Close to a century of exposure to the elements has scoured away the paint and slowly eroded the concrete beneath the feet of the soldier that holds an American flag while standing watch in front of Eastport Elementary School on Montauk Highway.But thanks to the work of Fredy Cardona, an employee of Capobianco Construction in Patchogue, the hamlet’s signature soldiers’ memorial is slowing being brought back to life.
Mr. Cardona, a Colombia native, has spent the past few months scrubbing, sanding, priming and painting the monument in an attempt to restore and protect it from the weather. Ultimately, the gold and silver buttons on the soldier’s jacket will once again gleam, and the dome upon which he stands will resemble the Earth.
But there is still much more work to be done, Mr. Cardona explained earlier this week while taking a break from his work. He didn’t venture to guess how much more time it would take him to finish the job.
Theophilus Brouwer, a respected sculptor from Westhampton, completed the monument in 1922 as a tribute to those who served in World War I. His son, Roger Brouwer, served as the model for the soldier, according to a historical study prepared by Ronald A. Michne of Eastport and his son, Ronald A. Michne Jr. of Westhampton. Mr. Brouwer created a number of local sculptures, including the musketeer and lion at the Casa Basso Restaurant on Montauk Highway in Westhampton. Some of his work is featured in a permanent collection of the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C.
A photograph from the younger Mr. Michne’s collection shows a crowd gathered at the unveiling of the monument in the early 1920s, a white sheet still covering the sculpture. The purpose of the monument was later expanded to also honor those local veterans who served in World War II and subsequent wars. A plaque on the monument features the names of 23 veterans, including local family names like Griffing, Ketcham, Raynor, Tuttle and Wilkinson.
Dennis Morrill, the commander of Eastport American Legion Post 1545 and vice commander of the Suffolk County American Legion, said the monument has been a focal point of his organization, especially on Memorial and Veterans days. Mr. Morrill added that he and other members of the American Legion had asked school administrators to have the statue repaired, though it quickly became clear that finding someone to do the work was going to be difficult.
“It’s coming along,” Mr. Morrill said on Tuesday.
Richard Snyder, the assistant superintendent for business for the Eastport South Manor School District, said last week that the Board of Education and administrators felt it was important to preserve the monument, though they had difficulty finding someone who was willing to undertake such an extensive restoration project. The work began July 1, he said.
“It’s in poor condition, and it should be for a concrete monument that has been there exposed to salty air and the elements for 80 or 90 years,” Mr. Snyder said, adding that he hopes the work will extend the monument’s lifespan by another five or so years. “Any time we can get out of it is a success because of its condition.”
The district has hired Capobianco Construction to complete a number of large renovations throughout the district, and workers are building the new elementary school that will sit behind the Eastport Elementary School, off Tuttle Avenue. The new approximately $25 million school, which will eventually house students in kindergarten to the second grade that now attend Eastport Elementary, is projected to open its doors in February 2014. Mr. Snyder said the construction company is completing the restoration work on the monument at no extra cost.
On Monday, Mr. Cardona stood near the monument, examining his work and what is left to be done. The 52-year-old Central Islip resident said he works on it whenever he can, between his other duties that include painting the Eastport Elementary School library, parts of its exterior and the new elementary school.
“A mi, me encanta,” he said in Spanish, explaining that he “loves” the restoration work.
Anthony Variale, whose grandson, also named Anthony Variale, will be a fifth-grader at the Eastport Elementary School next month, said he was pleased to see the ongoing restoration work. The Manorville resident recalled passing by the monument as a child with his family on his way to Hampton Bays.
“You’re doing a hell of a job,” he told Mr. Cardona. “I’m so happy to see it restored.”