WOOD-RIDGE, NJ -- People passing along Hackensack Street may have noticed the field of American flags recently planted on the front lawn of Wood-Ridge Junior/Senior High School. The display is the undertaking of technology teacher Sean Rutherford, along with the assistance of his students, in recognition of the town residents who had served in the military, ahead of Memorial Day.
Displayed on the high school’s front lawn are 702+ American flags, representing the servicemen/women from World War 1 and World War 2. There are also 13 flags circling each tree representing the 13 original colonies.
“Our servicemen and women are always working/fighting on our behalf. They spend months away from their family and friends, sometimes in countries halfway around the world,” said Rutherford. “They miss their children's dance recitals, baseball games, graduations, or birthdays. Others miss time with their parents or grandparents who may be in struggling health. I felt doing something as simple as placing flags on the front lawn of our school was a way to show our appreciation for all they do and all they sacrifice.”
“Rutherford personally researched the history behind the veterans from Wood-Ridge who served in those wars and purchased the 700 flags with his own money" Assistant Principal Maria Barrows stated. He spoke to his students about this project” who helped him place the flags on the lawn.
“Mr. (Joseph) Sutera (principal) and I are very proud of this project,” she said.
“The goal was to place a flag for each service member on the front lawn of school in order to honor them this weekend,” explained Rutherford. “The 702 flags were originally going to be placed representing the 702 servicemen from World War I and World War II. However, I purchased 1,000 flags and felt that just because I don't know all the other names, I'll still honor them by placing as many as I have in their honor.”
“This project is an incredible undertaking and I must admit, I started the journey too late this year to allow ample time for each contributor to find the necessary information,” he said.
Rutherford reached out to several local organizations for assistance in researching residents that had served, including the Wood-Ridge Historical Society, Wood-Ridge Memorial Library and Wood-Ridge VFW Post 3616. The major conflicts he researched included the Revolutionary War, Civil War, WW I, WW II, Korean War, Vietnam War, and the two Gulf Wars. He explained that “the Historical Society is assisting him with the names during the Revolutionary and Civil Wars as both conflicts took place before Wood-Ridge was incorporated in 1894.”
He noted that the Wood-Ridge Memorial Library provided him with Honor Roll lists of those that served and those that were Killed in Action (KIA) for World War I and World War II. The VFW Post is is assisting with the names and numbers for the Korean War, Vietnam War, and two Gulf Wars.
“Everyone was incredibly helpful and I owe them the world for their assistance,” Rutherford said.
He lauded the help of Wood-Ridge Memorial Library Director Margaret Mellett,
“Her knowledge and assistance was outstanding," Rutherford stated. "I couldn't have even gotten this started without her help. She's helping me to set up a lesson with my students using the Library's Ancestry Database to research service members and their military records.”
Rutherford has a personal connection to those who serve the country. His grandfather, William T. Rutherford, born and raised in Hoboken, served in World War II as part of the 2nd Infantry Division, which was part of the U.S. advance that fought at the Battle of the Bulge.
“In my classroom hangs pictures of my former students who are currently serving in the Armed Services,” he said.
“Students have written wonderful essays about what Memorial Day means to them,” he noted. “It was refreshing to see how they appreciate the day for what it really is and not just a day off from school.”
What does Rutherford hope that the students and community get from the display?
“So many people see Memorial Day weekend as an extra day off, a beach getaway, or the unofficial start of summer." Rutherford stated. "Those things are nice to do, but I want people to understand the sacrifice the men and women in uniform have given for us, some even paid the ultimate sacrifice and gave up their life for our country,” he said. “If I can get students or community members to stop and think about what Memorial Day is really about, then I've succeeded.”
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