SK2c Joseph Lloyd Pagel Park 78

SK2c Joseph Lloyd Pagel


It’s Memorial Day 2016.  Reflection and BBQ’s.  I see a lot of memes asking to remember “this day isn’t about the BBQ”.  If you think about it, a lot of personal history gets discussed and shared over food, so maybe it does go hand-in-hand.  We’ve covered a lot of veteran’s stories thus far in this blog.  This post hits a few categories:

  1. Gone – a park that was decommissioned or no longer exists
  2. Survivor – someone who received a namesake park / playground while living

Back in the day, the Detroit Parks and Recreation Department had a somewhat staunch rule about naming parks.  Specifically they were named for those persons who had died;  persons who contributed significantly to the City of Detroit and/or highly decorated war veterans.  Exceptions were sometimes made.  There are only a handful of parks  where the person was living when they ‘received’ their honorary park.   Joseph Pagel falls into this category.  Lyle Maxton Skinner,  John Yaksich, Robert Simanek and Leroy Messmer were other veterans with this honor as well as a few non-veterans. Continue reading “SK2c Joseph Lloyd Pagel Park 78”

US Navy Rear Admiral William Leroy Messmer – Park 77

Location:  Bremen, Bluehill and Minneapolis  

Super clean park just south of East English Prep Academy, formerly George Ham Cannon playground.
Super clean park just south of East English Prep Academy, formerly George Ham Cannon playground.


As a youth, Bill Messmer [1903-1973] found his love of music while attending Detroit’s Eastern High School.  Musically gifted, he directed and organized a 16 piece orchestra as a teen.  His mother recollected how Bill would purchase his sheet music at the Jerome H. Remick music ‘house’ in Detroit. One day, she ran the errand of picking up his sheet music and had an encounter with the famous composer Richard Whiting, [nice story at that link] who managed the desk as a fledgling composer.   Continue reading “US Navy Rear Admiral William Leroy Messmer – Park 77”

Sgt. David Stockton – Park #75

Stockton playground location: Dwight, Parkview, Detroit River

David Stockton playground was the starting point for the Gold Cup Races on the Detroit River in the mid 1960’s. Feel the thunder!
David Stockton playground on the right – directly east of the Mayor’s residence. Map courtesy of Google.


~ 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’.

Stockton family courtesy of sandy l.
David with his sisters and uncle in front of their garage in Detroit. I always say that naming a child is the greatest gift.. these kids were super fortunate with gracious southern names. L to R – Minnie Jewel; Uncle John Quincy Kinnaird (visiting from Tennessee); Gladys Estelle (the tiny one), Edna Mae and a barefoot David Frederick. Photo use with kind permission of Sandy Lewis.

Continue reading “Sgt. David Stockton – Park #75”

Lt. Colonel Lorwyn E. Peterson – Park #73

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..


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.

 Photo of Lorwyn Peterson
The courageous and faithful Lt. Colonel Lorwyn Elwyn “Pete” Peterson circa 1943. Photo with kind permission from the Atwell Family.

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”

SSgt. Walter Sak – Park 70

One War, Four Brothers, and a City Park

Location:  Rich, Lovett and Kinsman Streets

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. 

I'll replace this with a recent photo soon. Hope the dolphin and helix are still there.
Photo taken in 2015.  I’ll replace this with a recent photo soon. Hope the dolphin and helix are still there.  Notice the church steeple in the background. 

Continue reading “SSgt. Walter Sak – Park 70”

PFC. Thomas W. Boyer – Park 69

— A while back, I helped to clean up Boyer playground with a group of volunteers.  I met Kim Littlejohn that day and I told her I would find out for whom Boyer Park was named.  It took a long while to find the story, but here it is Kim. Sorry no photo of Tom Boyer could be found..  maybe one will appear soon. Super good link about the long gone Wilbur Wright High School below – take a look.  Thanks for reading.  Ag


“There isn’t much of his civil life to tell.  He died so young.  He was born April 15, 1924 in Bridgeville, Pennsylvania.  We brought him to Detroit on December 3, 1927.  He attended Harms Grade School, Wilson Elementary School and he graduated from Wilbur Wright Trade School.  He was a newspaper carrier when he was young.  After graduation he worked as an apprentice at General Motors Research Laboratory. He was getting along fine there until he was drafted into the Army on February 25, 1943…

Boyer Memorial Playground - Southwest Detroit - Dragoon and Vernor
Boyer Memorial Playground – Southwest Detroit – Dragoon and Vernor

Continue reading “PFC. Thomas W. Boyer – Park 69”

