Fort Hosts Two New Veterans Day Observances

November 21, 2018
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Gathering on Fort Monmouth prior to the start of a new Veterans Day Parade organized by a local 25- year Army veteran last Sunday morning were, from left, Assemblywoman Joann Downey (NJ-11), World War II and Korean War Veteran Walter Biernacki of Eatontown, Assemblyman Eric Houghtaling (NJ-11), State Senator Vin Gopal, Eatontown Mayor Dennis Connelly, and Parade Grand Marshalls Gilbert Tote of Tinton Falls and Rocco Morrongiello of Middletown, both World War II veterans. Photo by L. Kolnoski

By Laura D.C. Kolnoski

FORT MONMOUTH – Two inaugural Veterans Day events drew at least 1,000 people to Fort Monmouth Sunday. While planned independently, together they signaled the continued rebirth and reuse of the former U.S. Army base in its next incarnation as an apex of business, commercial, residential, entertainment, retail and community endeavors within 1,127 acres.

A Parade of Heroes

1st Sgt. Wayne Bard, a 25-year U.S. Army veteran, moved to Eatontown in 2006. When he realized both Veterans Day and the 100th anniversary of Armistice Day marking the end of World War I would take place on a Sunday this year, he took action. Bard made some calls, one thing led to another, and soon a multitude of groups and agencies was involved in a new parade originating on Fort Monmouth.

To raise money to support veterans and their families, he paired the parade with a golf outing fundraiser at Suneagles Golf Course, the parade’s end destination. Proceeds from the outing will be donated to Fisher House Foundation of Rockville, Maryland, which constructs special housing for the families of military and veterans who need a place to stay when a loved one is in a military or VA hospital.

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The parade was sponsored by The Association of the U.S. Army, a nonprofit educational and professional development association supporting the Army and military family members, begun in 1950.

“It’s all about the troops,” Bard said, adding he hopes the parade will become an annual event. “If more people support it, it will get bigger. The event was a huge success and people seemed to really enjoy it.”

In the brisk morning sun, groups of onlookers lined the parade route, many waving American flags. Among the marchers were members of the Monmouth County Sheriff’s Department, The Eatontown/Tinton Falls Falcons Pop Warner team and cheerleaders, Boy Scout Fort Monmouth Troop 49, local police, fire and first aid squads, bagpipers, the Monmouth Regional High School band, the Antique Motoring Club of Monmouth County and local politicians and legislators including state Sen. Vin Gopal.

The Monmouth Regional High School marching band kept the beat and entertained onlookers
during the Fort Monmouth Veterans Day Parade. Photo by L. Kolnoski

“Veterans and their families do so much for us every day,” Gopal said. “It’s important as legislators we do all we can to support them and treat them with dignity.” Assemblywoman Joanne Downey (NJ-11), noted that over 400,000 veterans live in New Jersey, while her fellow Assemblyman Eric Houghtaling said he is featuring veterans on his Facebook page because “they still have a story to tell.”

A Musical Tribute

Soldiers’ stories featured prominently in Sunday’s 4 p.m. “Dona Nobis Pacem: A Salute to Veterans” concert performed by the Monmouth Civic Chorus at the Triumphant Life Assembly of God Church in the Oceanport section of Fort Monmouth. Free and open to the public, the concert had a dual mission – honoring the military through music and commemorating the chorus’ 70th anniversary this year.

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The standing-room-only crowd was estimated at about 600, their vehicles filling four surrounding parking lots.

“We are pleased to be doing this at the former Fort Monmouth Chapel, now the Triumphant Life Church,” said Patti D’Andrea, Monmouth Civic Chorus president. “We are giving back with this emotional, inspiring concert in honor of our 70th anniversary and the ending of World War I.”

Prior to the concert, D’Andrea asked veterans and their families in the audience to stand and be recognized as they received loud applause from attendees.

Led by James Ryan Brandau, artistic director/conductor, the ample chorus, with orchestral accompaniment, performed the contents of letters sent to and from soldiers in different wars set to music. A chorus member read each letter, followed by the ensemble singing those words in specially composed renditions. Chorus member Jenni Blumenthal of Holmdel delivered an impassioned theatrical interpretation of a young woman writing to her beloved in 1944, bringing young Marjorie’s letters to her “Dearest Rowland” to life.

“These pieces show the personal side and share the stories of the millions who fought, perished and waited for them,” Brandau noted. “These words connect us to the people who wrote them.”

The concluding piece was “Dona Nobis Pacem” (Grant Us Peace).

This article was first published in the Nov. 15-21, 2018 print edition of The Two River Times.

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