WEST ORANGE, NJ - The annual Memorial Day Ceremony was a combination of past, present and future as the West Orange High School Air Force Jr. ROTC launched a new program honoring the armed forces and "New Jersey's Most Decorated Community."

For the past several years, the ceremony, under the direction of former chair Gary Englert, had presented New Jersey Distinguished Service Medals to West Orange servicemen and women. To date, 360 medals have been awarded, making West Orange "New Jersey's Most Decorated Community." With the number of awardees on the decline, Englert felt it was time for a change and recommended the Jr. Air Force ROTC organize the ceremony with township personnel.

Major Joseph P. Marchesini, USAF (Ret.), and SMSgt. Clarence Yoh, USAF (Ret.), ROTC program coordinators at the high school, along with their cadets, posted the colors as VFW Post 376 Commander Ralph Panciello lead the Pledge of Allegiance and the West Orange High School Brass Quintet performed the National Anthem. WOHS Junior Christopher Sanchez later soloed on "Taps" as the cadets escorted the members of the Township Council in the Wreath Dedication.

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Mayor Robert Parisi recognized Dylan Pennell, West Orange High School Senior, who was instrumental in lobbying for the establishment of a Jr. ROTC program at the school. Pennell will be attending the Naval Academy following graduation.

Parisi also recognized Gary Englert, himself a decorated Vietnam veteran, for his several years of service to the township. In a surprise move, which was the emotional highlight of the ceremony, Major Marchesini presented Englert with the "Four Chaplains Legion of Honor Award".

The award is given to "outstanding members of society whose lives model the giving spirit and unconditional service to community, nation, and humanity without regard to race, religion, or creed exemplified so dramatically by the Four Chaplains". These four chaplains gave their lives to save others in 1943 as the USAT Dorchester sank in the icy waters off Newfoundland.

"To be considered for any of the five awards, the selfless and transformative achievement must be above and beyond that of a professional resume or organizational position." Englert has been, and continues to be, tireless in his efforts to assist transitioning and struggling veterans.

Monsignor Michael Kelly of Seton Hall Preparatory School, a retired Captain and chaplain with the United States Army, led both the Invocation and Benediction.

West Orange resident and USAR retired Lt. Colonel Al Rosu, presented orders to ROTC cadet Chineza Anuamadi, who has enlisted with the United States Marines, and led local Air Force enlistees in their Oath of Enlistment. 

The West Orange Fire Department rendered a Rifle salute as the West Orange Police Department stood in support.  WOHS Senior Chris Wold sang "Proud to be an American," to end the program.