WEST ORANGE, NJ – Memorial Day will now be known as Ralph Panciello Day in West Orange, after Mayor Robert Parisi presented 90-year old Panciello with a proclamation on Monday honoring his service to the country and the township during the 2018 Memorial Day Ceremony in front of town hall.
In his tribute to Panciello, who is the long-time commander of Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) Post 376, Parisi acknowledged his service in the South Pacific during World War II, as well as his service to West Orange during his long tenure as its deputy mayor.
“This tradition of our annual West Orange Memorial Day event has taken place in large part because of Ralph’s commitment to always remember those who have sacrificed their lives to keep our country safe, as well as his ongoing efforts to improve the lives of our veterans,” said Parisi.
Following the ceremony, Panciello said he was very surprised and pleased by the proclamation naming this day for him. Many community members offered congratulations to him as he expressed his appreciation for the honor.
In his message to the crowd that gathered on an overcast day, Parisi noted that West Orange is New Jersey’s most decorated community.
“We’ve bestowed the New Jersey Distinguished Service Medal, the state’s highest honor for military service, on 360 of our deserving combat veterans,” said Parisi.
The mayor added that this was a day to honor the Americans who have lost their lives defending our nation, including the 33 Americans killed in combat zones this past year.
Parisi also noted that 156 “brave souls” who resided in West Orange were killed in action during one of America’s wars.
“We vow to never forget them,” he said. “We know what their sacrifice means to our community, our country and the world at large.”
The oldest veteran in attendance was 100-year-old Albert Guadagno, who served in the China-Burma-India Theater in World War II. During an interview prior to the services, he spoke about his travails while helping to build Ledo Road—later named the General Joseph Stillwell Road to honor the man who insisted that it be built in response to the Japanese Army’s capture of the Burma Road. That road had been the main route for Allied military supplies between India and China.
Guadagno recalled the difficult conditions he and the other men faced while building the road. Approximately 1,100 Americans died during its construction, he said.
On the other end of the age spectrum, Parisi welcome Dylan Pennell back to West Orange after graduating from the Naval Academy. He said Pennell played a major role in bringing the Air Force Junior Reserve Officers Training Corps (ROTC) to West Orange High School in 2014.
Pennell, who will be shipping out to Pearl Harbor in Hawaii to serve his country, said after the services that bringing the Junior ROTC to WOHS was truly a community effort.
“I was pleased to play a leadership role by getting a petition together and making a presentation to the board of education about the need for a Junior ROTC at the high school,” said Pennell. “Many others worked with me to make it happen.”
One of the Junior ROTC instructors, Retired Air Force Major Joseph Marchesini, said there are now 141 cadets at the high school.
“It’s been wonderful to see the program grow over the past four years,” Marchesini said after Monday’s service. “We started with 52 students in the first year. Now we have 141 students, most of whom are thriving in the program.”
A large group of Junior ROTC cadets were on hand at Monday’s event. Two of them, Abby Rosu and Michael Grovine, were acknowledged for getting scholarships to continue their college studies before serving their country.
Rosu was awarded a three-year Army ROTC scholarship, which is extremely selective and reserved for only top-ranked student applicants. She will be attending the College of New Jersey and will also earn a commission as Second Lieutenant in the US Army upon graduation.
Grovine, who earned an Air Force scholarship, will attend Rutgers University. Upon graduation, he will be commissioned as a Second Lieutenant in the US Air Force.
The program included the posting of colors by the Air Force Junior ROTC and the West Orange Fire Department Color Guard, Jan Carden singing “The Star Spangled Banner,” “Wind Beneath My Wings” and “America the Beautiful,” an invocation by Monsignor Michael Kelly, a benediction by Rabbi Robert Tobin, of Bnai Shalom in West Orange, a rifle salute by the West Orange Police Department, and the playing of “Taps” by Stanley Lim.
West Orange township council members were joined by Joseph Fagan, township historian, as well as VFW and Air Force Junior ROTC cadets as they took part in a wreath dedication ceremony. In addition, Alfred Rosu, lieutenant colonel, USAR (Ret) conducted an oath of enlistment for three West Orange residents who want to serve their country. Sgt. Matthew Hall brought the enlistees to the ceremony on Monday, and was on hand for their oath of enlistment.
The program was presented by the West Orange VFW in cooperation with the Mayor’s Office and the West Orange High School Air Force Junior ROTC. The Memorial Day Observance team that organized the event consisted of Susan Anderson, Captain Timothy Brennan, Megan Brill, Joseph Fagan, Major Joseph Marchesini, USAF (Ret), Captain Joseph Matullo, Ralph Panciello, Shari Ann Quirk and Chief Master Sgt. Ricardo Thurston, USAF (Ret).