Sam Greene – Park #68

I’ve been sitting on this story for a long time.. On this gorgeously sunny Detroit day I stopped by Greene Playground to take a snap of the park.  I met Curtis Green [same name as the park] and his friend Baxter.  We chatted a while and they pointed me in another [the right] direction to my next destination. A lucky day; Baxter has an El Camino [luv the El Camino] and you don’t see many of those outside the southwest.  Yes, it was a lucky day indeed; time well spent.  It’s the small things..  PS This one is for you too Tim Bailey of the Detroit Mower Gang because I know this is your favorite pocket park to mow.  It is a sweet park. ag

Sam Greene - Ellis and Robson - sweet and updated pocket park
Sam Greene – Ellis and Robson – sweet and updated pocket park



How many people can be described like this?  A southern gentleman with a battered fedora, a grin, a dry laugh and a cigar that he smoked down until the ash smudged his lips.  This was Sam Greene.

greene photo 1935
Sam Greene, Detroit News, 1935. “He writes so vividly about the games that you feel yourself a spectator.” 

Continue reading “Sam Greene – Park #68”

Corporal Robert C. Milan – Park 65

– For a super long time, Milan sat in my stuck file, he was an only child [no one alive to contact]; I had found little about him.  Things changed when I answered my phone.  My lucky charm is a retired chiropractor friend.  He checked in with me and I spent 50 quality minutes on the treadmill while he chatted me up.  He inquired, “So how is that park thing?”  I told him I needed a pep talk.  He then proceeded to tell me a story about how his mother once dragged him to a park dedication [“like a million years ago”] .. then something about his mom’s friend Gladys and her boy Bobbie.   Thanks god. 🙂 My lucky day. I found a little clarity and worked off that raw chocolate chip cookie dough I had abused the day before.  Honor the small things in life, they can change the landscape in an instant.  Thanks for reading.  ag

I'd love to credit this photocopied photo of Robert Milan because I feel so lucky to have found it. I can't. It was in a clipping file undated with no attribution. So thanks to that lost soul photographer who took this photo.
I’d love to credit this photocopied photo of Robert Milan because I feel so lucky to have found it. I can’t. It was in a  file undated with no attribution. So thanks to that lost soul photographer who took this photo.

Continue reading “Corporal Robert C. Milan – Park 65”

Maheras – Gentry Field  #60


7.25.2015 Yesterday, WDET published a wonderful story regarding Bronson Gentry.  Below is the other half of the story on Peter Maheras.

On Peter Maheras..

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, 1947 Continue reading “Maheras – Gentry Field  #60”

Owen Francis Hammerberg – Boatswain’s Mate 2nd Class – Park 26


Owen Hammerberg was born on May 31, 1920 in the small village of Daggett in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula.

Owen Hammerberg Photo: Courtesy
Owen Hammerberg
Photo: Courtesy

Prior to service, Owen lived with his father downstate in Flint and worked as a shop clerk.  In 1941, he enlisted with the Navy as a diver, serving on both the Battleship USS Idaho and Sub Chaser USS Advent.  He attended Deep Sea Diving School in Washington DC in 1944 and eventually was assigned to the Pacific Fleet Salvage Force in Pearl Harbor, in the territory of Hawaii.  These experiences would prepare him for an assignment where his  bravery and skill would excel and consequently call his life to an abrupt end. Continue reading “Owen Francis Hammerberg – Boatswain’s Mate 2nd Class – Park 26”

Sergeant Carl Weiss – Park # 57

Sometimes parks tell their own story..

New signage, fencing, play equipment make this playground an asset to the neighborhood.
New signage, fencing, play equipment make this playground an asset to the neighborhood.

Continue reading “Sergeant Carl Weiss – Park # 57”

PFC. Harry Clyde Downey – Park 53


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.

Harry's mom - Myrtle Downey holding the cake. Photo used with the kind permission of Crystal Hayward.
Myrtle Downey holds the cake. Photo used with the kind permission of Crystal Hayward.

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”

Private John Kozdron – Park #50

Here’s one from the gone file.. when a playground disappears.


The boyish John Kozdron off to fight in an unforgettable war. Photo courtesy VFW 4553. Thanks guys.
The boyish John Kozdron off to fight in an unforgettable war. Photo courtesy VFW 4553. Thanks guys.

Private John Kozdron was born on July 7, 1925.  He attended St. Hedwig High School in southwest Detroit graduating with honors in 1943.  Like many young men in the 1940’s, Kozdron was active in the Catholic Youth Organization.

A year later, John was inducted into the in US Army 9th Infantry, 6th Armored Division.  Basic training was received at Fort Hood, Texas and he shipped out to Europe on January 3, 1945.

Twenty days later on January 23, 1945, Private Kozdron died in the closing of the Battle of the Bulge.   Letters indicate he died a hero’s death.  He earned the Purple Heart and is buried at the American Military Cemetery in Luxembourg.


