SOUTH PLAINFIELD, NJ - The students and staff of South Plainfield Middle School took time out of their school day on Friday May 25th to honor those who died while serving in the United States Armed Forces. With a Memorial Day service that called for reflection on the countless lives lost and gratitude for their sacrifice, the school honored the fallen heroes with music, speeches, a 21-Bell Salute and the presentation of a Memorial Wreath to symbolize their appreciation for the honorable individuals who gave their lives for the country’s freedom.
The ceremony opened as the Middle School GEMs Chorus sang the nation’s anthem with pride and Assistant Principal Kelly Richkus welcomed students, staff and honored guests to the Middle School’s annual service of remembrance organized by History Teacher Joseph Blondo and the members of the Middle School Student Council.
“When most of us think about Memorial Day, we think about the weekend,” said Principal Roger Vroom as he addressed the assembly. “This weekend, I challenge you to take a moment to stop and think about what Memorial Day represents - a time to remember the soldiers who made the ultimate sacrifice to protect the American way of life.”
Several special guests attended the service. Assistant Superintendent Mary Flora Malyska was joined by Board of Education members William Seesselberg, Debbie Boyle, Keith Both and Stephanie Wolak. Councilwoman Christine Faustini sat beside Councilmen Derryck White, Robert Bengivenga, Jr. and Joseph Wolak. Representing South Plainfield’s First Responders were: Police Chief James Parker as well as Firefighters John Calvey, Michael Pellegrino and Bill Conti.
Vroom went on to explain that Memorial Day was originally called Declaration Day and is meant for reflection and remembrance of the many men and women who laid down their lives for the nation’s freedom.
“This Monday, this Memorial Day, at 3pm, during the national moment of remembrance, stop what you’re doing and take a minute to remember our fallen heroes and what their sacrifice has meant for our freedom,” concluded Vroom.
Paying tribute to the brave soldiers, the Eighth Grade Band played “Hymn to the Fallen” from the 1998 motion picture, “Saving Private Ryan.” Student Council President Mary O’Dell then addressed the student body.
“Memorial Day is designed to preserve the memory of men and women who died serving our country,” said O’Dell. “Memorial Day is not just a fun weekend with time off from school, it is also a time of reflection, it is a time to share and discuss with your peers why these individuals did what they did. Who’s to say that some of us sitting here right now aren’t future veterans or possibly someone who will make the ultimate sacrifice for our country.”
Two students then presented a Memorial Wreath of red, white and blue flowers to symbolize the school’s appreciation for those who lost their lives. A somber silence blanketed the courtyard as another student rang the bell that stands beside the school’s 911 Memorial. Echoing twenty-one times, the students observed a moment of silence, followed by the playing of “Taps.”
As the sound of the trumpet faded into the morning breeze, a recording of the New York City Fire Department Emerald Society Pipes and Drums performing “Amazing Grace” was played, followed by the Middle School Band playing “Navy Hymn,” a solemn song honoring those in the maritime armed services.
“I’d like to thank everyone for putting on this event today,” said Bengivenga after the music subsided. “Today, I want to talk with you about one New Jersey native from a little town called Raritan who gave his life to serve this country and gave his life for every one of us here. His name is John Basilone and he has family here in South Plainfield. In 1934, John Basilone enlisted in the U.S. Army and he went to the South Pacific where he fought and came back after serving three years. He went on to become a truck driver. He said that’s not good enough, I want to go back into action.”
Bengivenga went on to describe Basilone’s story of reenlistment into the Marines, where he led 3,000 soldiers into battle and received the Medal of Honor. After coming home and touring the country to help sell military bonds, he decided to go back into war and serve as duty to his country. On his first day back, he got off the shores of Iwo Jima, Japan, paved the way for the marines to go into battle and lost his life.
“Today, we remember Basilone and all those gave the ultimate sacrifice to let us be here today,” concluded Bengivenga. “So please, on Monday, remember them and all those who gave the ultimate sacrifice.”
Vroom then welcomed White to the podium to speak.
“It was very fitting that Council President Bengivenga shared the story of John Basilone because what was in my heart to share with you today is that life is a series of choices,” said White. “And as we walk away today and enjoy this weekend, we know about the great freedom that we share as a privilege in this country. But I want you to think about the choices that were made to allow us and to afford that freedom…We owe these great men and women who lost their lives our eternal gratitude.”
Vroom invited Seesselberg to speak, as President of the Board of Education. Seeselberg urged students to listen to the stories of family members and friends who lived through the experience of serving the country.
“I’m sure all of you somewhere in your family, know someone who has served - an uncle, an aunt, a parent,” said Seesselberg. “Listen to their stories because the armed conflicts of today are not like they were 40, 50, 70 years ago. By watching movies like ‘Saving Private Ryan,’ you do get some semblance of what happened in wartime, but listen to the people who actually served and learn from them.”
“Today, we’ve talked a lot about the importance of remembering those men and women who served in our Armed Forces, who paid the ultimate sacrifice for our freedom,” said Vroom as he closed the service. “Memorial Day is a day that we remember those sacrifices and what it took to bring us to where we are today and what it’s going to take to bring us into our future.”
Students left the service with a sense of pride and gratitude to be part of the United States of America as the band played the upbeat, patriotic song, “This is My Country.”
“Memorial Day is the day we remember what it means to be a hero,” commented Bengivenga after the service. “A day to visit memorials, cemeteries and taking time to remember those who gave the ultimate sacrifice. We should never forget.”