DENVILLE, NJ -- Dec. 7, 1941, was a historical date in America. U.S. President Franklin Roosevelt said it was “a date which will live in infamy,” and for good reason. It was the day the Empire of Japan bombed the naval base at Pearl Harbor, in Honolulu, Hawaii, which propelled the United States into World War II.
Nowadays, it is a nationwide event to recognize those who gave their lives during WWII and those who were lost on that fateful day. For Denville war veterans, it also was a time to fellowship at the VFW Post 2519 and enjoy a free dinner.
VFW members organized the event to give back to local servicemen who live in Denville and the surrounding towns. During the evening, approximately 50 people attended the dinner, half of whom were veterans accompanied by friends and family members.
“We want to give back to all local veterans who gave back to our country,” said Post Commander Brian Bergen, who also is a member of the Denville Township Council.
The VFW dinner featured home-cooked chicken and eggplant parmesan, penne vodka, chicken francese, roasted potatoes and vanilla and chocolate cakes; all donated by Brick 46 Restaurant in Rockaway Borough.
“Here, we have a nice and relaxed atmosphere with no pressures and no agendas, so they all can eat and have a fun evening together,” said Bergen.
Bergen, a veteran who served in the army as a captain and Apache pilot for eight years in Iraq, ensured everything went according to plan and that there were no empty stomachs by the evening’s end.
Richard Angus, a 95-year-old WWII veteran from Denville, was particularly grateful for the dinner and warm welcome as he reflected on the Pearl Harbor anniversary.
“It feels good to be here,” said Angus.
“Remembering the times, I was just happy I came back. And I’m lucky to still be here at this very fine place where there’s lots of great food.”
Angus enlisted at the age of 18 and served in the army from 1943-46 as a private first class in the 101st regiment M Company. He did tours in France where he was wounded in Alsace Loraine in 1944. Angus's sons, Pete and Carl, joined him at the dinner.
“We’re very proud of him,” said Pete Angus.
“The older I got, the more I learned about what WWII was like and what our soldiers did. He’s a survivor, and we’ve been lucky to have escorted him during all the ceremonies he has been part of to recognize his service. He himself talks about the war in such a positive way and how it has made him.”
In recent years, the population of WWII veterans has been decreasing at a rapid rate. In total, there were 16,112,566 serving in the U.S. Armed Forces during World War II. Approximately, 291,557 were killed in battle, while 113,842 died in service (non-theater). About 670,846 soldiers were wounded. According to the Department of Veterans Affairs, only 389,292 WWII veterans were estimated to still be alive in September 2019. For this reason, it has become paramount to recognize the efforts and sacrifices of WWII veterans.
Local boy scouts volunteered to set up and clear tables and serve guests. Denville Mayor Thomas Andes also joined the festivities and distributed military coins to all veterans of all branches. Ninety-three-year-old Montville resident and WWII veteran Thomas Jones Jr. received a coin.
“I was in high school when Pearl Harbor happened and I knew then it was very serious and that I had to help out,” said Jones, who first enlisted into the navy at the age of 17.
“Everyone was enlisting at the time. I’m proud that I was able to serve and fortunate to live in peace for many years now. I’m very thankful to even enjoy this dinner here. It’s nice to know we veterans are still appreciated.”
Jones served in the navy as a medic corpsman from 1943-46 in the Pacific on an aircraft carrier known as the USS Ticonderoga. He also is a member of Montville Township’s VFW Post 5481.
To learn more about the Denville VFW Post 2519 and their upcoming activities, visit them on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/DenvilleVFW/.
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