This Memorial Day weekend as we bbq and prepare for summer it is important to take a moment to honor the men and women of the United States military who, for centuries, have defended our nation and way of life. As the son and grandson of veterans of foreign wars, I understand the sacrifices these brave souls make—and the hardships they endure even after returning home.
From the days of the Revolution the residents of Inwood have taken up arms when called upon. Their brave efforts recorded in print in verse.
THE DYCKMAN FAMILY
In the 1920’s, poet Arthur Guiterman wrote of the the Dyckman family, some of whom acted as scouts during the Revolutionary War:
When Freedom called true men to arms.
They nursed no doubts of the need of force;
They did their part as a thing of course.
Forth they sallied, boy and man.
William, head of the Dyckman clan,
Took the field, and his three good sons
Marched along with their flintlock guns—
Abraham bold and Michael keen
And Blithe young William, aged thirteen.
Through the war and its changing tides
The Dyckmans fought in the gallant Guides.
Their chronicles may still be found
In the blood-stained roll of the Neutral Ground.
Of course the true grit of the neighborhood did not end with the Dyckmans.
NATIVE SON: NAVY LIEUTENANT JOHN JAMES POWERS
During World War II nearly every family was affected by the horrific battles abroad. They had lost loved ones, they had endured food rationing; it was as if the whole world had been turned upside down. But still, patriotism persisted.
And when Inwood lost one of its native sons, Navy Lieutenant John James Powers, in a bombing raid over the Coral Sea on May 8, 1942, the students of P.S. 52 dedicated an issue of the school’s “Inwood Chatter” to Power’s heroic sacrifice. After all, Powers was an alumni. He had attended the school as a youth and later went on to George Washington High School after graduation.
Before the suicidal raid against Japanese forces, Powers told his men, “Remember the folks back home are counting on us. I am going to get a hit if I have to lay it on their flight deck.”
After posthumously awarding Powers the Medal of Honor, President Roosevelt, in a national radio address, delivered these stirring words:
“He led [his squadron] down to the target from an altitude of 18,000 feet, through a wall of bursting anti-aircraft shells and swarms of enemy planes. He dived almost to the very deck of the enemy carrier, and did not release his bomb until he was sure of a direct hit. He was last seen attempting recovery from his dive at the extremely low altitude of two hundred feet, amid a terrific barrage of shell and bomb fragments, smoke, flame and debris from the stricken vessel. His own plane was destroyed by the explosion of his own bomb. But he had made good his promise to ‘lay it on the flight deck.”
After her son’s death, Power’s mother, who later christened the USS John J. Powers, came and spoke to the children of P.S. 52. Her talk, and the thought that he, like them, had wandered the halls of the school they knew so well, had a profound impact on the youngsters.
THE KUHLMANN FAMILY OF 117 SEAMAN AVENUE
Other local heroes of World War II include the Kuhlmann brothers of 117 Seaman Avenue. The three siblings, Edward, Otto and Walter, all left the safety and comfort of their Inwood home to make the ultimate sacrifice.
This is their story:
The New York Sun
August 21, 1943
Held in the Land of His Fathers
Lieut. Kuhlmann Is Prisoner in Germany After Being Forced Down in Raid
Twenty-six-year-old Lieut. Otto W. Kuhlmann is back in the fatherland of his parents—Germany—as a prisoner of war. For Germany is not his fatherland, and it’s not that off his parents anymore, and he went over it with a load of American bombs.
His father, Ernest Kuhlmann, came to the United States forty-eight years ago and his mother forty-three years ago. Their three boys were born and raised here, and now they’re in the United States Army.
“We all went back to Germany once in 1922,” said Mr. Kuhlmann, “when the boys were small. But things were different then. Their grandparents were alive—and the Nazis weren’t.”
The Kuhlmanns lived on in the land of their adoption, and Mr. Kuhlmann made enough running a delicatessen to keep his boys going to school. Otto, the youngest, was the most interested in school. After he was graduated from Commerce High School he joined the Consolidated Edison Company of New York, and there won a scholarship to attend the New York University at night.
Three Boys in Service
Then the war came, and one of the Kuhlmann boys, Edward, was drafted, soon after the attack on Pearl Harbor. Edward, now 29 years old, is a lieutenant in India.
Otto volunteered for the Air Corps in November of 1941 and became a pilot.
