Del Valle Park is in the heart of Lakewood, near the crossroads of Arbor St. and Woodruff Ave. The park was opened in 1957 and is named after Jose del Valle, a Honduran liberator and statesman. This attractive park is also known as “Airplane Park” because of the Douglas F3D “Skyknight” jet fighter that is proudly exhibited in the park’s southwest corner. A summer concert series is also held at this 12-acre park.
The Jet in ‘Airplane Park’
It seems appropriate that Lakewood’s memorial, in the shape of a Marine Corps jet fighter from the Korean War, be a retired Douglas Aircraft Company F3D “Skynight” fighter, originally a gift from the Defense Department. It began its life in Lakewood as a large play structure for children in Del Valle Park.
The jet arrived in 1959, painted black from its night fighter role but stripped of its operating gear and engines, and delivered to Del Valle Park as a gift from the Navajo Freight Lines company (which explains why the company’s logo of a Navajo portrait was painted on the sides of the plane for many years).
Some children, such as Dennis Lander, whose poem “The Boys of Del Valle Park” is now included in the memorial, recall playing on and in the jet as it lay on the park grounds. However, jets aren’t jungle gyms, and the plane quickly began to disintegrate, becoming a subject of concern for playtime injuries. The restored jet was hoisted onto a concrete pylon in 1963, nose up as though taking off over Woodruff Avenue, and repainted in Marine Corps colors and insignia. On Memorial Day 1964, the jet and pylon were officially dedicated as a memorial to Lakewood residents who had served in the Korean War. Del Valle Park was later transformed into the site of annual Memorial Day ceremonies with the assistance of American Legion Post 496.
As the Vietnam War came to an end in 1972, the city council honored Captain Darrel Pyle, who was then a prisoner of the North Vietnamese government, by placing a plaque near the pylon honoring his prisoner of war status. He returned from Vietnam safely at the end of the war in 1973.
The city has started a practice of honoring Lakewood’s young men who died in Vietnam during Memorial Day ceremonies co-sponsored by the city and Lakewood’s veterans organizations.
The Del Valle memorial finally gathered memories from all of America’s twentieth-century conflicts. A plaque commemorating the contributions of World War II servicemen was made possible by a generous donation from the Reverend Dr. John Bonner’s family.
Next Point of Interest: Rynerson Park