WEST ORANGE, NJ – The West Orange Township Memorial Day Ceremony will be held Monday, May 26, on the steps of Town Hall, 66 Main St. beginning at 10 a.m. The much anticipated event will take a different direction this year as the West Orange High School Air Force Junior ROTC takes the lead organizing the program.

Major Joseph Marchesini, lead instructor of the Air Force Junior ROTC program at the high school, noted, “The focus of the Air Force Junior ROTC is leadership training and civic responsibility, and it is a testament to the town that they have placed so much confidence in these exemplary students. They are honored to host the ceremony and are looking forward to showing pride in their community and country.”

Dylan Pennell, the West Orange High School senior who spearheaded the efforts to establish an ROTC program at the high school, is the committee chair. Pennell, who this past week was named an Essex County Athlete Scholar, will be attending the Naval Academy this summer.

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“Instead of distributing the NJ Distinguished Service Medal, as has been customary at past ceremonies, this year there will be an enlistment ceremony, and several community members will take the oath of enlistment,” said Pennell.

For the last fifteen years, the centerpiece of the annual ceremony was the presentation of the New Jersey Distinguished Service Medal, the state’s highest honor for military service. During that time, 360 West Orange combat veterans received the award, the largest contingent in any New Jersey municipality. As a result, the Township lays claim to the title of “New Jersey’s Most Decorated Community.”

“It was a wonderful initiative while it could be sustained,” said former Event Chair Gary Englert, who conceived and organized those ceremonies.

 "With veterans comprising no more than 7% of the population, and combat veterans being fewer still, there’s not an infinite pool of those eligible for the award and that pool has pretty much been drained,” Englert continued.

“It’s time to pass the torch and involve the next generation, and having been among those who lobbied for the Junior ROTC unit to be established at West Orange High School, I'm gratified to see them take the lead.”

In addition to the enlistment portion of the ceremony, Major Marchesini told the Alternative Press that the program will also feature West Orange High School Air Force Junior ROTC Color Guard posting and retiring the colors; the WOHS brass quintet playing the National Anthem and Taps; a performance by WOHS senior Chris Wold; a rifle salute by the West Orange Fire Department; and a few surprises along the way.

“Having the students of the Air Force Junior ROTC program host this ceremony symbolizes a ‘changing of the guard’ for this honored event,” Parisi said.

“This is always a proud day for West Orange as well as for veterans that we honor and their families. I know that these model high school students will deliver a fresh perspective on this time-honored tradition.” he stated.