EAST BRUNSWICK, NJ - New Jersey's veterans were honored by the New Jersey Chamber of Commerce at a festive gala last week at East Brunswick's Park Chateau.
The annual gathering of the state's business community centered on the years of service veterans from the state gave to the nation. There was particular focus on those who were stationed at Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst and those who continue to serve there.
World War II Army veteran Archie Fagan, who was honored at the event, seemed to personify the qualities associated with a life of respect and service. He was introduced, by Chamber Senior Vice-President for Communications Ray Zardetto, as an "unrelenting force of optimism."
However, Fagan demurred and descried himself as "just a lucky survivor."
He served in the 4th Armored Division under General George Patton. He helped liberate the Dachau concentration camp and he was a military observer at the Nuremburg trials. Fagan's remarks were greeted with an enthusiastic acclamation from the audience.
Also recognized were New Jersey veterans and heroes from every military engagement since the American Revolution. They included Montclair's Buzz Aldrin, who served in Korea; Oliver Cromwell, who crossed the Delaware River with George Washington on Christmas night 1776; Jersey City's Martin Dempsey, who served as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff; Elizabeth's Admiral William Halsey, who served as a Navy commander during World War II; Trenton's Mary Ludwig, more famously known as Molly Pitcher, who represented an amalgam of women who supported the soldiers on the New Jersey battlefields during the Revolution and Ridgewood's Thomas McGuire, one of the greatest flying aces and most decorated pilots in World War II.
Displays featured the personal effects and memorabilia of "Manila John" Basilone, who grew up in Raritan and was awarded the Medal of Honor, the highest decoration issued by the military. Basilone was honored for his heroism as a gunnery sergeant at the battles of Guadalcanal and Iwo Jima.
In 2016, the Navy named a destroyer in his honor and the Somerset County Sheriff's Office this year named their service dog "Basilone," it was noted.
Also recognized for a variety of accomplishments this year were members of the chamber. Thomas Bracken, president and CEO of the chamber, and Donna Custard, president of the Chamber Foundation, hosted the event.
"From the chamber's inception - Thomas Edison was a founding member in 1911 - the organization's talented leaders have provided the guidance necessary to develop solutions to the important, tough issues of the day," Bracken said.