MOUNTAINSIDE, NJ - Skies brightened with each passing moment on Monday afternoon, as Mountainside recognized fallen soldiers who made the ultimate sacrifice for freedom. Hundreds of residents, ages one to 101 gathered together on Constitution Plaza at the newly dedicated Veterans Memorial Park.

Sophie Glenn, a sixth grade student, sang the National Anthem at the onset of the event, and later led about 200 spectators as they sang God Bless America in unison. Bagpipes and drums played softly in the background as guest speakers each took a turn at the podium, honoring the memory of local heroes, and what Memorial Day means to them. 

Local dignitaries included Mountainside Mayor Paul Mirabelli and members of the Council, VFW Commander Colonel Timothy McLaughlin, Assemblywoman Nancy Munoz, and Father Richard of Our Lady of Lourdes Church.

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Marine Corp Veteran and longtime Mountainside resident Don Jeka, was chosen as Grand Marshall for the parade that followed.

Mayor Mirabelli spoke to the audience about Mr. Jeka’s service and impressive career, noting he joined the Marines in 1946, while still a senior in high school.  After boot camp at Parris Island, he was shipped to China, and upon the expiration of his enlistment, returned to the United States to finish high school and attend the University of Miami.  In 1950, he was called back to active duty with the Marines at the outset of the Korean War. He joined the staff as an instructor in ammunition and demolition explosives at the Ordnance school at the Marine base in Quantico, Virginia.  He received a WWII Victory Medal, a National Service Medal and a China Service Medal.  Mr. Jeka qualified as a sharpshooter with the M 1 rifle during his service.  He later returned to the University of Miami, majoring in Journalism and earning a Bachelor’s degree, and worked as a vice president for a leading public relations firm for 25 years. Both he and his late wife Yvonne were active in the Borough, where they raised two sons.    

Assemblywoman Munoz also stopped by to formally thank Mr. Jeka for his service on behalf of the Senate and General Assembly. 

At the conclusion of the ceremony, boy and girl scout troops led a procession of antique cars,  rescue squad vehicles and fire trucks, marching along the parade route from Bridle Path to Wood Valley Road to Our Lady of Lourdes Church, where townspeople gathered for a delicious catered picnic, courtesy of The Stage House Tavern, Echo Tap & Grille, Mazzella’s Gourmet Market and Vicki’s Diner.  Patriotic music provided by The Spinner’s greeted the guests upon arrival, and entertained throughout the day. 

According to Mountainside Council member Deanna Andre, the annual ceremony and parade is organized by a committee of individuals from the community, including Mountainside Borough, the Rotary Club, PAL, and the VFW.  She told TAPinto, “We would particularly like to thank VFW Commander Timothy McLaughlin for ‘getting us more organized’ with the ceremony and parade.

Sponsors also included Home Depot of Watchung, who contributed the plantings on the grounds of the Memorial Park, and Christoffer’s Florist of Mountainside, who provided the wreaths at the ceremony.

The Veterans Memorial Park was officially dedicated on Veterans Day in 2016.  Perpetual care on the property is funded by contributions from citizens.  Monetary donations in any amount are most appreciated and can be mailed to Mountainside VFW Post 10136, PO Box 1163, Mountainside, NJ 07092.  Personalized brick pavers can be ordered at any time.  To order, please visit www.polarengraving.com/VFW10136.

"America was not built on fear. America was built on courage, on imagination, and an unbeatable determination to do the job at hand." –Harry S. Truman