SOUTH PLAINFIELD - South Plainfield came together for a very special event celebrating the community on Nov. 9, sponsored by the South Plainfield Celebrations Committee. The event kicked off with a salute to veterans service at the Monument Park Helicopter, after which the South Plainfield High School Marching Band led attendees over to Veterans Park for an afternoon of fun.
“It certainly was a beautiful day filled with South Plainfield spirit and gratitude towards our Veterans,” said Amy Bengivenga-Johnson, Chair of Public Celebrations Committee. “I am so grateful for everyone who helped make this event a success.”
South Plainfield Community Day was organized this year in place of the 62nd Annual South Plainfield Labor Day Parade that was supposed to take place on Sept. 2 and was canceled after authorities found a number of suspicious destructive devices near the home of Thomas G. Kaiser, which is at the start of the parade route. Kaiser was arrested and no one was injured, however, many South Plainfield residents missed their traditional Labor Day festivities.
“Something was still missing this time of year because of the unfortunate circumstances on Labor Day and this really bridges that gap," said Mayor Matthew Anesh. "This event gives us an opportunity, as a community, to celebrate the grand marshals, but also to come out and celebrate all of our veterans. I love what this town does to honor our veterans. I’m pleased with the turn out that we had.”
The Public Celebrations Committee decided to celebrate the grand marshals of the Labor Day Parade and veterans of the community in a very special way. In place of the town’s beloved annual event, the committee set plans created South Plainfield Community Day.
“Even though this year’s largest Community Celebration took a much unanticipated form this year, the most important thing was that we honored our veterans in a memorable way on a beautiful day,” said Councilwoman Christine Faustini, Public Celebrations Council Liaison.
Gathered in Monument Park on the morning of Nov. 9, the American flag majestically waving overhead, the town of South Plainfield took a moment to honor their veterans.
“Bless us God from whom all blessings flow,” said veteran Calvin Gross, opening the tribute with a prayer. “For all the people here who have worn the uniform of the nation, I would take a deep breath, a really deep breath, because for those who have fought for it, freedom has a flavor the protected will never know. So dear God, take this moment to bless everyone, near and far, and put your arms around them and keep them safe for the life you’ve given, everyone should enjoy. Amen.”
The American Legion Color Guard then posted their colors. Those gathered all joined in for the “Pledge of Allegiance,” every word having even more meaning at that moment as veterans stood at attention before them. The South Plainfield High School Marching Band, played the “National Anthem” while drum majors saluted the flag.
Ninety-eight year old Joseph Vella, a veteran of World War Two, approached a memorial wreath that stood before the gathering.
“This wreath is for all of those who answered the call to their duty, to their nation and to their God,” said Vella. “We thank all of you for attending, we must never forget.”
The American Legion Color Guard then fired a rifle volley, the customary tradition in which three volleys of shots are fired in honor of deceased veterans. As the last shot echoed through the skies, the solemn notes of the “Taps” began.
“It was a great deal of pressure to play in front of everyone, but it was such an honor that it outweighed everything else,” Trumpeter Sebastian Annamanthado later said. “I was really happy to play it for the ceremony. It really made me feel good to contribute to the service.”
Anesh then stood before the crowds, the sun reflecting off great memorial of lost hero’s names behind him.
“It’s a pleasure to be here today,” said Anesh. “I want to first thank all the veterans for coming out today to join us and for the South Plainfield Celebrations Committee for the fine job that they’ve done today in putting this all together. It may seem like a long time ago, but it was just over nine weeks ago that many of us woke up to an interrupted tradition of a long history of South Plainfield. Our Labor Day was interrupted. It was something none of us could have ever imagined on that morning.”
Anesh went on to thank the first responders and commend them on their reaction to the unfolding of events of this past Labor Day.
“So today, we pause, we regroup,” said Anesh. “And fitting on the weekend before Veterans Day, we will honor our grand marshals from the Labor Day Parade. We will also take an opportunity to honor all the veterans as we approach Veterans Day. It’s a long history that South Plainfield has in recognizing our veterans.”
Stressing the importance of character that children are taught in the South Plainfield School system, Anesh reminded the residents of South Plainfield of the significance of a small, but powerful gesture.
“Just remember one thing as you’re visiting stores and remembering the Veterans Day holiday,” said Anesh. “…the most important thing is to take an opportunity to thank and recognize a veteran for their service. No celebration, so sale, no event can bring the magnitude and the respect that the simple word of thanks can do.”
Anesh, whose older brother was in the Navy and younger brother was in the Marines, went on to share the meaning of sacrifice for the veteran and their families.
