By Gretchen C. Van Benthuysen |
COLTS NECK – Holly Morgan was leaving the home of a friend she had been visiting on Raleigh Pass when she noticed people arriving with trays of food at the house next door.
“I didn’t have a good feeling about that,” she thought at the time.
As she later discovered, that house belonged to the Baldassare family, who had just lost their 20-year-old son and brother, Marine Cpl. Daniel Baldassare, a crew member on the KC-130 Marine aircraft that crashed in a rural Mississippi field on July 10, killing all 16 service members on board.
Baldassare had attended Colts Neck High School with Morgan’s daughter, Samantha Turano, 22. Morgan would wave to him as he drove through the development of single-family homes and garden apartments in his small pick-up truck. It was dark green, she thinks.
She knew his stepmother Kelley, but not his father Vincent nor his sister Felicia. She knew he joined the U.S. Marines during his high school senior year, a goal he’d had since middle school.
“I wanted to embrace the family — their son was about the same age as my daughter,” she explained. “But I wanted to give them their space.”
The next day Morgan noticed someone had planted small American flags around the Raleigh Pass cul-de-sac. That sparked an idea. Why not extend the flags out onto both sides of Colts Neck Boulevard which runs the length of the development, nearly a full mile?
She Googled New Jersey flags makers and flag sellers, Veterans of Foreign Wars and American Legion posts, and U.S. Marine Corps Recruiting offices, hoping they could donate flags. She posted her plan on residential development’s website and the Facebook page.
Crystal Kaplan of Exeter Pass, a volunteer who plans family social events for the community, spread the word. She had lost an uncle in a military helicopter accident and also wanted to be a good neighbor and citizen.
Boxes of flags began arriving. Offers of flags began arriving. Morgan drove all over New Jersey to pick them up. Other residents of The Grande development took up the cause and dropped off flags at her apartment on Hancock Pass. She lost count of the number of flags she received.
“Maybe 4,000?” she said when pressed. A friend stored the overflow at her home.
Morgan also gathered about 30 volunteers and late Monday afternoon they began planting the flags at The Grande and at Colts Neck High School, where a memorial service was held Tuesday morning on the football field for Baldassare, a former member of the school’s team. Even when a thunderstorm moved in around 9:30 that night and chased away most of the volunteers, Morgan and her other daughter Terri, 10, who will be a fifth grader at the Conover Road Elementary School this fall, and a few others kept working.
Maryse Markowitz of Exeter Pass was returning home Monday night from her job at the Freehold Raceway Mall, which closes at 9:30 p.m. When she turned into the development and saw all the flags, she said she choked up.
“It was just so moving and it was so quiet,” she said. “I didn’t know the boy, but I have a 20-year-old daughter.
“All these people wanted was to honor him,” she said. “I have a strong and powerful faith and these people proved there is goodness in this world.”
Glenn Taglieri, also of Exeter Pass, echoed her sentiment.
“Just when you give up on people, something like this happens that restores your faith,” he said, adding his daughter was a classmate of Baldassare. “He always wanted to be a Marine and he accomplished that goal in his short life. My wife said other people live long lives and never achieve their goals.”
Morgan, who didn’t really want the attention her desire to do something for the Baldassare family has brought her, said there was a kind of selfish reason behind her effort.
“I want my daughter Terri to be the kind of kid who goes the extra mile and to not expect anything in return for it,” she explained. “I want her to forget all this materialistic nonsense and dare to be like Danny. To live and be kind and be different … dare to do it.”
This article was first published in the July 27 – Aug. 3, 2017 print edition of The Two River Times. This article was corrected online to reflect the correct spelling of Morgan.
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