Livingston Veterans, Residents Gather to Commemorate Veterans Day

Effie Vlahakes of Livingston poses with photos of her late husband Peter Vlahakes. Peter Vlahakes was a pilot in the Army Air Corps. during WWII. He was awarded the Silver Star, Air Medal and the Navigator Medal. He passed away earlier this year. The Vlahakes were married for 64 years. Credits: George Leroy Hunter
Army Lt. Colonel (retired) Thomas Bucca of Caldwell and Vietnam veteran Brian Boyle of Livingston were among the area veterans who attended Friday's event in Livingston. Credits: George Leroy Hunter
Veterans from all branches of the United States military were represented at the Veterans Day luncheon. Credits: George Leroy Hunter
The AARP Livingstones sang patriotic songs. Credits: George Leroy Hunter
From left are Livingston Deputy Township Manager Russ Jones, WWII veteran Nick Pulitano, Livingston Mayor Rudy Fernandez, Korean War veteran Stan Graboski, Vietnam veteran Brian Boyle, Livingston American Legion Auxiliary President Mona Collins and Livingston Deputy Mayor Steve Santola. Credits: George Leroy Hunter
Veterans and guests enjoy their meal. Credits: George Leroy Hunter
Korean War veteran Skip Van de Vaarst of Livingston plays his guitar and sings. Credits: George Leroy Hunter

LIVINGSTON, NJ - The memories, happy and sad, flowed freely on Friday as Livingston veterans and residents gathered to commemorate Veterans Day.

The event included a luncheon and was attended by veterans of different wars and residents who came out to show their support for those who served and are serving in the United States armed forces. Held at the Livingston Senior Center, the luncheon included Livingston Mayor Rudy Fernandez, Deputy Mayor Steve Santola and  Livingston Deputy Township Manager Russ Jones. Bag piper Conor Gardner, a Livingston resident and a junior at Seton Hall University, provided music.

The American Legion Ladies Auxiliary Post 201 of Livingston helped serve food donated by local restaurants. The AARP Livingstones led guest in singing patriotic songs. Veterans from all branches of the United States military were well represented. Whether a veteran served in WWII, Korea, Vietnam or one of the more recent conflicts they all had one thing in common: service to their country. Guests and vets socialized and some recounted war stories.

WWII veteran Nick Pulitano of Livingston, who is also the Commander of the American Legion Post 201, spoke of his time on the battlefield while serving in the Army infantry.

"I served in World War II from 1944 to 1946," Pulitano said. "I fought in Germany in the Battle of the Bulge. I got hit with shrapnel in my leg in Germany and spent three months in a hospital in France. While I was recuperating in the hospital news came that the war had ended. I did not return stateside right away because after I left the hospital I was sent to guard the German prisoners and I did that for about 2 or 3 months before I returned to the United States. There was a point system set up to stagger when soldiers got to go home. The older guys (meaning soldiers who served the longest in battle) got to leave first. When your number came up you were able to leave. After the war I used the GI Bill to go to school and I became a mechanical engineer."

Pulitano, who is a native of Newark, moved to Livingston in 1958. He lost his wife over a decade ago but was married for almost 50 years and has two sons and two grandsons. He was born color blind and before the Army drafted him, he was rejected by the other armed services.

"They were taking just about everyone back then for the war effort," Pulitano said with a laugh. "The Germans were tough. The dropping of the two atomic bombs saved a lot of lives and helped end the war."

Like Pulitano, many of the veterans had good and bad memories of their time serving in the military. Veterans Day, originally known as Armistice Day, was proclaimed a national holiday by the U.S. President Woodrow Wilson on November 11, 1919. The federal holiday coincides with other holidays such as Armistice Day or Remembrance Day which are celebrated in other parts of the world and also marks the anniversary of the signing of the Armistice that ended World War I. Major hostilities of World War I were formally ended at the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month of 1918 with the German signing of the Armistice.

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