John was just 19 at the end of his life.  He was recognized as the youngest man from his neighborhood to die in World War II.  In 1951, the veteran community united to remember John’s brief life by naming the Veterans of Foreign War (VFW) Post 4553 in his honor.  

Post member John Czapski [chop-sky / free polish pronunciation lesson; you’re welcome ] built a fine post ‘home’ on the corner of Campbell Street and Plumer located near to Kozdron’s childhood home on Merritt .

The Vets and the Ladies Auxiliary of the Kozdron VFW line up in their finest while the post is adorned with the largest flag in the neighborhood.
The Veterans of 4553 and the Ladies Auxilary wearing their finest while the post is adorned with the largest flag in the neighborhood.
How the post looked in the 1960's
John Czapski built this building as well as two others on the adjacent corners of Plumer and Campbell. His signature touches were detailed brickwork and putting his name “Czapski” into the terrazo in the foyer.

 In 1956, Czapski along with Post Commander Louis Marmul petitioned the Detroit Department of Parks and Rec to dedicate a small play lot in Kozdron’s name.  After an initial denial and subsequent post appeal, the playground came to fruition later the same year.  For  three decades, the John Kozdron Memorial Play Lot was located across the street from the post and gave neighborhood kids a destination.  In the late 1980’s, the playground was deemed underused and a roofing manufacturer accepted the land transfer and built a storage facility on the site.  

Home base today at the corner of Campbell and Plumer.
Home base today at the corner of Campbell and Plumer.

While the park might be gone, the Kozdron VFW Post 4553 and Ladies Auxiliary are still active within the Southwest Detroit community.  With the Suchan brothers  leading the way, this post draws in everyone from regulars, neighbors to local politicians for a friendly beer, the occasional wake and camaraderie.  

The former site of the playground. Across the street from the post.
The former site of the playground. Across the side street from the post.

The overarching mission of VFW 4553 is to serve veterans and the surrounding community; members of the Kozdron Post keep this duty close to their hearts.  From their yearly fundraising efforts, they are able to send children to Camp Trotter in Grand Rapids; help St. Hedwig Church with financial support for Christmas giving, as well as providing holiday dinners to homeless vets and parties for kids.

The VFW 4553 John Kozdron Post is located at 2501 Campbell Street. Hours:  Wednesday  – Sunday Open at 3:00pm.  It’s off the beaten path and frankly, they prefer it that way. Stop in for a beer and a burger; it keeps John Kozdron’s memory alive and supports the surrounding Southwest Detroit community.  The stories are good and the veteran hospitality will exceed expectation.     

Thanks so much to the VFW 4553 for allowing me to spontaneously interrupt their Saturday [ i seem to be super good at that ] and for bringing the memories out of storage.  Photos used with kind permission from the VFW 4553.  Thanks again Suchan!

Map courtesy of Google.
Map courtesy of Google.

Have a great day.  Thanks for reading. © Andrea Gallucci, 2015 per the usual.

2nd Lt. Daniel Buckley Riordan – Park #47


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.

Map courtesy of Google.
Map courtesy of Google. Hope Park is located to the right at the tan rectangle.. it never appears in a google search. Two lovely parks within a few blocks.

Continue reading “2nd Lt. Daniel Buckley Riordan – Park #47”

PFC. Walter Josefiak, Jr. – Park 41


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.

A freshman at De La Salle, Walter is in the center of the photo. He played in the high school band and graduated in June 1942. Photo courtesy of De La Salle Collegiate.
Walter is pictured here as a freshman at De La Salle, He is in the center of the photo with the dark tie. Walter played in the high school band and graduated in June 1942.
Photo courtesy of the De La Salle Collegiate Pilot.

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.


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’.


I passed this park in Winter of 2013, a year later [unfortunately] the fence was gone.
Josefiak Playground - spring of 2014 needing a mow.
Josefiak Playground – spring of 2014 needing a mow.

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.


Josefiak Playground on Grenier. Beautiful Mount Olivet Cemetery on the left. Map courtesy of Google.
Josefiak Playground on Grenier. Beautiful Mount Olivet Cemetery on the left. Assumption Grotto Parish [right] Walter’s funeral services were held. The Josefiak family remains supportive of this parish. Map courtesy of Google.
All rights reserved.  Copyright Andrea Gallucci, 2015.


Yet another story of bravery and sacrifice .. I hope you aren’t tired.. we have a long way to go.. andrea


The first time we went to Sasser was obviously in the winter; we didn't want to interrupt the 'commerce' happening in the we left.
The first time we went to Sasser was obviously in the winter. ‘Commerce’ was happening in the we left.

