PATERSON, NJ- Paterson’s Marcenia Cofield may have retired from military service, but her service to the community, and her fellow veterans, has never ceased. That commitment was on full display on Saturday as Cofield, with her own army of volunteers and supporters, hosted a special luncheon for local veterans at the Historic Calvary Baptist Church.
While Cofield made it appear effortless, every detail of the event, from the decorations and the program, to the patriotic videos, pictures, and music that rolled continuously in the background and the plaques given to the guests of honor, showed the event was indeed a labor of love.
Similar to what Army Major Christopher Carbone spoke about at a lunch commemorating veterans employed at St. Joseph’s Health on Friday, the idea that “it’s what we continue to do as veterans,” Cofield left no doubt regarding how she hopes to provide veterans with the support they need.
Telling TAPinto Paterson that though the VA, the federal agency that provides healthcare services to eligible veterans, provides physical and mental support to former military personnel, opportunities for them to fulfill their spiritual needs are almost non-existent.
It was with that in mind, Cofield continued, that the At Ease Military Ministry was born.
Dedicated to “helping veterans find peace with themselves and the world around them through a permanent relationship with Jesus Christ,” the Ministry, Cofield hopes, will help the faith-based community better utilize the skills of their members that served in the military while making sure that their “souls are being fed as well.”
Among the honorees were three who served in the Korean War, Isaac McDuffie in the US Army, Ollie Dunn in the US Air Force, and Russell Graddy in the US Marine Corps.
While Graddy, the owner of Mr. G’s, plays heavily into the narrative of Paterson’s recent past, having hosted Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. when he visited the city in 1968, and most recently being appointed to serve as the Deputy Mayor for Senior Citizen Services, it was Dunn who eloquently shared his thoughts about the direction our nation is going in with TAPinto Paterson.
Born in North Carolina, the decorated vet who will turn 84 on Monday, was joined at the celebration by his wife Betty, with whom he’ll celebrate their 60th wedding anniversary on December 12, as well as his daughter and two of his great grandchildren. He joined the military, he recalled, for adventures with his cousin who had also enlisted.
And while his cousin died tragically from drowning before he got a chance to serve overseas, Dunn was dispatched to Korea where he was part of the “ground power” forces that were responsible for the equipment and repair of the US Air Force jets participating in the conflict.
Pointing to a US flag pin that adorned his hat, Dunn clarified that it wasn’t upside down by mistake, instead he said, it was reflecting his belief that under President Donald Trump’s presidency our nation is “distressed.”
“How can he hurt so many people, keep kids in cages,” Dunn asked. Strong in his faith however, Dunn continued by sharing his belief that a much higher power will punish Trump for being the “biggest con-artist” ever to serve in the White House.
“People who have religion let God do his work,” Dunn said. “He’s there for a purpose.”
Showing their understanding, and appreciation, for the service of their great grandfather, and all veterans, Yamier, 12 and Yanay, 13, both said events like this one were important.
“It makes everyone remember the importance of what they did,” Yamier suggested, adding that if Dunn hadn’t fought for his country, “today could be very different.”
“We should be doing more of this,” Yanay, who, motivated perhaps by the service of her family’s patriarch, is also active in making her community better through her volunteer work with New Hope Community Ministries in Prospect Park.
Showing their appreciation for the veterans by their attendance were Councilman Michael Jackson who donated the lunch that was served and Mayor Andre Sayegh who presented each of the honorees with special plaques.
“You may not know everyone you served, but we should know all of you,” Sayegh said, adding that through their role in the struggle for civil rights many of the generation of veterans being most recognized “fought overseas for freedom and came home to fight for equality.”
Also being honored were several veterans who are now business owners in Paterson, including Vanessa Nelson, US Navy; former Mayor Jeffrey Jones, US Marine Corp; and Harold Anthony Williams, US Navy.
The final recognition of the day was of Roshawn Davis, a member of the United States Navy from 1992 until 1994, and a current Paterson firefighter. After receiving his Veteran of the Year plaque Davis spoke of the work of the Bronze Heat, a community service organization whose membership consists of Paterson’s black firefighters, including preparing applicants to perform well on the upcoming firefighter entrance exam and supporting activities for local youth.
Directing his comments to 15-year Malachi, his godson, Davis urged “whenever you feel like you can’t make it, reflect on the sacrifices people in this room have made.”
With Ray Charles’ stirring rendition of America the Beautiful playing softly in the background Deacon Jerome White brought the lunch to an end saying simply “we are a blessed country.”
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