to Harry, her oldest in Ohio on January 14, 1917. By the mid-1930’s the Downey family made their way to Detroit settling into the Braddish and Hubbard neighborhood. In her writings, Myrtle indicated Harry enjoyed playing hockey and baseball. He attended St. Leo’s school [now Crockett Academy] until the 8th grade. Like their father, Harry and his brother Jack found employment at a local Awrey bakery. When WWII called, he enlisted for service in November 1941, entering the US Army / Air Corp through Fort Custer in west Michigan. Continue reading “PFC. Harry Clyde Downey – Park 53”
Born in Pittsburgh, Kansas on August 25, 1920, Daniel was the only son Mr. and Mrs. Thomas D. Riordan who once resided on Mansfield in Detroit. He graduated from Holy Redeemer High School and went on to attend the University of Detroit. Daniel worked at Cadillac Motors and sold real estate prior to WWII. The mid-1940’s were busy years – he was inducted into the US Army in August 1942 and passed Officer’s Training School in Fort Benning, GA in 1943. He proceeded onto the Rainbow Division at Camp Gruber, Oklahoma; here he would marry his sweetheart Mary Ellen Hanlon in an autumn ceremony on base.
Walter Josefiak Jr. and his siblings Robert, Harry, John and Geraldine were raised as eastsiders on Fairport Street. Walter graduated from Detroit’s De LaSalle Collegiate in 1942 and enlisted in the US Marines for the WWII effort. He was assigned to Camp Lejeune, home to the War Dog Training Center in North Carolina. Here he trained as a soldier and dog handler with the Marine 3rd War Dog Platoon. Rusty, a faithful Doberman Pinscher would become his protector and best friend during his days on Guam and Iwo Jima. They shipped out for the fight in the Asiatic Campaign from Camp Pendleton in Oceanside, CA.
War dogs were used by both the Allies and the Japanese in WWII. The dogs varied by breed and were specifically trained to scout, guard, attack, carry messages, detect underground land mines and trip wires. They were an important part of the Asiatic campaign and a contributing factor to the liberation of Guam in 1944. Additionally they had their own cemetery and were assigned rank. Rusty was a Corporal.
SURVIVAL THEN RETURN FIRE
On March 22, 1945, Walter and Rusty were leading a patrol on Iwo Jima searching for snipers. Scouting about 15 feet ahead of the unit, they were first to sniff out two hidden Japanese soldiers. Josefiak shot the first soldier; his rifle then jammed and he won the fight in hand-to-hand combat with the second soldier. A short time later, the duo continued up along a ledge to the mouth of a cave where several enemy snipers were holed up.
Josefiak began firing but was downed and wounded from return fire. Fulfilling his duty, Rusty guarded his master, staying between Josefiak and the snipers. The Japanese began to throw hand grenades; Rusty was hit full force. Seriously wounded, Rusty crawled to Josefiak’s side to protect him while grenades continued to blast around the pair. In the meantime, Marines in the unit threw a rope to Josefiak and pulled him to safety. Regardless of his wounds, Josefiak refused to be immediately evacuated and ordered others to remain under cover until the enemy soldiers were annihilated. He was later taken to a battalion hospital where he died. Lt. William Taylor, the commanding officer of the unit, noted that Corporal Rusty died as well, ‘on the scene without a whimper’.
Walter Josefiak Jr. earned the Silver Star posthumously for his assertive nature in combat and courage. He was buried in Mount Olivet Cemetery with a full Marine military salute. The small playground honoring him is stocked with newer equipment. It is located on Grenier St. near Fairport – around the block from the Josefiak‘s childhood home. In 2014, it was adopted by volunteers and was well tended during the warm Detroit weather.
Thanks so much to the Josefiak family and John Monigold of De La Salle Collegiate for their assistance with remembering Walter’s story.
All rights reserved. Copyright Andrea Gallucci, 2015.
Yep! Sometimes Detroit parks are found within apartment complexes. I believe this park is actually owned by the apartment complex now and not the City of Detroit. A big thank you to Kim B. for reaching out and sharing the photo of her relative. I love it when that happens! – Andrea G.
William Anthony Biraga (1918-1943) served in WWII with Company I, Third Battalion, First Marines Division. On December 26, 1943, he was up against Japanese forces in the Battle of Cape Gloucester on the island of New Britain in the South Pacific. It was a fierce battle and as an early casualty, William would be posthumously awarded the Silver Star for his courageous efforts.