Walter, the oldest boy, 31, was drafted a year ago, and now is a private, first class, and is an instructor in the code school at Scott Field. His wife will join him there soon.
“Otto went to England last June,” said Mr. Kuhlmann. “The last letter we had from him was dated July 17, his birthday, and in it he said he hoped we’d be together again on his next birthday. The next we heard of him was that he had been lost over Germany on July 28.”
Then, last Monday, messages began pouring into the Kuhlmann apartment at 117 Seaman Avenue. Strangers had heard news of Otto over the short-wave radio. He was well, and a prisoner in a German camp.
“I guess we had a little celebration,” said Mr. Kuhlmann, “we were so glad to hear.”
“A coffee klatch,” said Mrs. Kuhlmann. “Yes, we had to tell our friends that Otto was not dead.”
THE INWOOD TIME MACHINE:
This Memorial Day weekend, as we honor the generations of men and women who bravely defended this nation through the centuries, it is also important to remember our founding fathers and revolutionaries.
If not for General George Washington and his Continental Army our nation might have evolved in quite a different manner.
The below article, printed in 1915, drives home the important role Inwood and points north and south played in the those early days of our nation’s history. I feel the following description, set against the backdrop of World War I, is a fitting tribute to the proud, and always tragic, history of American warfare.
New York Herald
May 8, 1915
Boys, in Mimic War, Unearth Ammunition Abandoned in Retreat Before Hessians
Relics Found on Site of Old Fort Independence at Kingsbridge
Three boys digging a trench in mimic warfare on the site of old Fort Independence, Kingsbridge, unearthed yesterday afternoon what is said to be the largest number of Revolutionary War relics ever found in the city.
The find of Continental Army munitions includes 250 cannon balls about the size of a coconut, both solid and shell; 100 bar shot, thirty expanding bar shot, many ball and chain shot, one 100 pound mortar shot and a fifty pound bar shot.
Reginald Pelham Bolton, who lives near there and who is an authority upon the Revolutionary War history of New York City and particularly of that section, saw the relics. He said undoubtedly the spot, long sought, had been where General Washington ordered Colonel Lasher, in command of the Continental troops at Fort Independence, to bury his ammunition and guns and retreat before the advancing Hessians from the north. He said he believed that excavating would uncover still greater stores and that probably many cannon would be found.
The boys— Harry Sommers, son of the manager of the Knickerbocker Theatre; James Knowles and Charles Thurston—who lives in Giles Place, Kingsbridge, started to dig a trench where Giles Place crosses Cannon Place. It was their idea to construct a military trench in which to camp out—a trench like those they had seen in pictures of the European War.
They had dug down only two and a half feet when they struck the first cannon ball. Under it were others, and soon they were throwing lots of them out of the hole. Their cries attracted not only their parents but also all the neighbors. It was known that Mr. Bolton, who owns a large place in Bolton Road, was an authority on the early history of that section and that his home is virtually a museum of such relics. He was informed, and when he reached the scene he said he was amazed by the size of the find.
“It is the most important and largest find of such relics in the history of the city,” he said. “Undoubtedly this is the spot where Colonel Lasher buried a large part of his ammunition. This spot was a part of Fort Independence, guarding the northern end of the city. Early on the morning of October 27, 1776, Colonel Lasher’s scouts returned with the alarming news that the Hessians were advancing from the north in great numbers. He sent a messenger to General Washington, then at Fort Washington or at the Jumel Mansion, and the General ordered Colonel Lasher to conceal all ammunition and guns he could not carry away and to retreat into Fort Washington.”
“Apparently it was here that Colonel Lasher’s men buried much of their ammunition before retreating. I believe that large guns will be found in the vicinity.”
Mr. Bolton called his friends John Ward Dunsmore and W.L. Calver, both students of early New York history, and they agreed with him. Mr. Bolton had the records to show General Washington’s order and the retreat of Colonel Lasher and his men before the advancing Hessians.
Much of the ammunition was sent later in the afternoon to the old Jumel Mansion, now a museum conducted by the Daughters of the Revolution. The rest was sent to the Knowles home.
Many of the pieces of the ammunition are considered rare. The expanding bar shot, consisting of two iron balls connected by a rod that expanded upon leaving the cannon, are very rare. The fifty-pound bar shot also is very rare, and Mr. Bolton said the 100-pound mortar shot was equally rare.
To all those who have served we thank you for your bravery.