WEST ORANGE, NJ - West Orange Mayor Robert Parisi said he grew up with the illusion that there were no wars in the world.
His father was born too late to serve in World War II or Korea, and Parisi was too young to serve in Vietnam, he told the audience Monday at the West Orange Memorial Day Ceremony at town hall.
Because of his age and family, Parisi said, there were “no brothers or uncles, no neighbors” who could fill an evening with stories of combat.
His children do not have that luxury, Parisi said. They have grown up with images of war from Iraq and Afghanistan in front of them daily.
Worse, he said, “right from their backyard they could watch the burning of New York City.”
As a result, he said, their lives will always be defined by conflict.
That understanding, the mayor said, makes the sacrifices of the men and women who died in combat more meaningful, and are the real reason town residents gather on Memorial Day.
Because of the times they live in, Parisi said, “my children have knowledge of the true value of this day.”
Town hall ceremonies brought together nearly 200 residents and many military groups on Monday in West Orange.
The Seventh New Jersey Volunteers, a Civil War re-enactment regiment, posted the colors, and the New Jersey Army Reserve National Guard Rifle Squad joined the Seventh New Jersey in a rifle salute.
Army National Guard Major Walter Gill, a member of the observance committee, and Army National Guard Brigadier Gen. William John Marshall III, retired, presented the 12 West Orange veterans with New Jersey Distinguished Service medals. Since 1999, the township has presented 330 of the medals, the state’s highest honor for military service, to West Orange veterans.
Gary Englert, the master of ceremonies and chairman of the West Orange commission on veterans and veterans affairs, recalled his own service in Vietnam. He recently returned from a reunion of his unit, he said, where surviving members were presented with a unit citation that was long overdue.
On the return trip, he stopped in Taccoa Ga., home to a World War II paratrooper training facility made famous by the HBO series “Band of Brothers.”
It was at Camp Taccoa, Englert, said that men were pushed to their limits of endurance and beyond, and where early units of what are now known as special forces, like Seal Team Six, that killed Osama Bin Laden, were created.
Englert said he also realized that American freedoms that we all enjoy are being defended by men and woman from such places as Taccoa, Ga., and West Orange, and from all small towns everywhere.
Local historian Joseph Fagan noted that this is the 150th anniversary of the start of the Civil War.
In 1861, he said West Orange did not exist, but in 1863, thanks to a merger and separation from Orange, a soldier who went to war at the start of the Civil War as an Orange resident returned home to find that he lived in West Orange.
St Mark’s Church, behind the modern town hall, is perhaps “is the only landmark still standing recognizable to both us and every West Orange Civil War soldier,” Fagan said.
“So to remember them on this say, at this place, is highly symbolic and appropriate in all the young men who left town to fight in the American Civil war,” he said.
Marshall, as he presented the medals, reminded the audience that today’s military is a volunteer force.
“They do it well, Marshall said, “and they do it for you.”
West Orange presented distinguished service medals to:
John M. Banas, Navy, Vietnam; Lester M. Bornstein, Army, World War II; Harry B. Freeman, Navy, World War II; Sanford L. Kahn, Army, World War II; Robert S. Kurz, Army Air Corps., World War II; George E. Lofmark, Navy, Korea; John F. Magliacane, Army, World War II; Charles Pescatore, Army, World War II; Robert Uibelhoer, Army, World War II; Seth Schiffman, Marines, Iraq; Robert Walker, Marines, Iraq; and Michael J. Wilk, World War II.