Vets, Gillen plant poppies for 100th anniversary of World War I


To commemorate the 100th anniversary of Armistice Day, marking the end of World War I, Town of Hempstead leaders and veterans planted Flanders Poppy seeds in a flowerbed at Hempstead Town Hall and dedicated a plaque in honor of the town’s strategic effort during the Great War.

Among the group was Gary Port, the United States army reserve ambassador to New York State, Ralph Esposito, the director of the Nassau County Veteran Service Agency, Sylvia Cabana, the Town of Hempstead clerk, Peter Bugala, a World War I reenactor, Laura Gillen, the supervisor of the Town of Hempstead, Andy Booth, the former commander of the Nassau County American Legion and Sal Martella, a member of the American Legion Post 1848.

Hempstead was home to several camps and airfields that housed, trained and deployed thousands of troops to the battlefields of Europe.

"It's impossible to tell the story of our Town without recognizing the tremendous affect that World War I had," said Town Supervisor Laura Gillen. "The Town's history and that of the American war effort are intertwined."

Mitchel Field in East Meadow and nearby Roosevelt Field were two of the largest airbases in the nation during WWI—the first war in which aircraft were used in combat. The First Air Squadron of the U.S. Army—the nation's first military aviation unit—left for England from Mitchel Field during WWI.

Camp Mills was a crowded city of tents with few amenities, where soldiers had to take precaution to avoid catching the Spanish flu during the epidemic of 1918. It was also the birthplace of the 42nd Infantry Division—the first of its kind, composed of National Guard regiments from 26 different states—known for its distinctive rainbow insignia.

More than four million American families sent their sons and daughters to serve in uniform during the War. Of that, over 100,000 soldiers would die in combat or from diseases, including approximately 86 from the Town of Hempstead.

The field poppy, hardy yet delicate, was a common part of the landscape on the Western Front during the Great War. These the vibrant red flowers, improbably growing in the cracks of a war-torn battlefield, caught the eye of a soldier named John McCrae inspiring the world's most famous War Memorial Poem – "In Flanders Field".

"It is our hope that these poppies will serve as a link and a reminder to our past," Supervisor Gillen said. "As well as to the great sacrifices made by those who we may have never met or known."

—Brian Stieglitz