SOUTH PLAINFIELD, NJ – A new social group for members who have served the United States will begin next month at the South Plainfield Senior Center. 

The Military Veterans’ Social Club, which will meet every first Tuesday from 10 to 11 a.m. beginning June 4, is open to all senior center members, male or female, who served in any branch of the Armed Forces during combat or peace times as well as anyone who served in the Reserves or National Guard. 

“A veteran is a veteran. One doesn't have to be a combat veteran to have served your country,” said Joe Belardo, a center member and Vietnam veteran who will be running the social club. 

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The club, established due to interest from center members, will provide members the opportunity to share their military experiences in an open and relaxed forum.

“We have a good amount of veterans from all branches and this program is so important. They want to talk about their experiences, and share how proud and grateful they were to serve their country and that they were appreciated for it,” said Tree Olano, director of the South Plainfield Senior Center. “The stories they share with me are so inspiring and I am proud of them and their stories.” 

“It is important in the aspect that a lot of veterans need a place to express their history about their experience in the military – whether it is combat history, state side, National Guard, Army Reserve – it all plays an important part in our beliefs here in the United States and our freedom,” added Belardo. 

“I remember how important it was for my children to hear by wife’s grandfather talk about World War I and share the stories about his relatives who were in Civil War,” he continued. “My wife and I would also listen to our fathers talk about World War II and were so fascinated. This club is a great way to keep our part of history alive.”

In addition to providing members an outlet to share their stories and experiences during their military years, Belardo is hopeful the South Plainfield Senior Center’s Military Veterans’ Social Club will serve as an opportunity for some stories to be documented. Over the years, he has met with veterans and recorded their stories, allowing their history to live on with family as well as the nation’s history, logging them into the Library of Congress where they will ‘live on forever.’ 

“I don't know who I am going to be meeting, but I hope the club is going to inspire members to talk and share what they went through and how proud they were to serve our country and be a member of the Armed Forces,” Belardo said. “I have always enjoyed hearing veterans’ stories. They are so very important and their experiences are even more important.”

For more information on the Military Veterans’ Social Club, call Joe Belardo at (908) 510-4349 or email him at josephbelardo@yahoo.com. Members can also register at the center or by calling (908) 754-1047.

About Joe Belardo

Joe Belardo was drafted into the Army in October 1966 and sent to Vietnam the following August where he was assigned to Charlie Battery, 1st Battalion, 44th Artillery – better known as ‘Dusters.’ Although he was in the Army, Belardo’s unit was deployed to Vietnam as the 3rd Marine Division’s mobile combat fighting team and body recovery unit under Marine control. 

The 1st Battalion 44th Artillery was one of the most decorated combat units in Vietnam and Belardo and his crew of Duster C131 hold the of being the last to leave the finally abandoned Khe Sanh Combat Base. He was discharged in August 1968 with the rank of Sergeant E5 and, during his military years, earned several combat medals, including the Bronze Star w/Valor, Purple Hearts, Gallantry Cross with Palm, Marine Combat Action Ribbon, Republic of Vietnam Civil Actions Honor Medal, both the Army and Marine Presidential Unit Citations, Valorous Unit Awards, and Meritorious Unit Commendations.

Belardo currently serves as commander of both New Jersey State’s and Middlesex County’s Military Order of the Purple Heart, is the past President of Vietnam Veterans of America Chapter 233, and a member of VFW Post 6763, American Legion Post 243, and Disabled American Veterans. Additionally, Belardo has served as a board member of the New Jersey Vietnam Memorial and Education Center and is an original member of Victims of Agent Orange, the predecessor of the first Agent Orange Commission. 

In addition to authoring the Vietnam War memoir Dusterman – Story of the Last Great Gunfighters, Belardo has appeared in two television documentaries: the Learning Channel’s The Soldiers’ Story and the Fox Network history program Vietnam War with Oliver North as well as been published in several magazines. Over the years, he has conducted hundreds of oral PowerPoint narrated photo presentations about the Vietnam War to high schools, colleges, universities, civic, and military organizations.

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