BERKELEY HEIGHTS, NJ - Weather chose to cooperate and the Memorial Day parade went off as scheduled Monday morning. A large crowd came out to enjoy the parade and ceremony to honor our hometown heroes.
Grand Marshal Richard Bertram, 94 year old WWII Navy Vet, admitted that he has always had a secret desire to lead a parade -- either as a drum major or as Grand Marshal. "Today that desire came true -- today I led a parade. A parade of veterans." He sat proudly in the white antique convertible while it traveled the parade route down Snyder Avenue to Springfield Avenue, finishing at Veterans Memorial Park.
Hundreds of people lined Springfield and Plainfield avenues waving to the servicemen and collecting candy thrown out by many parade participants. The commentators announced each organization as they marched by the bandstand. The police color guard led the parade followed by members of the VFW Post 6259, Mayor Bob Woodruff and council, Gov. Livingston Highlander Band and color guard, Fire Department, Rescue Squad [including their No. 1 supporter Leah Dasti], Guidetti family, Berkeley Swim Club, Talium, Girl Scouts and Boy Scouts, Youth Baseball and Soccer players, Revolutionary War actors, Centennial Jazz Band, a fleet of Antique Cars and DPW trucks.
Video Credits: Bobbie Peer and Bob Coletta
The crowd gathered at Veterans Memorial Park for the ceremony to honor the veterans. The theme of today's ceremony was "all gave some, some gave all."
"We gather today to take some time to pause and remember and to offer our profoundest thanks to those who have given the last full measure in service to their nation," said Parade Chair Dennis Ryan.
Before presenting Grand Marshal Richard Bertram with a plaque, Mayor Bob Woodruff addressed the crowd and said that Berkeley Heights will never forget. "The real heroes never came home. This country goes wherever is necessary to defend freedom and to defend liberty. That's because it's worth it. That's because what we do is what makes us a great nation. Think about those who never returned, think about what they gave up to give us the nation we have."
Bertram explained that veterans have gone overseas to foreign lands wondering why they were there. He said his experience in WWII was "quite exciting" -- and he gave a description of his first encounter in Saipan when seven bombs "saddled the ship. Fortunately, they missed us." He listed the places he traveled to and the dates of each invasion. "455,000 never returned. I came home alive -- my brother came home. To this day -- all my life I keep thinking about the experience we had and the camaraderie we had with the troops -- and we came home without a scratch. Our ship did not have any casualties -- we had some near misses." -- "There are a lot of fellows that never returned. And on this Memorial Day, on a day of remembrance, let's all take a minute out and remember those that either died in battle or was a prisoner of war or missing in action. I want to salute these members and thank you for everything."
Ted Romankow asked the Veterans Memorial Restoration Committee to stand with him and thanked the committee, citizens and businesses that have supported the park. He also thanked A&S Landscape, Deans Greens Nursery and Smith Chiropractic Foundation for underwriting and donating service, plants, and maintenance of the park. He invited the people to come to the park throughout the year to visit. "It's a place of reverence, where you can come and pause and remember those that came before us and made the ultimate sacrifice to guarantee our freedom," said Romankow. "When you come here, think of them, honor their memories. say a prayer for them and say a prayer for the world leaders so they may pursue a meaningful type of action and meaningful dialogue so there may be peace -- so there won't be another memorial erected in this park or any other park in the United States."
He then introduced his wife Daria, who presented a Quilt of Valor to Berkeley Heights' own Hometown American Hero Sgt. Thomas Lombardi Jr., who was a US Army Sergeant from 1966-1969 during Vietnam and received two Purple Hearts, a Bronze Star, Combat Infantry Badge, Army Air Crew Wings and 27 Air Medals. "I feel very honored to speak on behalf of the Westminster Comforters -- we are a quilting group based out of Westminster Presbyterian Church," she said. This group meets monthly to make quilts for people in need. "We have pieced and sewn what is called a Quilt of Valor." She explained that each Quilt of Valor has to be made using certain guidelines -- "such as size, dimension, the fabric to the eligibility of the recipient," she said. Once it meets these guidelines, it can be qualified to be registered to the Quilt of Valor Foundation, a nonprofit organization whose goal is to cover all physically or psychologically wounded service members with a freedom quilt honoring them for their sacrifice.
In presenting the quilt to Sgt. Lombardi, Daria said this quilt is to remind you that we all here care about you and we thank you for your service.
The ceremony opened with the invocation and dedication prayers by Reverend Debra Whitten, Pastor of Union Village Church, Pledge of Allegiance was led by Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts. The musical segment of the ceremony included the singing of the national anthem by Mia Montarro and a medley of patriotic songs by members of Hickory Tree Chorus.
The ceremony concluded with the playing of "Taps" and "Amazing Grace" by members of the GL Highlander Band and a benediction prayer. Refreshments were served immediately following including hotdogs, Rita's ice, popcorn and root beer.
The ceremony was presented by Tom Barton and the Berkeley Heights Special Events Committee of the Recreation Department; Dennis Ryan and the Memorial Day Parade Committee; and Ted Romankow and the Memorial Park Renewal Project Committee.