At this time last year, perhaps you or your children played baseball on the fields next to West Babylon Junior High School. While athletes and fans are longing to get back to the field, I hope that I can bring some part of the field to them.
Located on the south side of Old Farmingdale Road, between Route 109 and Little East Neck Road is Capt. John C. Pape Memorial Park, a Town of Babylon public park. More than 50 years ago, it was known as North Street Ballfield. Yes, the name was confusing to me too, until a looked at a 1941 map that showed the road we now know as ‘Old Farmingdale Road’ was named ‘North Street.’ (Incidentally, Route 109 was labeled ‘Babylon-Farmingdale Road’; aptly named for a roadway between the two communities, but one that we don’t usually use, today.)
In 1970, the Babylon Town Board renamed the ballfield in memory of Capt. John C. Pape. On Saturday, October 28, 2017, I had the privilege of delivering the following message at the re-dedication ceremonies for the Capt. John C. Pape Memorial Park.
John Charles Pape was raised in West Babylon and graduated West Babylon High School in 1961. I happened upon his high school yearbook in which he appeared on several pages – as a noted art student, for participation in stage crew, and as a baseball player. One portrait shows him casually leaning against the school – looking like a wholesome James Dean – while three young women appeared absorbed by his every word.After graduation, following the example of his father Charles who had served during World War II, he joined the Army. His younger brother Donald later answered the call to service, joining the Navy.After serving one tour in Vietnam, John Pape returned home for leave in 1967. The local news touted the achievements of then Lieutenant Pape noting that “he served with the 1st Air Cavalry Division as a Rifle Company Commander … received the Army Commendation Medal, Air Medal, the 1st and 2nd Award of Bronze Star for Valor … the Purple Heart [and would] be receiving the Silver Star” when he reported to Fort Wadsworth, Staten Island, after his leave. They also reported that he intended to make the Army his career.John Pape returned to Vietnam where he was promoted to Captain and by all accounts served with honor and distinction. Writing in 2006, William Hawkinberry posted a tribute to his friend with whom he had graduated from Officer Candidate School in 1965: “John was a hard-driving Platoon Leader, but never asked his men to do something that he would not do.”While serving in the Quang Tin Province of Vietnam, Captain John C. Pape was killed in action. He left behind not only his parents, two brothers and a sister, but a wife and two young children.In May 1970, Town of Babylon Councilman Rowland Scott and Councilman Patrick Waters offered the following resolution:WHEREAS, the late CAPTAIN JOHN C. PAPE, son of Mr. and Mrs. Charles T. Pape of West Babylon, died in the service of his country May 18, 1969 on a second voluntary tour of duty in Vietnam, andWHEREAS, CAPTAIN PAPE, holder of The Silver Star, The Bronze Star and numerous other decorations, distinguished himself by his gallantry and valor,NOW, THEREFORE, be itRESOLVED that after consultation with the Sgt. John Sardiello Post, American Legion, the Town Board does here by authorize the field known only as “North Field” at North Street in West Babylon, be dedicated on Memorial Day, May 30, 1970, as “THE CAPTAIN JOHN C. PAPE MEMORIAL FIELD” in memory of Captain Pape, and in recognition of the sacrifices made by all the brave men from the Town of Babylon who have given their lives in the service of their country.Unanimously adopted.
The re-dedication day had beautiful weather and the ceremony was well attended by young baseball players, firefighters and veterans, along with local officials and residents.
Among those assembled, I met a cluster of women who went to school with John Pape. One brought along her copy of the 1961 West Babylon High School yearbook – the same one that I had seen on Ancestry.com. For me, it was equally heartwarming and heartbreaking to speak with these women. Their memories of John Pape were clear and kind, but you could still see the sorrow of his loss in their eyes. Capt. Pape was mourned not only by his family, but by his friends, who still hold him dear.
So, until baseball games resume – and they will, eventually – let’s remember Capt. Pape, and all veterans, for their service and sacrifice. The park and its community activity is a wonderful tribute to all of them.
The re-dedication of Capt. John C. Pape Memorial Park, October 28, 2017.
(Photo credit: Mary Cascone, who is a better at being a historian than a photographer.)