‘Goodwill and Community Are What We Feel’: Newly Donated Cherry Blossom Planted as Part of Mead Park’s ‘Gold Star Walk’

Town resident Jackie Alexander, a third-generation Japanese-American, had already been looking for a place in New Canaan where her organization could donate a cherry blossom tree when she heard last fall about a need at one of the town’s most important, if little-known, memorial sites. 

Established in 1945 and twice restored in the past 20 years thanks to Korean War veteran Jim Bach, among others, the “Gold Star Walk” at Mead Park is dedicated to the 38 New Canaan men who lost their lives while serving in the U.S. Armed Forces during World War II. Alexander on learning that one of the Gold Star Walk trees was dying and needed to be replaced, brought the information back to the nonprofit organization where she serves as president—the Japan Society of Fairfield County, which promotes goodwill through mutual cultural understanding between the United States and Japan—and within months the cherry blossom tree donation was approved and accepted for the site. “I’m excited about this, personally, because it’s in a time where we have a lot of protests and lot of things that we want to change, and this is something we can do to be kind and reach out and give back to our community,” said Alexander, a New Canaan resident since 1988 whose uncles served during World War II with the U.S. Army 442nd Infantry Regiment and whose father taught Japanese to U.S. soldiers. The tree planting “is significant for the fact of where we are now—it [World War II] was a war against Japan, but goodwill and community are what we feel now.”

She added, ”To me it’s a positive message. I’m proud of being an American, I’m proud of being a New Canaan resident and I think what they have done in Mead Park is beautiful.

‘It’s Finally Happening’: Long-Planned Restoration, Completion of World War II ‘Gold Star Walk’ Underway at Mead Park

A nearly 10-year effort to revitalize a World War II memorial path in Mead Park, spearheaded by a longtime New Canaan resident, finally has an end in sight, as repair of an existing footbridge and construction of a second one recently commenced. Originally installed in 1945 at the end of World War II by a local gardening club, the “Gold Star Walk” at Mead had included 38 flowering trees honoring each of the New Canaan men who lost their lives in service (see list at end of article). Each tree had been fitted with a plaque bearing the name of the deceased. Yet the trees and the walk have fallen into disrepair, with the plaques missing and many of the trees no longer flowering—a situation that New Canaanite and Korean War vet Jim Bach found unacceptable. He has raised funds to complete the Gold Star Walk and has tapped local landscape architect Keith Simpson for the critical bridge work.

PHOTOS: New Canaanites Who Died While Serving in World War II

Since helping restore a memorial walk dedicated to New Canaanites who perished during World War II in 2003 in Mead Park, town resident Jim Bach, a Korean War veteran, has spearheaded efforts to improve the visibility and appearance of this town landmark. Those efforts have included re-planting of trees along the “Gold Star Walk,” creating a second footbridge to extend it and installing a new walkway and map—and a venerable nonprofit organization now is offering to help Bach preserve the memorial, which features a plaque listing names of the 38 men who died during the war (see gallery above for information on the servicemen). The memorial dates back to 1948, and Bach—a 1947 New Canaan High School graduate who served as a U.S. Army sergeant from 1952 to 1954—said he wants to add some finishing touches, to ensure its longevity. “I want to see it done, it was part of my life a long time ago and it kept me out of trouble at one time,” Bach said. “The final thing that I wanted to get done with the memorial is to put in a bridge across the main stream that enters the park, on the west side of the garage.

Officials Support Proposed ‘Twin Bridges’ Design for WWII Memorial Walk at Mead Park

When funds are in hand to repair a failing footbridge at Mead Park—whether that money comes from the town or is raised privately—the structure itself should mirror a proposed new footbridge, so that together they help form a cohesive World War II memorial walk there, parks officials say. The “Gold Star Walk”—a footpath along the northern and eastern edges of Mead Pond that’s dedicated to the 38 New Canaan men who died during Second World War—requires two bridges to traverse the underground streams that supply the pond’s water. Though its foundation is secure, the decking and handrails on one of those bridges, already in place, are in dire need of replacement—an approximately $15,000 to $17,000 job. A private group led by  1947 New Canaan High School graduate Jim Bach has secured nearly all of the $37,000 needed to build the second footbridge, but the two structures aesthetically must look exactly alike, according to local landscape architect Keith Simpson, who is helping him. “What I am afraid of is that we will get the funds to do this [new bridge] and it will look really good, and then this [existing bridge] will be band-aided by the town with a way that goes about doing things ‘financially’ and the two bridges will actually never look alike,” Simpson told members of the Park & Recreation Commission during their regular meeting Wednesday.

‘We Would Have To Know That You Have the Money’: Parks Officials Stop Short of Supporting Plan To Finish WWII Memorial Walk at Mead Park

Though they conceded that a footbridge in Mead Park is structurally unsound and that a proposal to finish and maintain an area memorializing New Canaan’s World War II vets is nice, parks officials say greater detail is needed in order to support the plan more than conceptually. Private funds would be used to build an estimated $37,000, second bridge over the main in-flow to Mead Pond at one end of the “Gold Star Walk,” as well as to ensure that trees dedicated to New Canaanites who perished during WWII are healthy. Yet the Park & Recreation Commission needs a detailed cost estimate and assurances that private monies are in place to repair an existing footbridge, according to Sally Campbell, the group’s chairman. “We cannot approve anything unless we really see a firm plan,” Campbell told local landscape architect Keith Simpson during the commission’s Feb. 10 meeting, held in the Douglas Room at Lapham Community Center.