HOBOKEN — In the Boy Scouts, a young man learns how to pitch a tent, build a fire, tie a tourniquet, cook an omelet, and properly fold the U.S. flag (triangular, with three corners).
But Liam Richardson, in his bid for the highest rank of Eagle Scout, became a historian, orator, project manager, and authority on the Four Chaplains from World War II.
Richardson, of Troop 146 in Hoboken, needed a service project to meet requirements for Eagle. He chose to refurbish the monument to Italian inventor Guglielmo Marconi (1874-1937) and the Four Chaplains in Hoboken’s Church Square Park, his favorite hometown greenspace.
In 2022 he got an idea.
“It kind of occurred to me that it’s a cool monument,” he said. “But, there was no sign, and nothing explaining what the (Marconi) monument was for, nor the story of the Four Chaplains. So I thought, ‘That’s a pretty good Eagle project idea.’ ”
He also noticed that “the monument could have used some TLC.”
Clarity Via QR Code
Richardson, 17, is a senior at St. Peter’s Prep, the Jesuit High School in Jersey City, where he competes on the golf team. His family belongs to St. Francis Parish in Hoboken, which sponsors Troop 146.
His Eagle Scout service project goal was to untangle any confusion related to the monument’s merging of people from different circumstances while giving it a thorough cleaning and a fresh dose of landscaping.
A new plaque or sign with more information would help. But Richardson also realized that the separate narratives for the chaplains and Marconi — plus the story of how they wound up together on the monument — needed more than just a few sentences to make sense and to properly honor everyone.
His solution: Post a sign with a quick-response (QR) code to scan with a smartphone.
The code will direct people to a website with stories written by Richardson about Marconi and the chaplains. Readers can also learn the complex story of how the monument developed.
World’s Fair, World War
Richardson called the monument’s story “a very interesting one with lots of twists and turns.”
It begins with John Minervini, a Hoboken olive oil importer from Italy, who came to the U.S. at age 4 in 1904.
Thirty-five years later, he attended the 1939 World’s Fair in Flushing Meadows-Corona Park. It included an Italian Pavilion; at its entrance was a 200-foot-high waterfall dedicated to Marconi.
Marconi had become known as the “Father of Modern Radio” for developing a telegraph system that sent messages over radio waves. At the base of the waterfall was a nude statue of Minerva, the Roman goddess of wisdom, who held a tiny owl in her right, outstretched hand.
But 1939 also saw the start of World War II. Any pavilions related to Axis powers — Germany, Japan, and Italy — were dismantled, Richardson said.
“After the fair closed,” he added, “the Italian Pavilion officials were in no position to ship the statue back (to Italy), and it ended up in Brooklyn. It remained unnoticed on a Brooklyn pier for more than a decade.”
Minervini, meanwhile, rediscovered the statue while on business in Brooklyn. He acquired it for the planned monument for Marconi and Italian heritage in Hoboken.
Chaplains Join ‘Father of Radio’
The new monument’s pedestal was placed in 1954 at Church Square Park, which served as one of the scenes in the movie classic “On the Waterfront,” also in 1954.
But, while trying to put the statue on the pedestal, it became unbalanced and fell. Minerva broke in two at the knees — damaged beyond repair.
Minervini and other supporters regrouped to develop a new topper for the pedestal. Italian sculptor Arturo Dazzi was commissioned to make a column capped with an eagle depicting Marconi as “Wireless Holding the Heart of the World.”
But what does Marconi have to do with the Four Chaplains, who perished in the sinking of the troopship SS Dorchester in 1943?
Richardson knows the history, particularly the chaplains’ legacy, which he recited for people assembled on Feb. 5 during wreath-laying ceremonies honoring these heroic clergymen in uniform.
He has been a regular attendee for several years at the event sponsored by American Legion Post 107 in Hoboken.
Historians say Hoboken’s mayor at the time, John Grogan (1953-1965), pushed to have Minervini include the Four Chaplains in the design given to Dazzi, Richardson said.
According to the scout’s research, it is assumed that Grogan was playing in the postwar patriotism that lingered in the early 1960s.
The final work includes portraits of the Four Chaplains. Among them is Father John Washington, a Catholic priest who is considered a local hero, being a native of Newark.
Before joining the Army, he served at St. Stephen’s Parish in Kearny, about 10 miles from Hoboken — all in the Archdiocese of Newark.
Joining Father Washington on the Dorchester, bound for Greenland, were Rabbi Alexander Goode and two Protestant ministers, Revs. Clark Poling and George Fox. Each had the rank of 1st lieutenant.
They all gave their life jackets to other servicemen and went down with the Dorchester, which was sunk by a German U-boat’s torpedo.
Richardson said the stories of the chaplains and Marconi are fascinating, but it can be “quite confusing” for a beholder to see them together in a single monument.
“That’s why I think it’s so important to get that story out,” he said.
City officials gave Richardson permission to begin planning the project. He envisioned a paint job for the monument’s metal fence, but Scoutmaster Norman Kasser warned there might be lead on the surface.
So, Richardson got a test kit from a hardware store, and lead was detected. He notified city officials, who ran their own tests and decided that they would be handling the remediation.
Richardson said he received donations from American Legion Post 107 as well as services from the city. He said plans call for the painting of the fence, improved landscaping, and a permanent plaque with a QR code to be completed in 30-60 days.
Richardson praised adult leaders for guiding his scouting career, including Kasser and assistants Ken Howitt and Bob Manzari.
He also praised fellow St. Francis parishioner Ray Guzman of Hoboken Sign for helping him create the sign and Bob Foster of the Hoboken Historical Society for checking the stories he wrote that people will access through the QR code.
Kasser said Troop 146 began in 1984 and has since produced 34 Eagle Scouts.
“The Boy Scout organization has helped turn thousands of young boys into good citizens,” Kasser said. “And among them, the best are the ones who reached the rank of Eagle Scout.
“Liam is an excellent example of such a boy.”
Richardson’s highest praise went to his parents, Terrence and Isabel Richardson, for their love and support.
“They really helped guide me through this whole process, navigating the city and navigating everything,” the scout said. “They’ve been really great, and I’m so thankful for them.”