It will be one hundred years this November 11 when the Patriotic village of Lake Ronkonkoma dedicated their World War I Memorial on the Lake Ronkonkoma School grounds.
It was Armistice Day, November 11, 1923, a crisp and vibrant fall day, and all who could make it to the dedication arrived early. It had taken five years to collect, save, and arrange for the moment they were all waiting for.
Lillian Devere, our local Suffragist leader, was Chairlady; Thomas Fish, Sr. and John O. Winshe were also on the committee as Vice-Chairmen. Three Veterans were appointed to join the committee – LeRoy Vollgraff, Frederick Amott, and Joseph Kirk. All meetings were held at the Lake Ronkonkoma Free Library. Lillian Devere and the others worked tirelessly to place another significant memory once again in our village. It was important to the community that the monument would last and endure the ravages of time so that the younger generation might know that the Hamlet of Lake Ronkonkoma’s sons and daughters had done their share in the defense of their Country’s Honor.
Originally looking for a granite statue to be located in front of the Ronkonkoma Depot at the railroad station, the cost would be too high for the budget and there was a question of obtaining the Hallock Family permission to honor their son, William Merritt Hallock, who was killed in action in France. The family found this plan was not acceptable and asked the committee to drop the matter. New information enabled the committee to change the course and after careful consideration, they moved on to the plan which was to include all WW1 Veterans in the area.
The decision to have a bronze tablet with all the Veterans in the village who served in the World’s War listed would be struck and would pre-fix a gold star beside Hallock and French, indicating their status as “KIA.” Subscriptions began to be collected and glass jars were placed in all mercantiles. As the small change accumulated, Mr. Frank Newton took the responsibility of custodian of the subscribed funds until they knew it was time to move forward with the plans.
Knowing of a native rock located in a roadbed of the Hoss Block at Holtsville, which had been used by the British Army during the Revolutionary War as Troop Road leading to their supply base at Coram, it was accepted, and a permit was obtained to move it. A local contractor was hired to excavate and move the boulder to the school location where Mr. Axel Hodges would erect the necessary foundation and set the stone. Once the budget was checked they could move the rock to the school grounds. The day had finally arrived, and all prepared to see the truck drive through town on its way to the final destination. Mr. Winshe offered a design for the tablet, and once accepted by the committee with their specifications, it was sent to be cast.
“The Memorial to Honor Heroes” took place before a gathering of 1,500, including ex-servicemen from all branches of military and naval forces, citizens from surrounding towns, churches, and residents of Lake Ronkonkoma. The festivities started from the Ronkonkoma Hook & Ladder firehouse with a parade of Veterans wearing their military uniforms who proudly marched to the site of the monument. The American Flag was draped ever so perfectly over the tablet and was removed as the tablet was unveiled after “The Star-Spangled Banner” had been sung by the entire assembly, accompanied by Sayville Fire Department Military Band. Lawrencee S. Deutzman, Chaplain of Smithtown Post American Legion led the prayers. Others spoke and the dream had been realized. Lake Ronkonkoma had a Memorial Boulder and Tablet; the exercises were most impressive, and the monument does great credit to the patriotism of the residents of the region around the Lake.
Mr. Thomas Fish and Mr. Joseph Kirk then cared for the Memorial for years, placing wreaths as required at the school. After a fire at the Lake Ronkonkoma School in 1944, the Memorial had been abandoned for years in the woods on the side of the road. Eventually, it was re-established at our American Legion Post #155 where it sits today.
There are sixty names on the rock, two of them women. Lillian Devere declined her name on the tablet, which would have shown three women, sixty-one total. Research finds many of the families of the Veterans are still in town, and while many are no longer in Lake Ronkonkoma, they do live in neighboring towns.
A poem by John G. Winsche was written with the Rock as the main subject. His words have been immortalized in Lake Ronkonkoma for as long as the monument has stood.
Let rocks their silence break. Let all that breathe partake.
They call me the BOULDER? Nay! Nay! I am God’s soldier.
A rock, a rock of ages. Well known to history’s pages.
From whence I came, none can say. But here I am; and here I stay.
My duty here is to appear. Stand guard, night and day, of every year.
And hold this bronze shield to my heart so you might see. And do your part.
I love my country, my country’s fame, And surely hope, that you will do the same.
In your heart salute me, as you travel by.
Also our flag. Old Glory, floating on high.
Long live Democracy, the rule of our land.
Let us all be true Americans, hand in hand.
John O. Winsche
Dedicated to the people of Ronkonkoma, LI. Armistice Day 1923
Locally renowned for convening the community’s varied Veterans, the Lake Ronkonkoma Veterans Association, Inc., has plans to recognize the 100th anniversary of the World War I Memorial Rock throughout 2023-24 by shining a spotlight on the WW1 veterans of our town, including the remaining veterans who followed and later built a legacy of respect and impact. Additional plans for the centennial will be announced throughout the year.