Throwback Thursday – Memorial Days

Phyllis Clemenz, Ann Willard (whose father was Norman T. Kirk) and Murial Tuma in Kirk Park, possibly in the 1970s to 1980s. | Ray Smith Collection, Montauk Library Archives
Memorial plaque for Major General Norman T. Kirk. | Barbara Borth Collection, Montauk Library Archives
The Kirk and Duryea families in Montauk, 1936. | Lynn Duryea Collection, Montauk Library Archives
Kirk Park Pavilion, undated. | Barbara Borth Collection, Montauk Library Archives.

Kirk Park was dedicated in 1962 to the memory of Major General Norman T. Kirk, surgeon general of the U.S. Army during World War II as well as, as the park’s memorial plaque said, “village doctor, fisherman, friend.”

Gen. Kirk was married in 1917 to the sister of Perry B. Duryea, Anne, who had been visiting Montauk since childhood. In 1947 the Kirks bought the former home of E.B. Tuthill on Fort Pond Bay, where the general and his family liked to swim, row, fish inshore and off, and enjoy the sunsets.

“Montauk was, and still is, a great place to loaf and to enjoy cool breezes,” the general was quoted in the East Hampton Star as saying in 1960, the year of his death.

The dedication in 1962 was organized by the newly formed Montauk Village Association, to which the heirs of Arthur Benson deeded the Kirk Park property in 1961. At the dedication ceremony an Army surgeon who’d been a friend and associate of Gen. Kirk described him as a morale-booster for veterans who raised the standards for their care as well as “an outstanding doctor, taking a keen interest in the whole man rather than just mending his body.”

Some people recollect him tending to the medical needs of Montauk residents, too, when he was in town in the summer. In an oral history interview, Dick White Jr. said the doctor would periodically summon grade-schoolers to his porch, where he’d administer tick shots by himself.

“He’d sit there and say, ‘Okay soldier,’” Mr. White said. “He was used to dealing with Army guys, you know, rough and tumble. Here, we have little kids. Everybody was a soldier. Even if you were a girl, you were a soldier.”

After the Kirk Park dedication, the Montauk Village Association focused on creating a new kind of commemoration: a “Pavilion of Tribute to the Men of Montauk.” The idea was to honor men of Montauk, living or deceased, who distinguished themselves “by reason of service to, and love for their community.”

“The Pavilion itself will be situated 30 feet off the south shore of Kirk Park,” a fundraising advertisement explained in 1966, “reached by a dock walk, accessible to fishermen, ice skaters, dreamers and bird watchers.”

Built by Edward Pospisil, the pavilion was formally dedicated in 1968. The inaugural Men of Montauk were John Behan, Harry Bruno, Frank Borth, Perry B. Duryea Jr., Perry B. Duryea Sr., Carl Fisher, Richard T. Gilmartin, Dr. Richard Perrault, Edward Pospisil, H.J. Sobiloff, and Frank Tuma.

Robert Moses, the powerhouse behind the state parks at Hither Hills and Montauk Point, was among the officials who spoke.

“I am most happy to have a part in another park establishment, if only a small one, at Montauk,” Moses said.

“The preservation of Second House as an East Hampton historical treasure and the establishment of a small local park next to it are evidences of awakened local interest in conservation and of your pride in being citizens of no mean township,” the former park commissioner told his audience.

“So prepare for growth, regulate and contain it,” he said, “and keep as much of your heritage open and sacred as you can.”

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