A birthday for Airplane Park

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  • This photo of the F-86L Sabre Jet was taken at Airplane Park on June 25. Photos provided.

  • The F-86L Sabre Jet being transported from the Air Force base in upstate Rome to Monroe on Aug. 22, 1963.

  • F-86L Sabre Jet with slide added (pictured on the right side of the aircraft).

  • Volunteers work on the restoration of the Sabre Jet.

It is hard to believe that the F-86L Sabre Jet that stands in Ford R. Dally Airplane Park is 50 years old this year. Although some people may consider it nothing more than an old airplane, it is far more then that — it is a monument to the men who fought and died in the Korean War. From June 25, 1950 to July 25, 1953, the time period of the war, the Department of Defense database lists 54,246 Americans lost their lives fighting for freedom.

Airplane Park has stood as a symbol of Monroe for these 50 years, and has been recognized as part of Monroe just as people recognize the Statue of Liberty in New York Harbor. People who grew up in the area or visit Monroe often seem to have memories of the airplane in the park.

What better way, then, is there to remember Ford Dally and honor the veterans who served and died in the Korean War than to restore the plane and let it continue to be a centerpiece at the end of Crane Park?

The restoration itself has been ongoing for several years, with volunteers putting hundreds of hours into this restoration using their own tools and paying for supplies out of their own pockets. Unfortunately, they have worked without recognition from their community. Their sole reward was their own satisfaction after the eventual restoration of this Sabre Jet.

In 2009, a group of Marines from Stewart Air National Guard Base started restoring the plane. The team leader of this group was Staff Sgt. Claude Gillman, who has since retired from the Marine Corps but continues to be the leader in the completion of this project.

He was joined by 15 volunteer members of Cornerstone Masonic Lodge No. 711, including Robert J. Adams, David N. Roman, David Roman, Nathaniel Roman, Brian Miller, Kylie Miller, Zack Miller, Paul Miller, Claude Gillman, John Ziegler, Greg MacLeod, Robson Vidal, Kevin Grace, Dennis Gerbino and Ricardo Assad. The Masonic Lodge became involved in this project in recognition of Ford Dally, who was a member of the lodge for many decades.

They have had setbacks, including graffiti and destruction of special fabricated parts made for the plane. Vandalism destroyed many hours of work by these volunteers as the work was originally stopped as the behavior continued. Earlier this year, however, the village said they would erect a fence around the Sabre Jet and place the airplane on a permanent concrete pad. Once this fence is erected, the work will continue.

The history

The airplane itself was transported from the U.S. Air Force base in Rome, N.Y. by four residents from Monroe, including Sgt. Ford Dally and Mayor Jay Stahl on Aug. 22, 1963. The tractor and trailer used to transport the plane were also donated by local businesses. The Sabre Jet was reassembled by volunteers from the Air Force stationed at Newburgh's Stewart Air Force Base, originally had a slide added and was a major part of the play area.

A couple of attempts have been made to remove the plane, but the public has come to its aid by opposing those actions and volunteering to aid in its restoration. The last time this was attempted was in 1987 — it was defeated with the help of former Mayor Herb Dorn.

Many residents hope the fence will go up soon, so the volunteers can continue this important project, honoring not only the memory of Ford Dally, but also those 54,246 men who lost their lives as well as the many veterans who served during the Korean War.

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