NEWARK, NJ — Two West Orange veterans, Lt. Charles Bryant from the West Orange Police Department and West Point Cadet Christopher Morgan, were recently honored by the county for their respective service to the United States.
During this year’s countywide Veterans Day Observance ceremony held at Essex County Veterans Memorial Park in Newark, various local dignitaries were on hand as Essex County Executive Joseph DiVincenzo, Jr. presented an “Essex County Community Star Award” to Morgan, a West Orange resident and West Point cadet who lost his life earlier this year in a training accident.
Morgan's father, Christopher Sr., and his wife, April, expressed gratitude to “the many communities that have supported” their family over the last few months, stating that the “love and support has been overwhelming."
DiVincenzo pointed out that that Morgan was “a natural leader who became the first person from West Orange to attend West Point.”
“His story has been an inspiration to us, and we hope his legacy will encourage other young men and women to follow in his footsteps to serve their country," he said.
Congresswoman Mikie Sherrill, a Navy veteran who represents the 11th District, as well as several Essex County employees who are veterans of the seven branches of the military represented in the Essex County Armed Forces monument attended the ceremony.
Together, DiVincenzo and Sherrill presented the Community Star Award to the Morgan Family.
The plaque reads as follows:
"Christopher Morgan, Jr. was an inspirational member of his West Orange community. He graduated from West Orange High School in 2015 and soon after, made history by becoming the first West Orange student to attend the U.S. Military West Point Academy. During high school, he was a highly accomplished student and athlete serving as captain for both the varsity football and wrestling teams. Cadet Morgan continued his wrestling career at West Point as a member of the Army wrestling team. Christopher was an exemplary member of his community. His legacy continues to represent the best in his hometown."
Addressing Morgan's parents, Sherrill said, "I hope you can feel the debt of our gratitude to CJ. You raised an incredible man whose life was taken too soon."
Others also recognized Morgan as one of the many men and women who give their lives to protect their country.
"Thank you to the men and women who give their time so we can continue in our daily lives," Teresa Ruiz, NJ State Senator and Deputy Chief of Staff for Essex County. “Chris believed in Democracy in a way that we need to teach our children.”
Freeholder Vice President Wayne Richardson, who was joined by Freeholders Patricia Sebold and Len Luciano, spoke on behalf of the board stating that its members are “proud to honor those who are committed to serving and protecting their country and honor the legacy of CJ Morgan.”
“Chris was a rising star whose impact as a friend was felt deeply by many," said Richardson.
Assemblyman Tom Giblin added that Morgan’s legacy “lives on as someone who was heroic and who is a role model of someone who gives back to and has love of their country.”
In addition to honoring Morgan’s legacy, Essex County Sheriff Armando Fontoura also remembered Jorge Oliveira, an Essex County Sheriff's Officer who lost his life while serving the Middle East conflict. Acknowledging the statue that was installed in the park in Oliveira’s memory, Fontoura said the former officer “stands there looking after his fellow officers.”
"Throughout our country's history, brave men and women have put their lives on hold to serve in the U.S. Armed Forces at home and abroad,” said DiVincenzo. “Our Essex County Veterans Memorial Park was created to provide our veterans with a place to find serenity and comfort and provide a constant reminder to the public about their contributions and sacrifices. We are proud to stand with our veterans at this important occasion, give them our respect and thank them for representing our country with valor and bravery.”
During the ceremony, Father Ed Leahy, Headmaster of St. Benedict's Prep and President of the Essex County Schools of Technology Board, and Essex County Health Officer Michael Festa, a member of the American Legion Post 185 in Caldwell, where he serves as Chaplain, gave the invocations.
Additionally, Essex County Donald M. Payne, Sr. School of Technology students Brianna Gunter, Mia Perez, Whitney Pierre, Raquel Petite-Frere, Nyasia Ashford and Alaysia Coffield sang the National Anthem; Barney Raftery performed the "Armed Forces Medley"; and the Essex County Sheriff's Honor Guard presented the colors at the beginning of the ceremony.
Pictured above with DiVincenzo (seventh from right) and Sherrill (eighth from right) at the Annual Essex County Veterans Day Observance in the Sheila Y. Oliver Conference Center in Newark are (left to right):
- St. Benedict's Prep Headmaster and President of the Essex County Schools of Technology Board Father Ed Leahy;
- Chief of Staff Phil Alagia;
- Freeholder Patricia Sebold;
- Sheriff Armando Fontoura;
- Freeholder Len Luciano;
- Freeholder Vice President Wayne Richardson;
- Morgan's parents, April and Chris Sr.;
- West Orange Councilwoman Cindy Matute-Brown;
- Deputy Chief of Staff William Payne;
- NJ State Senator and Deputy Chief of Staff Teresa Ruiz;
- Assembly members Tom Giblin and Eliana Pintor-Marin; and
- Newark Councilman John James.
CLICK HERE to read about the 2019 Veterans Celebration, where the Essex County Board of Chosen Freeholders honored Bryant for his service with the United States Navy.