Above photo: Hazlet file photo of local and county officials at Aumack Family Burying Ground.
HAZLET, NJ – As a former Navy SEAL, Committeeman James “Skip” McKay has always had a deep gratitude for those serving in the armed forces. He is now transforming his appreciation into action by initiating Honoring Hazlet’s Heroes, a program that will commemorate fallen and active Hazlet military members with banners. The Hazlet program will also offer the opportunity for friends and family of military veterans to have a banner hoisted in honor of their loved one’s service.
The inspiration for this initiative stems back to 2020, when McKay first learned about the Aumack Family Burying Ground. The hidden Hazlet cemetery had been forgotten for decades until Eagle Scout James Borg rediscovered it. Borg reached out to the township committee and began working with McKay to restore access to the site and revitalize the run-down burial ground. Out of the 24 graves McKay believes there are, at least three of them belong to veterans.
“I had no idea that we had these amazing heroes buried in our town. We have 18-year-old Pvt. Thomas Aumack who died from his wounds at the Battle of Antietam in this cemetery. Days after this victorious, but bloody, battle, President Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation,” McKay said.
After working on the restoration project, McKay felt that the town needed to do more to honor Hazlet’s military members.
“I’m sitting there, looking at this cemetery, and I’m saying to myself, ‘How can we bring this history alive?’”
He came up with Honoring Hazlet’s Heroes with members of the township committee, Hazlet Veterans of Foreign Wars of the United States Post 4303 and Hazlet Township Policemen’s Benevolent Association. The idea was proposed about a month ago. All three groups are now collaborating to make it happen.
McKay said the plan is to hang 47 banners around Veterans Park before Memorial Day. He said the banners will honor Hazlet residents who are active military members, veterans and those who gave their all while serving this country and community. McKay has seen similar programs in other towns.
If there is an overwhelming demand for banners, McKay said they will create a wall of fame. The additional banners would be placed on the fence surrounding the pool at the Hazlet Swim and Tennis Club. His goal is to create an area where people are immersed in Hazlet’s history and heroes.
“I refer to this as standing on the shoulders of giants,” McKay said. “Every generation, every year, our country’s challenges increase and our volunteer military meets those challenges. How do they meet those challenges? They stand on the shoulders of the giants who served before them.”
McKay said the banners will be suspended from Memorial Day to Veterans Day. During the winter they will be taken down and given back to the respective families.
McKay said information on how residents can sponsor a hero will be available soon.
One person McKay will be sponsoring is Pvt. Thomas Carter. Carter was Hazlet’s first Purple Heart recipient and fought in the American Revolutionary War.
“We don’t know where his family is, and we don’t even know where exactly his remains lie in Cedarwood Cemetery,” McKay said. “All we know is that his legacy is here. He was wounded at the Battle of Monmouth, but he survived and went on to raiding the HMS Britannia to free American soldiers. This Hazlet citizen had courage beyond measure.”