UNION, NJ — While the pandemic has nixed many annual events in the township, the country and the world, Union officials knew how important it was to still hold a Veterans Day ceremony on Nov. 11. Gathering in Thomas Mahoney Military Park on Chestnut Street, elected officials, veterans and community members thanked our nation’s past and current servicemen and -women. While the gathering was kept small, the ceremony was broadcast to residents.
Mayor Michele Delisfort kicked things off by giving a light overview of the holiday’s history and by describing the park’s namesake.
“Veterans Day is a time to pay our respects to those who have served. For one day we stand united in respect for our past and current veterans,” Delisfort said. “This holiday started as a day to reflect on the heroism of those who died in our nation’s service. It was initially called Armistice Day and fell on Nov. 11, because that is the anniversary of the signing of the armistice that ended World War I; however, in 1954, the holiday was changed to Veterans Day, in order to account for all veterans and all wars. We celebrate and honor America’s veterans for their patriotism, love of country and willingness to sacrifice for the common good.
“Today I’m standing in Thomas Mahoney Military Park on Chestnut Street. This park was dedicated to our very own Thomas Mahoney, who was born and raised in Union,” Delisfort continued, explaining that Mahoney joined the Navy prior to World War II. He spent the entirety of the war serving in the Pacific theater as an electrician. Mahoney survived the attack on Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941, aboard the USS Curtiss. He later served on the USS O’Bannon, the U.S. Navy’s most decorated destroyer during World War II, earning 17 battle stars and a Presidential Unit Citation. Mahoney died in 2013 at age 91.
“All veterans make a sacrifice to serve their country, whether physically, emotionally or by being away from their loved ones and missing important life moments,” Delisfort said, encouraging the town’s youth to become familiar with veterans’ sacrifices and current needs by visiting www.va.gov.
At the ceremony, the Rev. Richard Starling, who serves as chaplain to the Union Police Department and is the senior pastor at Christ Community Church, gave opening and closing prayers. Deputy Mayor Joseph Florio kept things moving, introducing speakers and taking a few moments to remind everyone watching to continue taking COVID-19 precautions, such as wearing masks, washing hands and social distancing.
“I want to see everyone who is here at this year’s event here at next year’s event,” Florio said.
State Sen. Joseph Cryan commended veterans — veterans such as Mahoney and Doris “Dorie” Miller — for being regular people who do amazing things for their country and countrymen.
“Tom often shared his story of the survival and the attack at Pearl Harbor. Tom was the epitome, as are many of you who wear the uniform, of an ordinary person doing extraordinary things,” Cryan said. He went on to speak of the barriers that were placed before men of color who wanted to serve their country prior to World War II. Cryan explained that these men were often relegated to “cleanup duty,” rather than combat.
“The story I want to tell you is the story of a man who on the morning of Dec. 7, 1941, … was collecting laundry for the USS West Virginia. The attack came. When he heard the attack he immediately tried to help his ship,” Cryan said. “He went to the captain, who was mortally wounded, tried to aid him, couldn’t, so what he tried to do next is he ran to an antiaircraft gun and started firing at the Japanese attack. Now, why is that significant? Because as someone who served as a laundry person, he wasn’t trained on how to shoot the weapon, didn’t know how to handle it, but his courage, his heroism, had him do just that.”
Although Miller saved many lives, he went largely unrecognized at the time. He eventually became the first black person to be awarded the Navy Cross, which is the second highest naval decoration for valor. He died in 1943 when his ship, the USS Liscome Bay, was sunk by a Japanese submarine. In January, the Navy announced that an aircraft carrier scheduled to launch in 2028 will be named for him.
“Sometimes we forget that ordinary people do extraordinary things in times of battle,” Cryan said. “Around our community, our state and our country are many more stories of heroism.”
Committeeman Manuel Figueiredo spoke of how veterans have preserved our nation’s democracy and freedoms.
“To all our veterans here today and across America, whether you served here at home or overseas, in war or in peace, you are part of an unbroken chain of patriots who served this country with honor throughout the life of our nation,” he said, adding that the meaning of Veterans Day has evolved. “And while today is still about honoring those who have risked their lives to defend our democracy, it has also evolved to become a symbol of patriotism for all Americans. We celebrate today, we commemorate our veterans, because we know that without our veterans, there would be no land of the free. Without the veterans, the veterans of the American revolution, there would not be a United States as we know it today. Without the veterans of World War I and subsequent wars, we might be living in a country, in a world where freedom of choice and the right to vote no longer exist. And so we owe these men and women immense respect, reverence and gratitude.”
Figueiredo also stressed the importance of ensuring that younger generations have proper gratitude and respect for veterans. Committeewoman Suzette Cavadas similarly spoke of explaining the importance of Veterans Day to children.
“Just the other day, my daughter was asking me, ‘Mom, what’s the difference between Veterans Day and Memorial Day?’ And I actually had a full discussion with her about the importance of both,” Cavadas said. “I think it’s so important that we continue teaching our children the importance of this day and for them to understand that it’s not just a day where they have off from school but a very important day and they understand the meaning behind it.”
Committeeman Clifton People Jr., himself a veteran, reminded those watching that freedom comes with a price.
“These men and women stood for and died for freedom, peace and democracy. Remember those veterans. Remember those veterans who were wounded and dismembered. Remember those veterans who are mentally scarred and carry the effects of war in their head. Remember those veterans who are homeless and hungry. Today we are here to honor and show respect and gratitude for those who have fallen, and destitute veterans,” he said. “Freedom is never free, so God, please bless our veterans and America.”
Another veteran who spoke at the ceremony was Army Brig. Gen. Edward Chrystal, who lived in Union until the age of 10.
“The veteran community out of Union impacted me as a young kid and continued to impact me as I grew older and started to interact with them more,” Chrystal said, adding that he was touched when looking at the memorial wall in the park to see the name of his former across-the-street neighbor. “Union Township has always been a home for veterans and has always been very supportive of veterans.”
The final speaker at the event was former VFW Commander Bob Johnsen, who read an Arthur Ashe quote that his daughter had sent him: “True heroism is remarkably sober, very undramatic. It is not the urge to surpass all others at whatever cost, but the urge to serve others at whatever cost.”
“And that’s what our veterans have done and will continue to do,” Johnsen said.
Photos Courtesy of Township of Union