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Civic leader hopes to bring World War I veteran’s legacy to life

By Mark Hallum

Flushing historian Joseph Brostek said he hopes to revitalize the legacy of a fallen World War I veteran who died in the conflict and whose body remains in Belgium.

For Brostek, an additional plaque in front of Father McGoldrick Public Library at 155-06 Roosevelt Ave. has the potential to solidify U.S. Army Corporal William A. Leonard’s memory by telling the story of the Flushing warrior’s role in the community in addition to his ultimate sacrifice.

Leonard was born on Boerum Place — now called 150th Street — in 1889 and became a civic leader at a young age, according to Brostek , a trustee of the Queens Historical Society.

He worked his way up from running errands for the Flushing Daily Times to city editor and also served as a member on the board of directors for the Flushing Cooperative Savings and Loan Association, the board of Governors Flushing Boat Club, treasurer of the Third Ward Republican Club, and a member of the Flushing Business Men’s Association.

The future World War I vet was also appointed to the Queensborough Public Library board of trustees by Mayor John Purroy Mitchel, where he served two terms before volunteering to join the fight in Europe.

Leonard was 29 years old when he was killed near Kemmel, Belgium on July 14, 1918, and was interred in the West Flanders Field American Cemetery.

On Armistice Day, Nov. 11 1934, the American Legion William A. Leonard Post #422 dedicated Leonard Square, a triangle across from McGoldrick Library, in his honor.

A plaque at the base of a flagstaff still bears his name, but other dedications have joined his in the traffic island.

In 1988, NYPD Police Officer George Scheu was honored after he was killed by a robbery suspect on Murray Street, and in 2008 a Sept. 11 memorial was placed in the triangle.

Brostek said a dedication to go in the library is still in the offing, but he hopes to include an old tintype shot of Leonard on the plaque.

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