Bernard Sasser [1920-1945] was a courageous man; one who exemplified leadership and duty before self.  He is honored with a large and well used memorial park nestled between Harper [I-94 service drive] and Lanark Street on Detroit’s east city limits.  This park was slated to be closed back in 2013 when funds in Detroit dried up.  Sasser Playground was well kept when we visited in the summer of 2014 – baseball games, football practice was in full session and the park was full of kids and parents. Good times.


Staff Sargeant Bernard Sasser Photo: Detroit Free Press, 1945
Staff Sargeant Bernard Sasser
Photo: Detroit Free Press, 1945

Sasser enlisted to serve in World War II.  He was assigned to Army Company G, 222nd Infantry Regiment, 42nd Infantry Division and where he rose to the rank of Staff Sergeant.  During a February 1945 watch near Alsace, France, he observed a patrol of US soldiers attempting to cross through a mine field he had previously scouted.  Sasser voluntarily guided the group through the field for safe passage. Upon completion the patrol came under heavy enemy fire.  He took command and moved to the head of the squad where he was struck by bullets and grenade fragments when attempting to sieze an enemy machine gun.  He protected this patrol of soldiers outside of his own company from harm’s way and died while missing in action.  Sasser earned the Silver Star posthumously for his gallantry. 

Three years before that dark fateful night, he moved to Detroit with his mother Anne settling in on Strasburg Street.  A bachelor with few ties to our city, he became an adopted son.  A native of Massachusetts, he is buried in St. Bernard’s Cemetery in Fitchburg, MA.  

Sasser's military issue grave in MA. Photo credit: Bill Bourbeau
Sasser’s military issue grave in MA. Photo credit: Bill Bourbeau


Sasser was busy when we returned. All the busy is behind us in the photo. Then I lost part of my key ring and KT found it. It was a gorgeous evening in Detroit.
It was great to find the dedication plaque intact. Sasser was busy when we returned in better weather. All the busy is behind us in the photo. It was a gorgeous evening in Detroit.

Biraga Memorial Playground – Park 33

Corporal William Anthony Biraga

Location: Mount Elliot at Richardson

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.

One of four city playgrounds in Detroit located in an apartment complex – the others are Bristol, Downey and Fitzpatrick.
The Mount Elliot area is looking better and better. This tidy play lot fronts Mount Elliot.
William “Willie” Biraga with his sister Harriet and an unidentified child in the old neighborhood on Comstock near Mount Elliot.


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. 


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. 


LSTs were often used to carry weapons and mainstay supplies. This photo is not the LST-453 but is similar. The boat can land on ungroomed shoreline. The hull opens up and the tanks roll out. Public domain photo. Thanks Canada.
I do love these public domain WWII photos.  LSTs were often used to carry weapons and mainstay supplies. This photo is not the LST-453 but is similar. The boat can land on un-groomed shoreline. The hull opens up and the tanks roll out. Public domain photo. Thanks Canada. 


An up close and personal look at the Battle of Gloucester taken by a field soldier photographer. Public domain photo.
An up close and personal look at the Battle of Gloucester taken by a field soldier photographer. Public domain photo.

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. 


It’s great the plaque and flag pole base still exist. Back in the 1940’s and 1950’s most every park had a flag pole.
Map courtesy of Google. Hamtramck is to the left of the RR tracks.
Map courtesy of Google. Hamtramck is to the left of the RR tracks.
Willie Biraga you are remembered.

Thanks for reading!




Private John T. Yaksich – Park 32

So from what I hear and overhear.. I think this park got an upgrade or new signage over the summer.  There is always a lot of confusion about how to spell the Yaksich name.  Someone actually thanked me for spelling it correctly.  Ahhh.. it’s just the small things that make me happy.    I haven’t trolled through this neighborhood lately so I will have to make it a destination to take another photo.  ag


This neighborhood park is sandwiched between Anglin and Brinker Streets north of Nevada on Detroit’s east side.  Unfortunately, it is devoid of all signage to point to the heroics of John T. Yaksich, a courageous WWII hero. Conant Gardens, a historic and permanent African American Detroit neighborhood is nearby.  See photos below.


John Yaksich, 1943
John Yaksich, 1943 Photo: DPL RRF unknown primary source 

By February 9th 1943, newspaper headlines were screaming:

JAPS ADMIT DEFEEAT IN THE SOLOMON ISLANDS; the nation could partly thank Private Yaksich.

As a Marine in the 2nd Battalion, 2nd Marine Division at the Guadalcanal, he became known as “The One Man Blitz” for singlehandedly capturing Japanese weaponry and his courageous fighting which earned him the Navy Cross.  

At his own will and under heavy fire, Yaksich overtook a Japanese machine gun operator and subsequently captured his weapon.  Before killing the gunner, he saw hand-to-hand combat with two other Japanese soldiers and bayoneted them both.

