MONTVILLE, NJ – Residents and dignitaries gathered at the Youth Center at the Montville Township Community Park on Nov. 11 to commemorate Veterans Day with the help of Montville Township VFW Post 5481. The VFW post always holds their ceremony on the 11th, not on the date the national holiday is observed.

Mayor Richard Conklin, host for the event, noted that this year was the centennial for the commemorative event, originally called Armistice Day, as it was set as a holiday on Nov. 11, 1918 to mark the end of World War I. Since its change to “Veterans Day,” it is now the day to be thankful for all who serve and have served.

“Today is your day,” Conklin told those who stood when he asked for military members past and present to stand.

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Rabbi Mark Finkel of the Pine Brook Jewish Center offered the prayer for the ceremony, stating, “We gather today to remember our military personnel and acknowledge that their services enable us to walk as free men and women in this great land. […] Eternal one, today we seek to honor your sons and daughters who have served or who are serving for our country. […] We ask that you provide them with your protection, your strength, and your Shalom – your peace.”

Post Commander Andrew Vyniski read the Charles M. Province poem “It Is The Soldier,” which begins, “It is the soldier, not the minister/ Who has given us freedom of religion.”

Rafael Nadal, a paratrooper with the 82nd Airborne Division and the 173rd Airborne Brigade, who served in Operation Enduring Freedom 7 and 10, plus lent support during Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans spoke about his service.

Nadal said that being a veteran means the tone in the room changes when people discover he served.

“I feel welcomed, and those who have also served – we feel connected,” he said. “Sometimes you can feel alone, but you can share this experience with other veterans. It warms my heart.”

Nadal said that after he graduated from Montville Township High School, the military was not part of his plan. He wanted to be a rock star, a piano player – “I didn’t know what I wanted to do,” he said. Nadal attended County College of Morris but he was not focused enough, he said.

“I winged it and failed miserably,” he said. “I got in trouble. I wanted to do something better with my life. Further, my mother wasn’t having it. She told me, ‘find something to do with your life, or get out of my house.’ The Army seemed like a good gig – free room and board, free food, free clothes, paycheck – sounds good to me.”

Nadal became a large, diesel engine truck mechanic, and learned that he could earn an extra $300 if he became a paratrooper, plus he could stay on the east coast. He trained at Fort Benning, got in the air inside the airplane, but, when the green light turned on to jump, he said, “No thank you.”

“Green light ‘go,’ Nope! Green light ‘go,’ Nope!” Nadal said. “Everybody talks about how when they jump out of airplanes they go tandem, with somebody. Then you feel safe. Nope. My first jump was a foot in my butt. That was my first experience. [But] I hit the ground and never stopped jumping.”

Nadal said he felt like “the man” because he had 50 jumps under his belt, but then he met a veteran with five jumps under his belt – during WWII combat.

“That humbled me,” Nadal said.

Nadal said his first deployment was at Kandahar Airfield in Afghanistan, where he was an entry control point guard. His job was to check trucks and incoming personnel who were coming to help build the airfield and fix the infrastructure. He searched for explosives and drugs. He was also on-call if anything happened outside of the perimeter of the airfield.

His second deployment was with the 173rd Airborne in Pakistan as a wrecker operator. He drove a large truck equipped with oil, acetylene, and towing equipment.

“We were the trailing vehicle that got the trucks out of ditches or blown up by land mines or hit by IUDs – we were the first responders to come in and pull them out of trouble,” he said. “Whenever we got a call, it was not a good feeling. One time we had to pull a Humvee out of a house. I don’t know how that happened but it was a pretty incredible sight.”

After the Army, Nadal said that every day was a challenge, and he adjusted one day at a time.

“The lifestyle in the Army is very structured, whereas now I have to schedule myself,” he said.

Nadal went back to County College of Morris on the GI Bill, studied drama there and in Manhattan, and became a professional actor.

“From boots to film; that’s where my journey is taking me now,” he said.

Joe Coll told the heartbreaking story of being an Army medic in Vietnam and discovering the deceased body of his childhood friend on the battlefield.  Read more of Coll’s story here.

Chas Palminteri talked about the Korean War, which, he said, the United States has never officially ended.

“One hundred thousand men were lost in the Korean and Vietnam wars, which is a high price to pay for not learning from one’s mistakes,” he said.

Palminteri told the story of being one of nine forward observers during the Korean War, the reconnaissance soldiers who are the eyes and ears at the front line, informing on what the enemy is doing. Since their information is so valuable, they were also prized targets. Only five out of the nine forward observers he started with survived, he said. To read more of Chas’ story, click here.

Montville Township Committee Member June Witty closed by saying that ceremonies are important but our heart-felt gratitude and thank yous have to be more than once a year.

TAPinto Montville has profiled several of Montville’s veterans. Click to read their stories:

Chip Cutler; Charlie Ferry; Gerry GemianHjalmar Johansson; Dave MarshallTom Mazzaccaro Joe QuadeFrank Warholic  

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