“Any of us who have had brothers, sisters, fathers, mothers that served this country know it all very well,” said Anesh. “We recognize the sacrifice that they’ve made each and every day, whether it be their long trips from home or just the worry of not knowing where they are or whether they are in harm’s way, those are true and real feelings.”
Anesh ended his speech with a request.
“Do me one favor,” said Anesh. “As you see a veteran today, treat them with the respect they deserve. Thank them for their service because we would not have the life and the freedoms that we have here today if it wasn’t for their service and their continued service. Thank you, it’s an honor being here and please enjoy the rest of today’s festivities.”
The closing prayer was written by Amy Bengivenga-Johnson and read by Gross.
“Today we honor our veterans, worthy men and women, who gave their best when they were called upon to serve and protect their country,” said Gross. “We pray that you will bless them, Lord, for their unselfish service in their continued struggle to preserve our freedoms, our safety and our
After the service, the marching band led the way for veterans and residents to Veterans Park, where the celebration continued. Many say they found the service extremely powerful.
“I personally didn’t feel much until they shot the rifles and our trumpets started playing ‘Taps,’” said Kori Caicedo, percussionist in the SPHS Marching Band. “I realized we’re actually honoring these veterans and then I started looking around and seeing them. It sunk in that wars happened. As young people, we don’t actually realize that wars actually happened before we were born and even right now, but it really made me more grateful for where I am today in the country that I’m in.”
At Veterans Park, military vehicles were on display provided by the 82nd Airborne Division and Lincoln Tech. Russ Balliet served twenty-four years in the military and is a member of Central Jersey Military Motorpool. Balliet brought his 1943 Ford with him, which he nicknamed ‘Steel Penny,’ to remind everyone that pennies had to be made of steel in 1943.
“I’m here to honor the veterans and show people part of the history of everything from World War Two on up,” said Balliet. “It’s an honor to come down and do something for the people.”
“I represent the guys who are not able to represent themselves today, the guys that are the heroes,” said Paul Zelesny from Central Jersey Military Motorpool. “A lot of veterans don’t come back and publicize what they did in the war, so I’m doing that in place of them. I call them patriots.”
The celebration continued all afternoon with many activities for the town’s children, including bounce houses and games. Characters mingled through the crowd dressed as superheroes, Woody from Toy Story, baby shark, butterflies, Ghost Busters and more. Stilt walkers maneuvered through the field and a magician performed close up magic tricks.
The Girl Scouts had a craft station and accepted donated food items for those in need. Whether they wanted airbrush tattoos or to dance amid a shower of bubbles, there was something for all the young ones who came.
Live music was provided by Amp’d, a local band always loyal to South Plainfield. Amp'd performs every year after the Labor Day Parade at the Middle School and in the gazebo at Spring Lake before the infamous Labor Day fireworks show.
“This is a great event for the town,” said Amp’d member Paul Fessock, owner of World of Rock. “It’s not winter just yet, so it’s not that cold, but it’s definitely not that warm. There was a strong turnout. Anything that promotes the military, the town and the kids, is what it’s all about. So my mom’s here and South Plainfield’s the best. I’ll always support South Plainfield!”
Food options were plentiful throughout the afternoon. The South Plainfield Boosters of the Musical Arts had fried Oreos, funnel cake and meat on a stick. The Lions Club were manning grills as well, making burgers and hot dogs. Several food trucks set up shop for the afternoon, including Latin Bites had empanada and other Latin specialties. Food for All made gourmet sandwiches. Bites & Bowls offered a fresh array of Latin Fusion and Lady Maribel Ice Cream had water ice and sweet treats.
Those who attended say from start to finish, the day was wonderful.
“I thought it was a great day, a beautiful day,” said Dan Ratti, South Plainfield resident. “To honor the veterans is something we do in this town. It’s all about respect and this park is great. It was nice to see people here enjoying the day.”
“It was a great event,” said Anesh. “Nothing makes me prouder of the community than the involvement that we have. It’s great to see so many people come out on a slightly cold day to pay their respects to our veterans who are serving and have served. I couldn’t be prouder.”
As the day wound down and everyone left with smiles and happy memories, many reflected on the success of the event.
“As prayers, joy and home town fun were shared among our veterans, families and volunteers today, there is no doubt that South Plainfield’s Community pride and spirit is second to none,” said Faustini.
The Public Celebration Committee works to bring unity to the community and celebrate the town with elegance and pride. Several events are on the calendar, and they ask for continued support in the spirit of South Plainfield.
“We look forward to our next celebration, which will be caroling and tree lighting in Monument Park on Saturday, December 7,” said Bengivenga-Johnson.