Figuring he may become overpowered by additional enemy soldiers, he returned to his own front line and refreshed his cache of weapons/ ammunition.  Secretly, he worried about being reprimanded by his platoon leader for leaving camp without permission. 

“I knew that if I had asked to go they wouldn’t let me,” commented Yaksich. “So I told my buddy to give the word when I was .. to far to be called back to camp.”  Upon his return, Yaksich requested volunteers to help him carry the enemy machine gun back to the front lines.  A friend named Billy ‘Red Dog’ Van Orden stepped up to assist.  The Marines returned to the field and captured a second machine gun Van Orden had spotted.  Recalled Yaksich, “Van Orden shot the gunner.  We picked up the machine gun and ran.  Snipers tried to get us, but we were lucky.  Van Orden was magnificent.”

John T. Yaksich was born on April 7, 1922 and was released from service in November 1943.  It was  a hard road returning to civilian life but he made it through WWII and felt lucky in doing so.  He died on January 23, 1991.  He is one of the few Detroiters to be honored with a memorial park during his living years.

Yaksich Memorial Playfield lacks play equipment yet is well kept.
The red dotted area is the Conant Gardens neighborhood – important part of Detroit’s African American history.


conant garden2
Historical marker [located at the corner of Nevada and Conant]about how this important neighborhood came to exist.
All rights reserved. ©Andrea Gallucci, 2015.


The Dueweke clan is historically known as a large, longtime Detroit family of merchants.   Caroline and Frank Dueweke had 5 boys – Harold, Gordon, Clifford, Norbert, and Sylvester. Frank worked as a meat salesman to support his brood.  They were an east side family living on Sheridan Street in close proximity to the playground that stands as a remembrance to their youngest son.


If an aircraft ditches, or if the pilot ditches the aircraft, essentially it comes down in the ocean in an emergency.  Ditching was commonplace in World War II.  Air-sea rescue planes [code named ‘dumbos’] and crew were always on standby to drop provisions and large life rafts to survivors in case of a ditch or distress.

The flagpole base is a little rusty but the dedication plaque is still intact.
The flagpole base is a little rusty but the dedication plaque is still intact.



Sylvester Dueweke rose to the rank of Sergeant in WWII, working as a tail gunner in U.S. Army Air Forces, 873rd Bomber Squadron, 498th [Very Heavy] Bomber Group.  On March 31, 1945, Dueweke and 10 crew members departed Saipan in their B-29 for a bombing mission over the Japanese island of Kyushu.  Mission No. 36 went terribly wrong.  Thirty minutes into the flight, the right gunner along with another aircraft reported that the 3rd engine of the B-29 was on fire.  The airplane commander immediately aborted the mission and changed course heading toward Iwo Jima. No immediate danger was felt; no distress call was sent out.

Within minutes, the fire blossomed and the gunners informed the pilots that the blister [a transparent dome or bubble like window for observation] was melting and the right elevator was on fire.  The fuel shut off valve became inoperable increasing the risk of explosion. The ditching command was quickly given. The crew on board – Clinton, Ed, Earl, Fred, Harold, Herron, Harry, Orville, Ray, Robert and Sylvester – barely had time to take their positions.  A short three minutes elapsed from the abort decision to the ditch of the aircraft.


Other craft in the formation radioed in distress calls.  Able crew members assisted the injured into life rafts and administered morphine.  A super Dumbo flew over dropping a smoke bomb to camouflage the wreckage from Japanese fighter eyes.  All men except for Sylvester managed to escape from the B-29 as it began sinking into the South Pacific.  The USS Ronquil submarine rescued the remaining crew at 12:22pm.  Dueweke heroically went down with the aircraft and died at sea. For his service, he was decorated with the Air Medal and the Purple Heart posthumously.  His service is memorialized through this Detroit Park, as well on the Tablets of the Missing at the Punchbowl Cemetery in Honolulu, HI.

USS Ronquil  photo: public domain
USS Ronquil photo: public domain

Dueweke Memorial Playground is a large park with older play equipment, basketball courts, wavy roofed picnic shelters and the original flagpole with a dedication plaque.  While the components are old, the park is tidy and always busy.  In the spring, summer and fall is it mowed regularly by the Detroit Mower Gang.

dueweke 4
Walking path with swings looking south.
Map courtesy of Google.
Map courtesy of Google.

Copyright Andrea Galluccci, 2014

Owen Francis Patrick Hammerberg – Boatswain’s Mate 2nd Class – Park 26


Owen Hammerberg was born on May 31, 1920 in the small village of Daggett in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula.

