MONTVILLE, NJ – A chance encounter with a woman one day years ago has become a cherished holiday tradition for VFW Post 5481.

The Montville VFW post building has an Army tank that is a monument and is bordered by a wall and pathway of commemorative bricks. These bricks are inscribed with personal facts regarding a family member or friend, alive or deceased, as it relates to their military service, according to Post Commander Ken Hanzl. Long-time post member Gerry Gemian was reviewing these bricks one day many years ago when a woman came up to him, carrying a wreath.

“It was December, and she said her husband was an American soldier – she was Polish – and she said she was proud of the VFW soldiers and she embraced us as one of her own, like we were her sons,” he recently told TAPinto Montville. “Her husband had died in a war – she didn’t say which branch but I assumed WWII – but she wanted to give us the wreath as a memorial. So I climbed up onto the tank and hung it on there for her.”

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Gemian said the wreath has come to mean that the post, and all who see it, honor and are thinking about those who have died and are currently serving in the military around the holidays.

“I didn’t see her the following year, but we found a veteran, Henry Baker, to keep up the tradition, climbing up on the tank and hanging a wreath for us for many years,” Gemian said. “He was close to [former post commander] Frank Warholic.”

This year, Post Chaplain and color guard captain Dom D’Andrea took up the task, purchasing a wreath using his own funds. He and Gemian hung the wreath together on Dec. 13 – at age 97, Gemian mostly supervised.

The tank itself was gifted to the post in 2000 from the U.S. Army Tank-automotive and Armaments Command in Warren, Michigan, according to Post Quartermaster Carl DeBacco. The tank was part of a stockpile of surplus military equipment at Fort Dix. The post has to file a report yearly with current photographs to attest to its condition and request continued use as a static display, he said.

After hanging the wreath, Gemian and D’Andrea thought of those serving and were thankful for the honor of having served.

“This is a very sentimental story for us,” Gemian said.

Anyone wishing to purchase a brick on the wall or walkway should email tmazz2@verizon.net.

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