NEWARK, NJ  — The Essex County Board of Chosen Freeholders recently honored a South Orange Village Trustee among other veterans at its 2019 Veterans Celebration at the Hall of Records; while honoring the patriotism and sacrifice of the men and women who have served our country, the board recognized specific veterans of Essex County for their service. The Freeholders presented the honorees with framed commendations, plaques, and service medals.

Freeholder President Brendan Gill began the program with welcoming remarks, celebrating each of the Board’s honorees for their bravery and selflessness. Freeholders Robert Mercado, Carlos Pomares, and Patricia Sebold also participated in the event by offering greetings to the guests in attendance, and summarizing the highlights of the honorees prior to presenting them with their medals and commendations. This year’s honorees were West Orange Police Lieutenant Charles E. Bryant of the United States Navy, Victor M. Mandio, Jr. of the United States Army, the Honorable Edwin R. Matthews of the United States Marine Corps, Jorge E. Ortiz of the United States Navy, and the Honorable Juan M. Rivera, Jr. of the United States Marine Corps.

The Honorable Edwin R. Matthews is a lifelong resident of South Orange and has served his community in many capacities including: Municipal Court Judge, Municipal Attorney, member of the Village Council, as well as a member of the Juvenile Conference Committee and a number of other committees for the Village of South Orange. After graduating from the College of Holy Cross, he served in the United States Marine Corps where he attained the rank of Captain. His service included a thirteen-month tour of duty in Vietnam with the Second Battalion 26th Marine Regiment, including eight months as an Infantry Platoon Leader. He was awarded the Bronze Star Medal, a Navy Commendation Medal, two Purple Heart medals, and the Vietnam Service Medal, with two stars. His unit was twice awarded the Presidential Unit Citation, including one for the defense of Khe Sanh. After active duty, he attended Seton Hall Law School and became an Assistant United States Attorney, where the Attorney General twice recognized him for Sustained Superior Performance. He is now in private practice and his office focuses on litigation and municipal law.   

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Charles E. Bryant grew up in East Orange and is a currently a Lieutenant in the West Orange Police Department. He served on Active Duty in the United States Navy from 1982 to 1987, and was a Gunner’s Mate aboard the Aircraft Carrier USS Independence. He is a lifetime member of the Police Unity Tour and has coached Little League baseball for the Township of Union for the past 14 years. In his spare time, he loves to fish, coach, bowl, and spend time with his four children Denzel, Quincy, Jalen and Kayla.

Victor M. Mandio, Jr., of Bloomfield, is currently a Readjustment Counselor with the Department of Veteran’s Affairs in Secaucus, New Jersey. In this role, he provides counseling services to combat veterans suffering from PTSD and MST. He also provides case management for veteran services within the VA Health Care system. He served for 13 years in the United States Army and New Jersey National Guard. During this time, he served in Operation Noble Eagle in 2001 and Operation Iraqi Freedom from 2004 to 2005. He received many accolades for bravery and service including: 4 Army Achievement Medals for Outstanding Performance in the Line of Duty, 2 Army Good Conduct Medals for service during Operation Iraqi Freedom/Operation Noble Eagle, 2 National Defense Service Medals, and a Global War on Terrorism Service Medal. Since September 2015, he has volunteered his time with Boy Scouts of America, Pack 22 in Bloomfield. He currently resides in Bloomfield with his wife Jessica and son Jaden.

Jorge E. Ortiz is currently a Firefighter and First Responder for the City of Orange Township. In this role, he responds to fire alarms and emergency calls, as well as traffic accidents, vehicle fires, and other emergencies in an effort to protect lives and property. He served in the United States Navy from 2002 to 2007 as an Aviation Fuels Technician on the USS John F. Kennedy. He also served as the Aircraft Launch and Recovery Supervisor/Specialist from 2007 to 2009 in Pensacola, Florida, where he oversaw 50 technicians. During his time, Jorge has received many citations and awards including: Citation for the Commander John F. Kennedy Strike Group, the Navy and Marine Corps Achievement Medal, the Good Conduct Award, and a Citation from Operation IRAQI Freedom.

The Honorable Juan M. Rivera, Jr. resides in Newark, currently works at the North Ward Center as a Project Director, and was elected Essex County Register on November 5, 2019. He served in the United States Marine Corps from 1991 to 1995 where he achieved the rank of Corporal. After receiving an honorable discharge, his passion to serve the community inspired him to begin a career in public service. He has served in a multitude of capacities throughout Newark including District Leader for Newark’s Central Ward (2008-2012) and District Leader of the North Ward (currently serving). He was a member of the Newark Public Schools Advisory Board from 2009 to 2012, and served as Chairman of the Personnel Committee and Facilities Committee from 2010 to 2012. He was also an Aide to Councilman Charles Bell with the City of Newark, an Aide to Assemblywoman Grace Spencer, Director of Constituent Affairs for State Senator Teresa Ruiz, and since 2015, he has served as the Vice Chairman of the Essex County Veterans Advisory Board.

The celebration was a spirited event and featured a song from South Orange native Dante Sterling, an acclaimed entertainer who has also played Heinrich in the Narrow Bridge film Yellow Scare, and the feature role of Coalhouse Walker, Jr., in Light Opera of New Jersey’s production of Ragtime. A catered reception for the honorees and their guests followed the program.