Owen Hammerberg  Photo: Courtesy
Owen Hammerberg
Photo: Courtesy

Prior to service, Owen lived with his father downstate in Flint and worked as a shop clerk.  In 1941, he enlisted with the Navy as a diver, serving on both the Battleship USS Idaho and Sub Chaser USS Advent.  He attended Deep Sea Diving School in Washington DC in 1944 and eventually was assigned to the Pacific Fleet Salvage Force in Pearl Harbor, in the territory of Hawaii.  These experiences would prepare him for an assignment where his  bravery and skill would excel and consequently call his life to an abrupt end.

His naval citation reads:  “Hammerberg by his cool judgement, unfaltering professional skill, and consistent disregard of all danger in the face of tremendous odds, had contributed effectively to the saving of his two comrades… he gallantly gave his life in the service of his country.”


On February 17, 1945 Owen Hammerberg rescued two fellow divers trapped under the hulk of a mud bound sunken ship in Pearl Harbor.  After several hours of working in 40 feet deep, black water, Owen freed the first trapped man.  Without rest, he next moved far under the buried ship, reaching a spot above the second trapped diver.

A heavy piece of steel dropped on upon him and pinned him crosswise over his friend.  Bearing all the weight from the steel, Owen protected him until he could be freed.  Hammerberg later perished in a hospital.


A freshly mowed Hammerberg Memorial Playground – Detroit, MI

His parents – Jonas Hammerberg and Elizabeth Moss accepted the posthumous Congressional Medal of Honor on his behalf.  On August 19, 1954, his mother christened a destroyer escort named the USS Hammerberg to perpetuate the memory of his heroics.  This ship stayed in service short of two decades and was decommissioned and sold for scrap in December 1973.  Owen continues to be honored with two memorials – a Detroit playground at West Chicago and Wyoming; a memorial in Veterans Park in Stephenson, MI erected by VFW Post 5966.

ship at sea
USS Hammerberg photo: public domain

2nd Lt. Thomas W. Wigle Memorial Playfield – Park 25

overdue UPDATE:

When the shuttered recreation center was demolished last year, it was a good clue about the changes that were going to come to the Wigle field.  This large playfield with a DIY skate park are up for sale.  When the correct buyer appears [and they might have already] this playfield will disappear.  Wigle will be sorely missed not only by the kickball leagues. skateboarders but also by the Experienca School across the street who uses the field for school events.  Here’s the best way to describe it courtesy of CurbedDetroit.  ag

Photo courtesy of Curbed Detroit. thanks.

A Gifted Violinist

Wigle Playground is a popular spot for kickball leagues in Detroit.  It sides the service drive to M-10 Lodge Freeway and Selden Street. The amenities at this field are few – a baseball diamond, beat up basketball courts, vandalized rec center and the field – but in actuality a patch of earth, a ball, beer and some friends are all one needs.

Thomas Wigle was born to parents Arch and Hazel in Indianapolis, Indiana on May 18, 1909.  The family relocated to a residence on West Grand Boulevard in Detroit.  Arch supported the family working as a realtor.  Prior to entering the military, Thomas was a violinist, violin teacher and a mechanic in an airplane factory.

Beyond the Call of Duty  

Photo courtesy of Military Hall of Valor
Photo courtesy of Military Hall of Valor – Thanks Doug Sterner.

Serving in World War II was no easy task, yet 2nd Lt. Thomas W. Wigle gave his all and volunteered to command when leadership was desperately needed.   On September 16, 1944 his platoon was attempting to invade a heavily fortified position on an Italian hillside.  There were three terraced stone walls to scale to reach the enemy.   Wigle led his men up the rocky slope through intense fire and reached the first stone wall. He was boosted to the top of the wall and perched upon it in full view of the enemy.  A firefight ensued and meanwhile, his men helped each other up and over.  Wigle and his platoon successfully negotiated the second wall using the same method.

Three houses used as an enemy stronghold came into view after Wigle scaled the third wall.  Giving an order for cover, he made a dash through a shower of gunfire to reach the nearest house. Firing his carbine as he entered, he drove the enemy out of the back door and onto the second house. They eventually fled and took refuge in the cellar of the third house.

When the platoon caught up to Wigle, they found him dead on the cellar stairs.  His heroics resulted in the capture of 36 German soldiers and the seizure of this stronghold in Monte Frassino, Italy.  He was honored with the Congressional Medal of Honor for courage and dedication.


