BERKELEY HEIGHTS, NJ — Veteran awareness and appreciation in Berkeley Heights goes beyond the existence of Memorial Park near Park and Plainfield avenues, according to Gay Hollowell, chairwoman of the park’s Renewal Committee.
The organization’s educational outreach program seeks to honor veterans daily at the community level.
“Operation: We Remember is going on as we speak,” Hollowell said Nov. 6.
However, with Veterans Day approaching on Saturday, Nov. 11, the committee’s activities increase substantially.
The committee will stage on a short ceremony at Memorial Park at 9 a.m on Nov. 11. Following the ceremony, the Berkeley Heights YMCA will host a breakfast for veterans.
After the breakfast, a special remembrance program will be held at VFW Post No. 6259, 15 Locust Ave., at 11:11 a.m., the time that officially marks the end of World War I.
The warring countries chose to officially end the conflict at the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month.
“Veterans Day is our opportunity to thank our veterans for their service and sacrifice, and to ask ourselves how we might go forward in remembering that our freedoms come at a tremendous price and should never be taken for granted,” Hollowell said.
Berkeley Heights has 14 active members in the military and four military veterans serve on the police force, Hollowell told LocalSource. The Memorial Park Renewal Committee, a nonprofit organization comprised of volunteers, grew out of project to redevelop the park three years ago and has since transferred its efforts to honoring veterans through various programs and partnerships with the community, school district, families and veterans.
The Hometown Heroes Banner Program, which began last year, recognizes veterans, living and deceased, who have lived or worked in Berkeley Heights.
“The Banner Program is a huge success with over 120 veterans participating,” Hollowell said. The coming home banner includes the name of the veteran, military branch of service, when they served and displays their picture.
“This is truly spectacular, especially for Vietnam veterans who never saw true appreciation from their community when they returned from service,” Hollowell added.
The committee also continues to partner with the school district to bring awareness to veteran causes such as post-traumatic stress disorder, a condition common among those who have experienced or witnessed war, natural disasters, serious accidents, or other life-threatening events, according to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America.
Research has recently shown that PTSD among military personnel may be a physical brain injury, specifically of damaged tissue, caused by blasts during combat, the association says. One program has elementary students interview veterans to raise awareness, which simultaneously salutes their service, Hallowell told LocalSource.
In addition to the celebratory interviews, student groups have raised money to continue veteran support.
The committee was formed three years when a group of citizens joined with the mayor and Berkeley Heights Township Council to renovate Memorial Park. In 2015, the mission to restore the park to pristine condition took shape.
According to the committee’s website, the mission called on the community to update and beautify the park, and the group successfully raised more than its goal of $160,000 through private donations and matching county grants.
This money, Hollowell told LocalSource, enabled the committee to rehabilitate and remodel most parts of the park.
“Walkways, retaining walls, and old monuments were refurbished or rebuilt,” according to the Berkeley Heights Memorial Park website.
Other renovations included the installation of a new sign, repairing the flagpole and the replacement of light fixtures, light poles and benches.
In addition to the planting of new trees, bushes, flowers and a new lawn, the park received the statue donation of a fallen soldier, donated by U.S. Marine Corps veteran Vito Mondelli Jr., which was installed at the entrance.