By Walter J. O’Neill, Jr.
Long Branch – “Lest We Forget. Dedicated to the glory of God and the spirit of sacrifice and honor of the men and women of our community who have served our country in all wars. Let none forget they gave their all for the principals of Democracy. Freedom of speech. Freedom of Religion. Freedom of Want. Freedom of Fear.”
Those words are etched on a stone monument located between City Hall and the Public Library. It was dedicated to the citizens of Long Branch on November 11, 1952.
It also features two bronze plaques. One honors those city residents who died during World War I and II. Above that plaque is an inscription that reads, “Let us live for those who have fallen.” The second honors those residents who were killed during the Korean and Vietnam Wars. Above that one it reads, “That in our lives they may be resurrected.”
That is why we celebrate Memorial Day. It is a day we pay tribute to those Americans who bravely gave their life for our country.
As it has for many years, Long Branch started their celebration in West End at the Fireman’s Field.
That was followed by Mayor Adam Schneider throwing a wreath into the ocean off the West End Beach. Next stop was Jerry Morgan Park, dedicated in the memory of Private First Class Jerry Morgan Jr., a member of the 2nd Battalion of the 12th Infantry Regiment. He was also the first Long Branch resident to die during the Vietnam War.
Surrounding the base of the flag pole are the names of nine men who died during the war. Schneider looked at their names and ages and made a comment about how young they were, just barely out of high school before they were killed. He also stated that we need to focus on peace so no more young Americans have to die.
The last celebration took place at the large monument outside City Hall. “Twenty years ago I spoke about how only 400 veterans of World War I were still alive. Today, they are all gone and those that served during World War II are in their nineties,” said Schneider.
He then read an obituary that appeared in the New York Times for Jake McNiece, who was the last surviving member of a military unit during World War II known as the “Filthy Thirteen.” McNasty, his nickname during the war, died on January 21, 2013 at the age of 93.
Schneider spoke about how McNiece enlisted in 1942 and was assigned as a demolition saboteur of the 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment. This unit became known as the “Filthy Thirteen” with McNiece as its sergeant and leader.
McNiece went on to make a total of four wartime combat jumps. The first was part of the Invasion of Normandy. He also jumped as part of Operation Market Garden in the Netherlands, which was featured in a book and then the film, “A Bridge Too Far.” He also took part in the Battle of the Bulge and his last jump was near Prium in Germany.
The Filthy Thirteen were known for their lack of military discipline, ability to consume large amounts of alcohol, fights and spending time in the brig. His unit was also the inspiration of the hit movie “The Dirty Dozen.”
Following the mayor were two of the three Long Branch Public School students who won the Memorial Day essay contest. The first was Amerigo A. Anastasia fifth grade student Isis Soriano. Her winning paper was on supporting our troops.
Soriano provided a few examples of how people can support our brave men and women fighting overseas. She suggested sending care packages of items like beef jerky, instant drink mixes, bug spray, mini board games, Band-Aids and tuna in pouches.
“A simple thing you can do is when you see a person in a military uniform, shake their hand, and say thank you,” said Soriano.
She also told the large crowd that her class at the AAA School had adopted a soldier. “We are sending him letters, cards, and silly things to keep his spirits up,” said Soriano. “He has written back to us and it was the coolest thing ever.”
Kylie Benetsky, a high school sophomore, is a two-time winner of the Memorial Day essay contest. Her topic was Genocide, and she demonstrated how much research she put into her paper by describing The Rape of Nanking, where 50,000 Japanese soldiers brutally murdered women, men and children in Nanking, China.
“Nanking was under distress for six weeks, a time span in which thousands of men, women, and children were killed in cold blooded murder,” said Benetsky.
She then spoke about the World Courts that did not properly hold accountable those who undertook the mass genocide in China.
“Another improperly handled situation was that of the Holocaust, which took place four years before the Rape of Nanking,” said Benetsky. “Millions of Jews were slaughtered, displaced, and were forced to face extreme prejudice and still the World Courts did not provide the necessary means of punishment for the Nazis.”