Cpl. Marian Karaniewski Memorial Playground – Park 24

A brand new flagpole was recently erected at Karaniewski Memorial Playground located on Concord Street in Detroit.  The park is a bright spot in a neighborhood where overgrown vacant lots outnumber a handful of hearty neighbors.  This sweet little oasis features a basketball court, bench, intact fencing and newer playground equipment.  It is well tended and lovingly cared for by the Darina / Karaniewski clan and represents dedication, pride, patriotism and a lingering, familial loss.

park photo

Four Brothers

The Karaniewski family was comprised of a band of brothers called to service in World War II.  Stanley, the eldest son served with the 82nd Airborne Division in Germany, France, Italy and Yugoslavia.  Additionally, he trained and served in military intelligence.   Marian [fondly known as Marvin to the family] was the second oldest, yet the first to serve on the battlefield.  Marian saw action as a mortar man within the Army 103rd Infantry Regiment, 43rd Infantry Division. Service took him throughout the South Pacific – – Solomon Islands, Guadalcanal, New Guinea and New Caledonia.   The younger siblings – Eugene and Cass [Casmire] served in the Army Air Corps and the Navy, respectively.


Marian Karaniewski
Marian Karaniewski

Lost in the War

On January 19, 1945 Marian’s unit was attacked by Japanese forces on the Island of Luzon near Hill 66.  It would be his last campaign. He courageously volunteered to stay behind and to hold back the Japanese while his unit retreated. Marian was struck and killed by a sniper’s shot as he operated his mortar.  His family notes that he carried a small bible in his breast pocket and the fatal bullet struck the bible before entering his chest.

Stanley Karaniewski
Cass 2
Cass Karaniewski
Two brothers - Eugene and Cass
Eugene and Cass



For his supreme sacrifice, Marian was awarded the Silver Star and Purple Heart medals posthumously.   He rests with his buddies in the Manila Military Cemetery in the Philippines.   Photos used by kind permission of the Ghezzi / Karaniewski family.   Copyright 2014  Andrea Gallucci.

Ray Zussman – Detroit Park #12

2nd Lt. Raymond Zussman


Raymond Zussman
Ray’s yearbook quote: “A little nonsense now and then is relished by the wisest men”

The football coach at Central High School laughed when Raymond Zussman showed up to try out for the team.  The Navy rejected Zussman for being too short.  They both got it wrong.

The small statured Zussman wore the attitude “I kin take care of myself.”  He did and more.  He protected the innocent of WWII and took care of a large number of Nazi soldiers as well.  His personal, undaunted courage and can-do attitude made him a WWII fighting powerhouse earning him the  Medal of Honor.

The Medal of Honor is the highest award earned in the US Military. Other Detroiter’s earning this were: George Ham Cannon, Robert Simanek Image Source

Ray Zussman was raised in Hamtramck.  He sang in his synagogue’s choir.  After high school, he became a shop steward with local union #337.  When WWII broke out, he turned to US Army who recognized his spirit.  He became an instructor in street fighting at Fort Knox and a tank commander with the 756th Tank Battalion.


Zussman saw action and was wounded in the battle of Cassino, Italy.  After recovery, he was reassigned to active duty crossing from France into Germany.  Zussman’s tank became disabled in battle at the Village of Noroy-le-Bourg, France.  Here’s what his military citation reads:

On 12 September 1944, 2d Lt. Zussman was in command of two tanks operating with an infantry company in the attack on enemy forces occupying the town of Noroy-le-bourg, France.

At 7:00 P.M., his command tank bogged down. Throughout the ensuing action, armed only with a carbine, he reconnoitered alone on foot far in advance of his remaining tank and the infantry. Returning only from time to time to designate targets, he directed the action of the tank and turned over to the infantry the numerous German soldiers he had caused to surrender.

He located a road block and directed his tanks to destroy it. Fully exposed to fire from enemy positions only 50 yards distant, he stood by his tank directing its fire. Three Germans were killed and eight surrendered.

Again he walked before his tank, leading it against an enemy-held group of houses, machine-gun and small-arms fire kicking up dust at his feet. The tank fire broke the resistance and 20 enemy surrendered. Going forward again alone he passed an enemy-occupied house from which Germans fired on him and threw grenades in his path.

After a brief firefight, he signaled his tank to come up and fire on the house. Eleven German soldiers were killed and 15 surrendered. Going on alone, he disappeared around a street corner. The fire of his carbine could be heard and in a few minutes he reappeared driving 30 prisoners before him. Under 2d Lt. Zussman’s heroic and inspiring leadership, 18 enemy soldiers were killed and 92 captured.

Think about that.. who does that? He was a major badass.  I can only imagine the adrenaline running through his veins.

Unfortunately, Ray met death a few days after these heroics; killed in action in another battle on September 21, 1944.


Ray’s namesakes were many:  A US military ship, a veteran’s post, a private library, and two parks were named in his honor.   His Detroit Park at Dexter and Davison was dedicated on July 17, 1951.  Today, this tidy park serves the neighborhood well with newer playground equipment, basketball court, and picnic shelter.  A few summer’s back, I noticed a rolling popcorn machine/cart in the park mid-day.

