A century ago, World War I, having ended in 1918, was still fresh in the minds of Pittstonians, who in 1922 dedicated parks named for men killed in “The Great War.” Thereafter the parks were the sites of Memorial Day celebrations for decades.
On Memorial Day, Sgt. Thomas Gilmartin Park was dedicated, but not before men of Battery B, 109th Artillery, picked up 1,000 loads of cans littering the park-to-be grounds in the Panama Street area deeded to Battery B by the Pennsylvania Coal Company. The men of Battery B were exclusively from Pittston.
A stage was erected from where the Jefferson School choir sang “America” and the Rev. Charles Conaty gave the main address wearing his Distinguished Service Cross for bravery in action at Chateau Thierry, as two civil war veterans looked on. It was noted that Gilmartin’s father James served in the 1870s during the Indian Wars with Company C, 5th Regiment.
In September 1918, Sgt. Gilmartin and Pvt. Patrick McGarry were outflanked by Germans firing a mortar barrage near a river crossing in France. Gilmartin and McGarry tried to get to a buddy who was hit, but didn’t make it. Both died the following day at the field hospital.
The next day German balloons dropped shells on Battery B’s position. Sylvester Sullivan was gravely wounded and died in the field hospital a week later. Sullivan Park in the city’s fourth ward, now the Pittston Little League complex, was named for him. Gilmartin Park was deeded to the Pittston American Legion.
It took two years for Gilmartin, McGarry and Sullivan to make it home. On July 14 , 1921, the city shut down for their joint funeral Mass.
Pvt. Joseph Fleming Park was dedicated on Flag Day, June 14, 1922. Students marched from Pittston High School to the park led by the YMI Band and the bugle corps of Co. B. The school choir sang America as Charles Murray, chaplin of the Pittston Veterans of Foreign Wars post, raised the flag. Fireworks closed the ceremony. In the 1960s, Fleming Park eventually gave way to housing.
Fleming, who lived on Carroll Street, was the first soldier of Battery B killed in action in France when a mortar shell hit a motorcycle. He was in the side car.
On Independence Day in 1922, Corp. Albert West had his turn. Albert West Park on East Swallow Street was dedicated to him with a fanfare of marches, music, patriotic speakers and a flag raising. West, who grew up nearby on Vine Street, was drafted in September 1917 and shipped out to France in August 1918 with the 311th Artillery, attached to the 79th infantry organized at Camp Meade Maryland. He died in October of pneumonia at La Courtine Hospital about 200 miles from where the 311th was encamped. He was 28. Word of his death did not reach his family until after the Nov. 11 armistice ended the war, so his mother believed he would be coming home alive. She died in December, shortly after learning her son had died, friends said, from grief.
Serious, or even casual, Pittston City historians know four city parks — Gilmartin, West, Fleming and Sullivan — were dedicated to men lost in World War II.
But there were five.
On May 12, 1922, Burke Park in the Oregon section was dedicated to Edward Burke who grew up on Elizabeth Street. Burke was wounded on Sept. 5, 1918. He died in a French hospital on Oct. 7, just over a month before the armistice.
A parade of local Guard Units, a C.T.A.U. regiment and its bugle corps, Alexander’s Band, citizens and school kids marched up Main to Mill to set off the dedication. Michael Hanahoe, an Oregon pioneer, raised the flag as school children recited the pledge. The ceremony closed with a baseball game between the Oregon team and the Suburban League All-Stars. Today older residents of the Oregon section remember Burke Park as a baseball field long since gone to housing.
Burke is overlooked because he was not a Battery B guy. He had enlisted earlier in Company A of the 38th Infantry First Division of the Expeditionary Forces.
A final note about another Pittston Gilmartin family with legacy service. William Gilmartin enlisted in the Army in 1892. Six years later, during the Spanish-American War, now Corp. William Gilmartin, died of typhoid fever on his 26th birthday on July 2, 1898, at training camp, just a few miles from where his grandfather had been killed in the Civil War battle at Chickamauga, Georgia, the second bloodiest Civil War battle after Gettysburg.
Before his death, Gilmartin wrote home and asked his father to erect a flagpole in the front of their home on Railroad Street and raise a flag on July 4th. He asked his father to use a specific tree behind their house for the pole. His father, with the help of his brother, did what his son asked, not knowing cutting down the tree and erecting the flag pole would commemorate his son’s ultimate sacrifice. Gilmartin is buried in what was then called the Market Street Cemetery, now St. John’s Cemetery.