BERKELEY HEIGHTS, NJ - Residents of Berkeley Heights gathered for the rescheduled dedication ceremony for Veterans Memorial Park and the unveiling of the newest monument on Saturday, June 4. The ceremony was originally scheduled to follow the Memorial Day Parade on May 30 which was canceled due to anticipated inclement weather.
The refurbished park represents the outpouring of community support and commitment to never forget those who have sacrificed the most. The park is a place that honors all of those who have come before -- who have sacrificed, said Mayor Robert Woodruff. "It is a place for all of us to come and pause and remember."
"We can not forget," said Ted Romankow, Chairman of the Berkeley Heights Memorial Park Renewal Committee. "Every single member of this committee is committed to one thing and that was to have a memorial that we would be proud of today and forever more."
This project began two years ago when the late Vito Mondelli discussed the park's deterioration with Romankow. Romankow and Mondelli were both part of the original committee, along with Leon Ciferni and John Elward, who created the park 30 years ago.
"A group of us decided we were going to do something special, we were going to try and renovate this existing memorial -- bring it back to its original beauty -- because it deserved to be a special place of honor -- because what it represented -- the idea of liberty, the idea of these people who gave so much and sacrificed."
"There isn't a thing that hasn't been renovated or replaced. All was donated, given or purchased by you, the people of Berkeley Heights," said Romankow. See related article.
Romankow thanked the many individuals, groups and businesses that donated both in-kind and monetary donations to surpass their goal of raising $150,000. Committee members were recognized: Arthur Barbera, Lauren Boyd, Leon Ciferni, John DiPasquale, John Elward, William Fettes, Andrew Gallitelli, Gay Hollowell, Councilman Craig Pastore, Stephen Siera, Midge Vicendese and Mayor Robert Woodruff.
Woodruff along with Joe Plocinski [father of Matt Plocinski, currently serving in the military] unveiled the newest monument that honors those who have served most recently in the Persian Gulf and the ongoing War on Terror -- and sits beside the four existing memorial stones honoring those who served in World War I, World War II, Korea, Vietnam and Southeast Asia.
"We are here to honor those that in the last 250 years have sacrificed their life and sacrificed their youth for this country," said Mayor Woodruff. "We stand here today to honor America and those who have taken the time and sacrifice the ultimate defending America. They are defending an idea. It’s an idea that people are entitled to be free."
This freedom comes at a cost of lives lost. "All of us are here today to honor that," said Mayor Woodruff.
In attendance were town officials that included Council President Jeanne Kingsley, Council Vice President Craig Pastore, Councilmen Ed Delia, Marc Faecher and Mike D'Aquila along with many members of the Berkeley Heights Police Department, Fire Department, Rescue Squad, DPW, veterans and their families, and citizens.
The ceremony opened with the invocation and dedication prayers by Reverend Diane Ruffle, Pastor of Westminster Presbyterian Church, Pledge of Allegiance was led by Boy Scouts. The musical segment of the ceremony included a medley of patriotic songs by members of Hickory Tree Chorus [Shayna Atkinson, Rita Peyton, Dana Dunlevy and Rosemarie Gerber].
Last year's Memorial Day Parade Grand Marshal Trent Fettes honored the late Cpl. Vito Mondelli, United States Marine Corp, as this year's Grand Marshal. Fettes reflected on Mondelli as loving people and his pride of being born and raised in Berkeley Heights. "He often referred to Berkeley Heights as his town," said Fettes. Mondelli is also known for his many years as foreman of the DPW, for his fruits, vegetables, shrubbery and the honor system.
"Today we rededicate this park with a significant donation in memory of Vito in honor of all fallen soldiers and service members," said Fettes. "On behalf of all veterans that live Memorial Day every day, we thank you Mr. Romankow and the entire committee. Vito would be very proud of the outcome."
A dedicated group of quilters from Westminster Presbyterian Church presented Warren Buttler, World War II Veteran with a Quilt of Honor. Quilts of Honor cover service members and veterans touched by war with comforting and healing quilts.
The Color Guard took their position by the wreaths as the ceremony continued with the Memorial Prayer given by Shilo Frampton, VFW Chaplain and honoring the deceased member of VFW Post 6259. The ceremony concluded with the playing of Taps by GL Highlander Band bagpiper Andrew Stecher.
VFW Post 6259 Commander Raymond DiGiambatista reminded the large crowd that many veterans continue to suffer with Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). “Think of those that dwell in that state constantly. Walking the thin line between reality and the horror they can’t forget.” said DiGiambatista. His hope is that the wounded warriors will receive better care. “Remember and give thanks to those who suffer because they cared for you. They now pay a heavy price. Maybe a silent prayers can save a life,” he said.
The annual Berkeley Heights Memorial Day Ceremony formally ended with a benediction by the Church of the Little Flower Rev. Andrew Onyemaobi. The celebration then resumed with complementary refreshments and hot dogs in Memorial Field.
Engraved Challenge coins were handed out to all veterans with the fallen soldier on one side and the memorial on the back side.
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. The following businesses provided donations: Hall's Garden Center, Stop & Shop Supermarket, Walgreens, Chimney rock Inn, 7-Eleven, Dean's Greens, Smith Chiropractic, Rita's, Suburban/Berkeley Heights Chamber of Commerce.