Camden, NJ—The Camden County Freeholder Board honored those who made the ultimate sacrifice in service to their country at its annual Memorial Day service in Harleigh Cemetery Saturday morning, the Camden County Veteran Cemetery.
As part of the ceremony, the board announced the launch of the Camden County Gold Star Parent Identification Card. The ID will provide the holder state-wide benefits, including free admission to state parks, beaches and the New Jersey State Museum. There are currently 20 Gold Star Parents in Camden County.
Some of those families were in the audience Saturday, including Gold Star mother Judi Tapper, whose son David Tapper, of Waterford Township, was killed in action in Afghanistan 2003; Tom and Maureen Pagano, whose son Gregory Dalessio, of Cherry Hill, was killed in action in Iraq in 2008; and Alfina Mann, mother to Jason Mann, of Woodlynne, who was killed in action in Afghanistan in 2008.
The state law authorizing county clerk’s offices to issue identification cards to Gold Star Parents was sponsored by Sens. Jim Beach and Nilsa Cruz-Perez, who was at the ceremony Saturday.
"I think the only thing that Gold Star Parents ask for is that their sons and daughters be remembered," said Tom Pagano. "The Gold Star ID program is nice, and I think a better initiative, though, is the All Wars Video Project, where the Gold Star Parents and families can talk about their sons and daughters they lost.
This week, Freeholder Bill Moen and Congressman Donald Norcross donated 30 Camden County Gold Star Family interviews to the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C. The interviews were part of the Camden County Office of Veteran's Affairs All Wars Video Project, an effort to interview veterans to have their stories preserved in history.
"Our All Wars Video Project, which aims to interview local veterans to preserve their stories, has completed over 150 interviews of our local veterans. But another aim of that same project is to interview our Gold Star Families of our fallen local heroes, to help us remember their bravery and courage," said Freeholder Moen, who is also the liaison to the county's Office of Veteran Affairs.
Congressman Norcross spent time with Judi Tapper at the Library of Congress earlier this week, as her interview was one of the 30 donated.
"This day for us is every day for Judy, and for the Gold Star Parents who are also with us today," said Norcross. "We can not imagine what that knock at the door must have been like."
In addition to remembering those who made the ultimate sacrifice, two Camden County Memorial Day Medals were given out. Michelle Cesaro, daughter of Brooklawn Korean War veteran Charles J. DeFalco, and Dr. Marc L. Kahn, of Voorhees, a Desert Storm Army veteran.
A group of Camden City veterans made sure to attend the ceremony.
"It's very important even though I took off the uniform to keep serving in whatever capacity I have, and making sure that not just us, but making sure that everyone is ... everyday of the year doing something to remember those who made the ultimate sacrifice," said Luis Gaitan, who served as a lieutenant in the Navy for five years.
Gaitan said he was a part of the Camden City Veterans Commission, a new effort that is more focused on the veterans of the City of Camden.
"This one is more focused to our city, our local vets, who probably have their issues unique to just them," said Gaitan."We're trying to find what’s something unique to our own city vets, that our Camden County office can’t capture ... and see if they are truly different than our Camden County-wide veterans."
The Freeholder Board created the Camden County Veterans Cemetery in 2007 in response to a request from local veterans who asked for a dedicated burial place close to home. The Board made it a priority to develop a final resting place for war heros who have valiantly served the country through a selfless commitment to our nation.
“We chose Harleigh as the location for this hallowed ground for its beauty and its historic significance. The eight-acre park-like setting is situated on a bluff overlooking the scenic Cooper River, on the border of Camden and Collingswood,” Moen said. “We have invested our resources into making this plot of land significant for eternity.”
Established in 1885, Harleigh Cemetery is currently the final resting place of hundreds of veterans, including more than 300 who served in the Civil War. It is also the resting place of poet Walt Whitman, four United States Senators and generations of Camden County families.