SCOTCH PLAINS, NJ -- Union Catholic’s fourth annual Veterans Day Ceremony on Thursday morning was a heartfelt and emotional tribute to those who served as the UC Community joined together to honor and remember all the sacrifices that veterans have made for their country.
With several U.S. flags prominently displayed around the Veterans Memorial Pathway in front of the school and a strong feeling of pride and patriotism in the air, the ceremony, hosted by the UC Hearts For Heroes Club, saluted members of the UC Community who served in the U.S. Armed Forces, as well as alumni, parents, relatives, friends of UC, and other veterans.
The ceremony began when Mr. Tim Breza, who served in the Air Force and is the moderator for Hearts for Heroes, welcomed everyone. Senior Deirdre Kelly, a peer minister at UC, delivered the opening prayer. Union Catholic’s Performing Arts Company sang the National Anthem and the Battle Hymn of the Republic. UC juniors Lauren Power and Mia Bonadies, co-presidents of the Hearts for Heroes, delivered readings, and Ms. Karen Piasecki, UC’s Associate Principal and 1988 graduate of UC, and Principal Sister Percylee Hart, RSM, also spoke.
“This all started with the Veterans Memorial Pathway,’’ said Mr. Breza. “It was dedicated in 2012 after being built by 2013 UC graduate Michael Eastman, who did it for his Eagle Scout project. “To have the whole school community come together, alumni, faculty, and students to show their thanks and appreciation for the opportunities that veterans provided for us made this a special day. It represented everything that Union Catholic is all about. It embodies every one of our core values, and that’s why I look forward to this day every year.’’
Among the veterans who gathered to be honored were the following UC graduates-Retired Army Captain William Madden (Class of 1969), Bob LaCosta (Class of 1966), and Richard Schuck (Class of 1967), who both served in the Army, and current Navy officer Vinny LaRocca (Class of 2011).
Also on hand were Kay Duff, her daughter Kathy Duff (Class of 1973), and son Kevin (Class of 1973). Kay’s husband Joseph was a Captain in the Navy. Other veterans in attendance included John Foulks, who served in the Army, Frank Chupko, who served in Vietnam and is the past commander of the VFW Post 10122 in Scotch Plains, and Bernard Robinson, who served in the Marines and received a Purple Heart when he was wounded in Vietnam.
Mr. Robinson, who came from his home in East Stroudsburg, Pa. for the ceremony, was shocked to see a brick in his honor on the walkway. The brick was purchased by current UC junior Nicholas Ali. The Ali family and the Robinson family have been friends for several years. Nicholas also purchased bricks for his father (Azim, who served in the Marines), and his great uncle (John Musto, who served in the Navy).
“This is a great surprise,’’ Mr. Robinson said of the brick. “Nick is a great guy and this really means a lot to me. This is great what the school here is doing, recognizing those that made the ultimate sacrifice. There is a price for freedom, and all the veterans should be thanked for what they did for their country.’’
“I’ve thought about doing this since freshman year,’’ Nicholas Ali of the bricks. “It’s a great day for my dad, Bernard, and my great uncle. I’m very proud of them.’’
Mr. LaRocca had lots of emotions running through him.
“It’s an amazing experience,’’ said LaRocca, who graduated from the Naval Academy in 2015 and will be heading out to serve as a training officer in San Diego later this year. “To see the Memorial dedicated by Michael Eastman, and to be able to share this moment with everyone here is pretty special, especially since this is my first time back for this ceremony since I graduated. And to be able to sit next to and talk to Captain Duff’s wife and take pictures was really nice since Captain Duff was my Blue and Gold Officer back in 2011, which is part of the reason I got accepted into the Naval Academy and set me on this path.’’
The ceremony also meant a lot to Power and Bonadies, who each had a grandfather who served in the military.
“This day is very important to us to make sure that all the veterans and those serving know that we are here to support them and want to thank them for their service,’’ said Power.
“It’s such a huge honor to speak here because it’s the one day all year that we get to recognize the veterans and show how much we appreciate what they’ve done for our country,’’ said Bonadies. “I feel that for Union Catholic to have this ceremony shows how much we care about the school community and the whole community in general because we reach out to alumni and to people outside our school. This shows what a great sense of community we have at UC.’’