Zussman playground is the green rectangle in the upper right; Russell Woods park in lower left.

Zussman is also honored with a Hamtramck park bordered by Evaline, Winfield, and Yemans Streets.

The Jewish War Veterans  Raymond Zussman Post #510 continues to be active in the remembrance of veterans through visits to Battle Creek Vets Hospital on Christmas Day; fundraising and commemorative activities.  The Zussman family [still in metro Detroit]  take personal pride in the remembrance of this courageous hero.

Zussman park
Detroit park – Davison at Holmur

Copyright 2013 Andrea Gallucci.  All rights reserved.  

Raymond Zussman photo courtesy of the Rabbi Leo M. Franklin Archive – Jewish War Veterans Collection.  

Louis Stone Memorial Pool and Park – 10

Earlier this year, I was featured on WDET for my story chronicling the life and happy times of Detroit druggist Louis Stone.  You can listen to it here.  Ever since I researched his story in 2013 there has been speculation that the property was sold to developers for housing.  Back in 2008, it was for sale – here’s the RFP with a bargain basement price of $300,000.

Here’s the scoop “unofficial / official” – Louis Stone Playground property is under contract to DTE for use as a substation to power the neighborhood.  Power is a good thing but so is legacy and history.  This is gonna sound so melodramatic.. Louis Stone brought so much fun, happiness and good times to Detroit kids and  parents .. the drugstore is long gone and if the playground is bulldozed; his legacy will be completely gone.  So play at this playground now.. and enjoy the uninterrupted Midtown electricity later.  Perhaps DTE can name the substation after Louis Stone.  It’s a little premature but I am moving this park to the gone file.  xo – ag


For 20+ years, druggist Leiba Stepansky [Louis Stone] had the biggest heart in Detroit.  Stone grew up the son of a prosperous shoe manufacturer; yet the poverty he witnessed in his native Russia made him acutely aware of the grim injustice of going without.

He left Russia when he was barred from medical school because he was a Jew.  At 18 years old, Louis landed in Boston alone and learned English.  He attended college and earned a degree as a pharmacist.

In 1925, he launched his career by moving to Detroit, taking a druggist job on East Jefferson in the “Little Bohemia” neighborhood.  Soon, he opened his own drug store at Mount Elliot and Theodore Streets, then moved to his home base of Third Street at Stimson Avenue near Detroit’s Masonic Temple.  His motto: “A happy child is a good child.”

stone 3


Halloween night 1928, a young mother came into the pharmacy asking for something to calm her nerves.  Her son was struck and killed by car he didn’t see due to his mask.  This event was the game changer in Stone’s life.  It propelled him to create his famous Halloween street parties as a safe alternative to trick-or-treating.  The parties started with a handful of kids and erupted into entertainment events – including treats, tricks, bands, clowns –servicing 5000+ children on Halloween evening.  The festive environment helped to decrease juvenile delinquency in the city and raise the spirits of kids and parents alike.


Over the years, Stone also hosted events for needy children – trips to the beach; circus and baseball games.  Stone knew that kids “just needed to blow off steam sometimes”.  Regardless, each party ended in the same manner with the children all shouting a customary “OK Louie” in unison to signify the finale of the event.

a picture of a document
Getting permission from Detroit City Council to have a dance party..1949


Stone received awards and honors from civic organizations, elected officials, religious institutions, as well as the State of Michigan legislature for his generosity, child advocacy, and creative problem solving. The Detroit Teacher’s Association planned to honor Stone with the first ever Distinguished Service Award.  Stone penned a thank you letter saying he would accept the award in person, and mailed the letter on the day he died, January 3, 1953.   Stone left no survivors.

A memorial service was held for the public outside Louis Stone Drugs complete with a Naval Salute, tributes, and flowers.  Over 3,000 children attended.  When the ceremony ended the children shouted their customary yell and they climbed aboard busses that whisked them away to the Shrine Circus.

On April 9, 1953 the Detroit City Council passed ordinance 728-E designating the Louis Stone Memorial Pool at Forest and Fourth Street to honor his unique contribution to Detroit.  The pool has been closed for many years. The small, tidy park serves as a stopping point for many walking through Midtown and is in good condition.   In spring 2013, news reports indicated this property has been sold for redevelopment.  When the pool and park are gone, I hope the City of Detroit can find a way to remember Louis Stone…  a generous man who created family amongst neighbors and friends.

Louie sure knew how to throw a great party.

He died a bachelor.  His friends are long gone.  When the park is turned into a DTE substation his legacy will completely disappear.
He died a bachelor. His friends are long gone. When the park is turned into a DTE substation his Detroit legacy will completely disappear.  Yeah, I put the rock on the stone.

Andrea Gallucci. Copyright 2013. All rights reserved.