Memorial Day observances note how young troops can be
By Neil Schulman
Long Branch — Memorial Day honors those who paid the ultimate price while serving the country. At ceremonies in Long Branch, speakers noted that these troops often paid that price at an early age.The city held its four traditional ceremonies this year. Memorial Day observances began at Fireman’s Field in Elberon, recalling firefighters lost during this year and those who died in the line of duty. It then moved to the West End Avenue beach, where a wreath was thrown into the ocean to recall those lost at sea. An observance was then held in Jerry Morgan Park, named for a Long Branch man who died fighting in the Vietnam War. Finally, it moved to a ceremony by City Hall, with more remembrances and reflections on the meaning of the day, including readings by local students.
At Jerry Morgan Park, Avery Grant, who organizes that portion of the ceremony, noted that the youngest Long Branch resident to die in Vietnam was only 19.
“I hope you will remember this,” said Grant, a retired lieutenant colonel. Veterans today are strong advocates for peace, because they know the price of war, he said. But they understand the need.
“We’re urging our government to try diplomacy rather than war. But if they called war, we’d come back,” Grant said.
Mayor John Pallone said the youngest city resident to lose his life in Vietnam was in his teens, but others weren’t much older. “There was no one over 22. All of them .. really were just boys,” Pallone said. But he noted that relatives of Morgan and other fallen troops were at the ceremonies, and they live on in a way
“Nobody really dies until we forget them,” Pallone said.
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Pallone continued the theme of how young those who sacrificed their lives were at City Hall, quoting from a 1985 speech by Ronald Reagan where the president said we think of those who served as old men. “But most of them were boys when they died, and they gave up two lives – the one they were living and the one they would have lived. When they died, they gave up their chance to be husbands and fathers and grandfathers. They gave up their chance to be revered old men. They gave up everything for our country, for us. And all we can do is remember,” Reagan said.
After the opening Invocationat at City Hall by Rev. Aaron Gibson, Mayor Pallone noted that the Jewish War Veterans were celebrating their 125 anniversary. Founded in 1896, they are the oldest continuously operating veterans service organization in America.
David G. Brown introduced the posting of colors by Long Branch High School Air Force Jr. ROTC and VFW Post 2140. Diane Johantgen gave her annual performance the Star Spangled Banner.
Several members of JWV Post 125 were present, including Councilwoman Dr. Mary Jane Celli. Council President Mario Vieira presented them with certificates of recognition on the milestone.
The purpose of Memorial Day is to recall the lives of those who paid the ultimate price, the futures that they sacrificed to protect America, Pallone said, and it is important we continue to do that.
Memorial Day in Pandemic Times
At the ceremonies, taps was played by Long Branch High School students, and students in the Long Branch High School Air Force Jr. ROTC posted the colors, along with members of the VFW Post 2140. This was the first ceremony outside of the school the students had taken part in since last March, when the coronavirus pandemic began.
Three students who had written essays discussing the importance of Memorial Day, were recognized: Nicole Cabra Diacamos, a fifth grader at the George Catrambone School; Angelyn Santos-Gonzalez, a seventh grader at Long Branch Middle School; and Gina Hernandez, a 10th grader at the Long Branch High School STEM Academy.
Sants-Gonzalez said that traditional ways to remember our troops, such as gatherings and parades, have been difficult this year due to the restrictions from the pandemic, but the purpose of the day should still be observed. “During a year we have endured, it is just as important,” she said, saying the community should use other tools such as reaching out online to remember those who have fallen and celebrate those who served.
“We need to be creative and make sure we honor our brave soldiers any way we can,” she said.
The other students also spoke about the importance of Memorial Day. Hernandez quoted President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, “Those who enjoy such freedoms as we enjoy, forget in time that men died to earn them.”
It is important to ensure that doesn’t happen, she said. “To me, this quote means more than just words on paper,” she said. “I wholeheartedly believe, without a single doubt in my mind.”
Long Branch Public Schools Superintendent Francisco Rodriguez said that it was important to make sure that children understood the importance of Memorial Day.
“Today is a day of remembrance,” he said, and we enjoy freedoms because of those who lost their lives. “We work to ensure our children, and children’s children uphold this tradition.”
Rabbi Laibel Shapiro ended the ceremony with the Benediction.