The objective was to capture a major Japanese airfield on the island and set up safe passage for Allied Forces through the straits separating New Guinea from the island of New Britain. This battle began in December and lasted approximately 4.5 months. It was code named: Operation Cartwheel.
ALWAYS A MARINE, DUTY BEFORE SELF
Per his citation, Corporal Biraga led a group of six men behind a General Sherman tank in an assault against entrenched Japanese troops. He became severely wounded yet continued to direct his men in combat. His efforts were successful in beating back enemy forces.
He was evacuated to a waiting LST-453 [ Tank Landing Ship – an amphibious boat] where he died en route to hospital. Biraga was interred at the US Military Cemetery in Soputa, New Guinea then transferred home to Detroit for re-burial in Mount Olivet cemetery.
Biraga Memorial playground was dedicated in 1952 and was originally on Dwyer Street near the convergence of Detroit and Hamtramck. Biraga lived with his Polish immigrant parents on Comstock Street about 10 blocks north.
A few years back an apartment complex was built on the property and the playground was incorporated into the new development. Fronting Mount Elliot, this small and tidy playground offers kids and adults a green space to enjoy while honoring the memory of a one-time neighborhood kid. Mount Elliot in 2018 is looking better than ever.
Lifsitz playground has seen some action since I first wrote about it in June 2013. The Canul family in Los Angeles contacted me to say ‘thanks’ for remembering Mortimer. That’s my favorite part .. connecting with the relatives. The old playground equipment was painted last year by a volunteer group; basketball players continue their workout on an antiquated court; it was getting mowed pretty regularly and even had a short commercial filmed there. In 2015, it’s been listed on the ‘for sale / reuse list’ by the city. When the perfect buyer appears, this memorial park will disappear. Mortimer’s memory will live on as an archival file and in the Jewish War Veteran’s Golden Book which features the Jewish Detroiters who were lost in WWII.
Dear Mrs. Lifsitz :
Your son, Private Mortimer N. Lifsitz a member of Company “B”, 116th Infantry Regiment, has been awarded the Silver Star posthumously for his outstanding actions against the enemy.
The citation for his heroic deed follows:
Private Mortimer N. Lifsitz, 116th Inf, U S Army for gallantry in action against the enemy in Germany. On 17 November 1944, the advance of Company ‘B’, 116th Infantry was suddenly halted by decimating enemy fire. Seeing that the majority of its leaders had become casualties, Private Lifsitz attempting to lead assault, jumped to his feet and calling on the men to follow, started forward on the run. While charging toward the enemy positions, Private Lifsitz fell mortally wounded by enemy fire. Private Lifsitz lost his life in this encounter but in doing so displayed such personal courage and tenacity in the face of great danger that he materially influenced the results of the encounter. His actions reflect great credit upon himself and the Military Service.
The officers and men of the 116th Infantry Regiment have lost not only an excellent soldier but a friend as well. It is for the comrades and officers of Private Lifsitz to carry on the fight which certainly must bring ultimate victory over an enemy which has for so long brought misery and destruction upon the world.
Private Lifsitz will not be forgotten, nor will the supreme sacrifice made by him. In all sincerity, the officers and men of the 116th Infantry Regiment extend their most heartfelt sympathy.
Sidney V. Bingham Jr.
Lt. Colonel Infantry Commanding
Mortimer Lifsitz was born on a Wednesday and died on a Friday. He was a Central High School graduate and worked in his father’s furniture business before enlisting. The only child of Max and Sophia. Military records show he was previously wounded twice before he met death in battle. His military decorations include: The Silver Star, Purple Heart and an Oak Leaf Cluster.
I have to check my notes but I do believe that at one point apartments were on the south side of the street and the park was just on the north side side of Gladstone.
SIGNS OF LIFE
The memorial playfield that commemorates Lifsitz’s leadership reaches down both sides of Gladstone Avenue west off Linwood in the heart of Detroit. No signage, fences, or markings remain at this site. The play area is marked by a few pieces of old equipment; a bit of the basketball court, and a makeshift brick bench. While visiting there in late winter/early spring, we ran into a few ring necked pheasants returning to their nest. A good sign. A few years back, neighborhood residents turned this block long park into a giant community garden; a bright spot in a somewhat hard place, just like Morty.
I appreciate your readership. thanks ag
Photo courtesy of Temple Beth El / Franklin Archives. Copyright 2013 – Andrea Gallucci. All Rights Reserved.