NORTH PLAINFIELD, NJ – Drivers passing the corner of Route 22 and North Drive in North Plainfield got to see the new Blue Star Memorial Drive sign erected last week amidst new plantings of a memorial garden and flowering trees.
The new planting and signs are part of a 70th anniversary of the project that will take place on May 23rd, 2014 at 11 a.m. at the North Plainfield Community Center with representatives from the Garden Clubs of Basking Ridge, Watchung and Westfield taking part.
The Blue Star Memorial Drive was first planned in 1944 to honor the soldiers of World War II with the planting of more than 8,000 flowering dogwoods for six miles of Route 29, now Route 22, by the Garden Clubs of New Jersey in consultation with the New Jersey State Highway Department.
This first-in-the-nation Blue Star Memorial Drive stretches from North Plainfield to Mountainside, and launched a movement that saw similar projects in every state in the union. The Memorial travels through Watchung, Scotch Plains and Westfield.
Councilman Skip Stabile has been part of a crew of local residents who made it a point to pick up litter and add new plantings since the Department of Transportation redesigned the site in 2004 for the 60th anniversary. In 2008 Ballas Florist of North Plainfield donated plantings, and the Borough Council members weeded and replanted the memorial garden.
Even with this loving care, the location had become overgrown, and the previous wooden sign was showing age. When the area was being cleared as part of a multi-town traffic signal project many residents worried that the Memorial would not be restored.
In 2010 Stabile applied for and received a grant from the Garden Club of New Jersey for holly trees and other plants for the site, but before the new plants came in the Garden Clubs received additional funds from the Blue Star Memorial Council for a new sign that is identical to the sign posted in 1946.
“We wanted to rehab the area, restore the original sign to bring more attention to the Blue Star movement, and to honor these soldiers,” said Stabile. “So many people don’t know what the Blue Star stands for, and I hope that this new memorial will get people asking questions.”
The new sign is such an exact replica of the original that it credits the "New Jersey State Highway Department," a governmental entity that has not existed for decades.
Many local businesses took their name from the Blue Star Memorial Drive, including the former Blue Star Diner in North Plainfield, and the closed Blue Star Cinema adn Blue Star Cleaners in Watchung. The Blue Star shopping center in Watchung is still operating with many popular stores.
The Blue Star designation comes from military service flags that are used by families to signify that as immediate relative, such as a sibling or child, is actively serving in the military during a time or war or active hostilities. A gold star with a blue border is used to signify that an immediate family member died while serving in the military during a time of war or active hostilities. The flags were first used during World War I, and had their peak of popularity during WWII and are still in use today.
The renovated mini-park was designed and implemented New Jersey Department of Transportation Landscape Architecture staff. In includes a raised planting bed resting on large white stones and a ring of flowering trees 15 feet behind the sign.
There are 29 additional Blue Star Memorial locations in New Jersey with official signage and recognition.