Photos by Lauren Thomas
As a kid, Harold “Jake” Schoonmaker knew who his heroes were. Living in the small hamlet of Ohioville, he’d pass by and see their names on the board listing those who served in World War II.
The brave men — and two women — listed on that sign inspired Schoonmaker to enlist in the Korean War.
Then in the 1950s, changes of ownership of that land — and a rerouting of Route 299 — eventually led to the sign’s removal. Schoonmaker has wanted to put it back pretty much ever since. In the last few years, the veteran has made it his mission to restore the Ohioville Honor Roll sign. On June 1, he got his chance.
Rebuilt from archival photographs, the new World War II memorial sits near where the old sign was. It’s across the street from Village Grill Restaurant. It reopened to the public after a special ceremony last weekend.
Schoonmaker liked what he saw. “I think it’s great,” he said. “This is what I had in mind when I first got into it.”
Only two of the World War II veterans listed on the sign are still alive. Bill Hornbeck, an 87-year-old Navy veteran, is one of them. He, too, spoke at the sign unveiling, thanking people for the recognition and restoring the sign. Hornbeck said he was lucky to see the rededication.
“I’m pretty fortunate,” he said.
Supervisor Susan Zimet praised Schoonmaker for his determination. Town Board members had voted to pay for the memorial, but he declined and used about $2,000 of his own money to put it up.
“Jake has been working on this for a very long time,” Zimet explained. “We weren’t going to let him get away with us doing nothing. It was too important.”
New Paltz Town Highway Department workers donated time, clearing the site and blacktopping a path to the sign, as well as donating and erecting a flagpole.
John Wenig, commander of the Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 8465 and an Iraq War veteran, noted that the VFW was proud to serve as color guard for the ceremony.
“I met Jake at our March meeting,” Wenig said. “He briefly told me what his intentions were, and I thought this was a really, really beautiful thing that he wanted to do.”
The VFW commander vocalized something a lot of people might have been thinking. “This one’s here to stay,” he said.
Dora Mae and Esther Clearwater are the two women listed on the sign. The sisters served in the Women’s Army Corps. Women in the WAC assisted with noncombatant work.
Clearwater Park in New Paltz is named for Esther, who died tragically trying to escape an Arizona hotel fire on Oct. 6, 1943.
Rev. Bernard Maloney, from St. Joseph’s Church in New Paltz, read a benediction for the sign dedication. He prayed for all soldiers and their safety.
Schoonmaker doesn’t think the site of the WWII memorial in Ohioville is quite done yet. The Korean War vet said he’d like to see it become a mini-park — possibly with a bench or other accoutrements — at the center of the tightknit hamlet.
He also wanted to thank people in New Paltz and Ohioville that agreed with his vision of putting up the sign. “I got all kinds of support,” he said.