RANDOLPH, NJ- The Randolph VFW Post 7333 hosted their annual Memorial Day ceremony on Monday, May 25. The service certainly had a different feel however, as well as a more somber tone for a variety of reasons.
The current state of affairs around the world resulting from COVID-19 closed the event to the public and shrunk its typical attendance. Those who did attend, were all donning masks and standing six feet apart in compliance with “social distancing” rules. And then there was the clear missing presence of Jack Sassaman, the man who was the driving force behind these ceremonies year after year.
Sassaman passed away unexpectedly just last week, on wednesday May 20. Because of his sudden passing, emotions ran high and were both felt and expressed throughout the service, even causing Post Commander Scott Montanio to have to pause on numerous occasions to collect his thoughts.
The height of emotion was felt on two occasions, first when Sassamans Wife Jane and Daughter Jennifer placed a symbolic rose as an “emblem of eternity, it’s color bespeaking life everlasting.” The second time was the playing of “Taps” at the services' conclusion, a duty that Sassaman had filled for many years.
“Memorial Day is a sacred day of remembrance for all those who have made the ultimate sacrifice while in service to our country,” said Randolph Mayor Christine Carey. “In the midst of this global pandemic we had to make modifications today – we are all spread out, and we are all wearing masks. But it is very important we did not cancel this event; we must honor and never forget those who died for our country.”
Carey also took a moment to pay tribute to Sassaman.
“Jack was so many things, and he touched so many lives,” said Carey. “On behalf of Randolph Township, I want to acknowledge his contributions. I always enjoyed talking to him and appreciated the spirit and enthusiasm he brought to our community. We will all miss him very much.”
Carey then presented a framed flag to the VFW Post that had flown over the US Capitol in honor of Sassaman. The gift came from Congresswoman Mikie Sherril.
Montanio then led the rest of the ceremony.
“Generation after generation, this nation has been lucky enough to have service members who continue to believe that freedom is worth fighting for,” said Montanio. “This day is about paying tribute to those patriots who bravely rose up and fought for something greater than themselves. Protecting a home to which they would never return, they sacrificed everything. It is up to us to carry their memory forward in an effort to repay a debt that can never truly be repaid.”
The emotion peaked once again when Montanio dedicated the service to Sassaman, as he found it difficult to get the words out.
“This ceremony is dedicated to Jack Sassaman,” said Montanio. "And in so doing, we offer solemn tribute to all comrades, wherever they may rest.”
After the chaplain’s prayer and the dedication of the ceremonial roses and wreath, the gun salute followed. The ceremony concluded with a beautifully played, but difficult to accept, rendition of Taps - by someone other than Jack Sassaman.