Bellarose Memorial

History Personal Writings

            Queens, New York       Bellarose is a small community of hardly 2000 folks at the border of New York City’s Queens Borough and Long Island’s Hempstead County.  During World War II it was also next door to Mitchel Field, an Army Air Force training center during the war, named after a former mayor New York City who died in an air training accident in Louisiana. The base is actually in Hempstead County on Long Island.  It closed in the early 60s and is now home to Nassau Community College, parts of Hofstra University, museums, and other public facilities.  You might come through Bellarose, if you were on your way to somewhere else, but for the most part, you would need a reason to be there on a bright, warm summer June day.

The Butler family and those that can claim close association with that crew had a very good reason to assemble en masse, and they did so.  Brothers, sisters, cousins, nephews, nieces, and those who love them came from Colorado, Maryland, Louisiana, and of course Arkansas.  The good reason had to do with an uncle they had never met, Richard Murray Bylander, a younger brother of their mother or aunt, Marianna Bylander Butler.  A memorial was being dedicated in memory of a tragic training crash that, after leaving Mitchel Field, had fallen only minutes away in Bellarose, killing all eleven airmen and one civilian.  The civic and political leaders in the community had come together to join the initiative of Post 103 of the American Legion to organize, finance, and construct the memorial and now to dedicate the new plaque and display commemorating their sacrifice.

As the local historian told the story to the crowd and families, on June 17, 1940, eighty-three years earlier, four planes had left the field in a mock tactical training exercise, flying in a diamond formation.  Flight commander Burlingame piloted one of the planes and Lieutenant Murray Bylander piloted another plane with their crews and in implementing a tight turn in the formation, their two wings touched, igniting an explosion.  Both planes came down as balls of fire in Bellarose, but after crash analysis found that Burlingame and Bylander were able to steer their landing sufficiently to open streets thereby limiting civilian casualties to single person, while they all perished.  The eleven military casualties and one civilian were the worst on record in the area at the time.  There were pictures of New York’s mayor, LaGuardia touring the scene.  In a number of ways, the village had memorialized the site over the decades and the fact that the community was saved, but this was the first time that the individuals who died would also be acknowledged.

For decades, I had heard that Murray had been Marianna Bylander Bulter’s favorite brother.  One of her sons had been named Richard after him.  He was deeply missed and deeply loved.  She gifted that legacy to her children, and they were here in solidarity to represent her and themselves fully, as were we all.  The plaque was simple and straightforward, making an elegant, clear statement very powerfully on a boulder in the shade of a flag.  The American Legion had done an exhaustive job of planning the ceremony and all of the events that went with it.  The program acknowledged everyone who had contributed from the legion as well as political and New York City bureaucrats, large and small, who had hung with them in the five-year approval process.  Though this was the opposite of a political gathering, it was New York City, so it was impossible to not notice the former councilman speaking at length as well as his attorney, who seemed to break down during his remarks, and the master of ceremonies patiently and wisely prolonged the gathering for the current councilwoman, Linda Lee, to speak briefly.  Lee is the first Korean woman to be elected to the New York City Council, but she is expected to be opposed in running for re-election by Steve Bihar, the aforementioned former councilman’s attorney.

None of that had anything to do with the families or all the rest of us.  It was a solemn and well-handled affair bringing together all of us from the girls of the Boy Scouts who raised the flags, to the Vietnam Knights Motorcycle Club, to old legionnaire,s to singers and staff with the of the local military museum recreating the 40s with their uniforms and musical renditions.  For an afternoon it was a memorial commemorating a tragedy where men gave their lives for their country, and where the themes of American patriotism united, rather than divided all of us, categorically and without question.  As soaring as singing America the Beautiful had been, as solemn as joining in the Pledge of Allegiance was, at the same time, no one batted an eye and young and old all joined in as the dinner’s entertainers belted out the Creedence Clearwater Revival and John Fogarty’s anti-war anthem against the Vietnam War and the compulsory draft, “Fortunate Son” at dinner’s end, which somehow also seemed appropriate to the moment and memorial as well, sad, but true.

Some folks are born made to wave the flag
Hoo, they’re red, white and blue
And when the band plays “Hail to the chief”
Ooh, they point the cannon at you, Lord

It ain’t me, it ain’t me
I ain’t no senator’s son, son
It ain’t me, it ain’t me
I ain’t no furtunate one, no

Some folks are born silver spoon in hand
Lord, don’t they help themselves, Lord?
But when the taxman come to the door
Lord, the house lookin’ like a rummage sale, yeah

It ain’t me, it ain’t me
I ain’t no millionaire’s son, no, no
It ain’t me, it ain’t me
I ain’t no fortunate one, no

Yeah-yeah, some folks inherit star-spangled eyes
Hoo, they send you down to war, Lord
And when you ask ’em, “How much should we give?”
Hoo, they only answer, “More, more, more, more”

It ain’t me, it ain’t me
I ain’t no military son, son, Lord
It ain’t me, it ain’t me
I ain’t no fortunate one, one

It ain’t me, it ain’t me
I ain’t no fortunate one, no, no, no
It ain’t me, it ain’t me
I ain’t no fortunate son, no, no, no
It ain’t me, it ain’t me…