Memorial Day: History of Veterans Park

Arnold Dos Santos was among those who formally dedicated Alameda’s Veterans Memorial Park back in 1998.
Photos & story by Patricia Bowen

Memorial Day: History of Veterans Park

Through the efforts of Vietnam Veterans of America, Chapter 400 (VVA400), the vision of Veterans Park became reality on Memorial Day 1998, with approximately 900 in attendance.

Previously, in 1983, the Veterans of Foreign Wars, Chapter 9919 and the American Legion Post 9 had placed a flagpole and plaque there commemorating the Alameda Vietnam veterans who lost their lives.

In the mid-1990s, Marine veteran Arnold Dos Santos discovered that the Community at Harbor Bay Association had planned to re-landscape the site to incorporate the usage of non-potable water during droughts. He approached the Association manager, Tom Jordan, with the idea of transforming the site into a Veterans Memorial Park.

With Jordan’s full support, they both approached the Board of Directors with the concept and a promise of $5,000. When resistance to the idea seemed apparent, Dos Santos increased the VVA400 contribution to $21,000 through fundraising spearheaded by his own determination. Once approved by the Board of Directors, Ron Cowan, developer of Harbor Bay, lent his name and a $10,000 donation to the drive.

Ultimately, the sum raised through community donations became $56,000. The vision of a worthy tribute to the military sacrifices by fellow Alamedans and all Americans includes 21 cypress trees in an oval, for a 21-gun salute, around an oval walkway and lawn. Two sycamore trees outside the oval represent the Vietnam veterans and their feeling of public rejection upon coming home from the war.

Pillow markers under the trees feature dedications to soldier and their wars; donors included community groups and veterans’ families and friends.

For those who remember World War II, PFC Harold Gonsalves, Marine Corps Medal of Honor recipient, has a granite bench in his honor, added since the dedication of the park (“Meet Alameda’s Medal of Honor Recipient,” Jan. 28). For those who grew up in Alameda during the 1950s, it is poignant to remember classmates who died serving their country in Vietnam: scholars, leaders and athletes. This memorial is dedicated to all Americans who made the ultimate sacrifice.

A more recent bench commemorates Staff Sergeant Thomas Fogarty, killed in action in Afghanistan on May 6, 2012.

On Memorial Day 2021, Vietnam Veterans from VVA Chapter 400, with help from the American Legion Posts 647 & 9 and the Elks Lodge 1015, will hold a Memorial Day ceremony celebrating these soldiers at Veterans Memorial Park, May 31, 2021, 11 a.m. The public is encouraged to attend.

Patricia Bowen is publicity chair for the Kiwanis Club of Alameda.

Arnold Dos Santos contributed to this story.

This plaque is one of many that ring the park.
Photos from author’s collection The black and white photos above ran with an Alameda Journal story on Veterans Park’s dedication ceremony in 1998.