A light rain fell over South Orange’s ceremony of remembrance, a quiet ceremony held near the pond at the Memorial Rock. Members of Boy Scout Troop 60 of South Orange-Maplewood read the names of the U.S. military from South Orange who made the ultimate sacrifice. Village officials, first responders and public safety officers, former members of the armed services, and the Gold Star families of service members who died attended.
Village President Sheena Collum made the following remarks:
First, I’d like to thank Veteran Ed Matthews and our Dept. of Recreation for hosting this important event that spans decades – it reminds us to never forget and is an important tradition for our community.
I’d also like to thank members of the governing body joining me today: Trustees Deborah Davis Ford, Walter Clarke, and Howard Levison.
While the skies are a little dark and cold, our hearts are warm as we remember and honor the brave men and women who gave their lives in service of our Country. It is because of their unwavering devotion that we can continue to enjoy the freedoms and rights that make us proud to be Americans.
My brother joined the army in his 30s – it was a calling for him. While our family remains very proud of him, we know the consequences of war and its impact on someone we love which is why I believe the best way to honor those who sacrificed so much, is to take care of their brothers and sisters who are still with us.
What has South Orange done?
• In 2015, shortly after becoming the Village President, I joined the Mayor’s Challenged to End Veteran’s Homelessness. To date, hundreds of mayors, county representatives and governors have accepted the challenge, which has added renewed urgency to local multidisciplinary actions to identify Veterans in need and connect them to housing and related supportive services. According to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, nearly 40,000 veterans are homeless on any given night. That’s down 50 percent since 2009.
• The South Orange Board of Trustees unanimously passed an ordinance mandating that all new developments have a veteran’s preference as a part of the developer’s affordable housing obligation. Imagine if every community in the country did their small part like South Orange in taking the initiative – every veteran would have a place to call home.
• Additionally, we began hosting off-station parties for the VA in East Orange, this will be our third year, and will take place on June 29th. This event is annually lead by our Health Officer and Veteran, John Festa. When we were broached by this idea 3 years ago, it was a resounding yes. We host a fantastic dinner, play bingo, and get to know each other better and build personal connections.
• This year, we participated in National Salute Week which takes place during the 2nd week in February. Mayor Deluca and I visited the East Orange VA Medical Center Campus where we helped aid in the goals of: Paying tribute and express appreciation to Veterans, Increasing community awareness of the role of the VA medical center and Encouraging citizens to visit hospitalized Veterans and to become involved as volunteers.
I encouraged residents and youth to write messages, and it was well received. One of the smallest things we can do to show our appreciation is say “thank you.”
It a start but there’s much more work to be done.
In closing, I’d like to remind our community that there’s ways to get involved.
• Advocate for legislation at the national, state and local levels of government that bring more resources and support to our veterans.
• Visit a vet or become a volunteer, there are so many opportunities out there to become involved or you can make a donation to reputable organization such as Wounded Warriors.
• For businesses – you have an opportunity to “hire heroes,” which transforms military service into civilian success.
• Never forget the service and sacrifice of others. Not a day goes by that I don’t feel grateful that I get to serve in this role, particularly as a woman, and enjoy the benefits of the democracy we live in.
Last but certainly not least, I’d also like to thank our local heroes here today who selflessly serve among us – our South Orange Police Department, Fire Department, and volunteer Rescue Squad.
Thank you all and enjoy your day with friends and loved ones.
Note, the picture in front of Memorial Rock is with Gold Star family member Carmel Masi, who turns 90 this year. Her brother died in WWII in July of 1944. A special woman and I’m grateful to her brother Daniel and the Masi family for their sacrifice.