By JENNIFER AMATO
NORTH BRUNSWICK – More than a dozen veterans were honored for their service to the country and to the community during a special pre-Veterans Day ceremony that included musical selections, a flag folding demonstration and an interview with a hometown hero.
Mike Kneller, supervisor of Social Studies at North Brunswick Township High School (NBTHS) and Social Studies teacher Donald Smutko welcomed Korean War veteran Richard Pender of the U.S. Army who is the senior vice commander of North Brunswick American Legion Post 459;
North Brunswick Councilman Bob Davis, who served with the 11th Special Forces Group Airborne of the U.S. Army Reserves from 1967-72;
Fred Smith, a member of the U.S. Army Airborne during the Vietnam War, who is also the second junior vice commander of the Department of New Jersey Disabled American Veterans;
Jim Grieco, a World War II veteran with the 7th Air Force who traveled to Hawaii and Guam;
96-year-old Frank Maltese, a World War II veteran who served in the Pacific Ocean theater for three years, 10 months and 15 days – and who was wearing the same uniform he was given on his day of enlistment in January of 1942;
World War II veteran Frank Wahler, who made 102 trips across the channel on D-Day, making it to all five beaches, and who is now the American Legion Jersey Boys State chairman for Joyce Kilmer American Legion Post 25 in Milltown;
Harry Rossmann, a U.S. Marine who served from 1963-66 during the Vietnam War;
Michael Guglielmo, a U.S. Army soldier for 13 years who has been deployed two times each to both Iraq and Afghanistan;
U.S. Navy Petty Officer Ruben Jollie, who served as a nuclear reactor mechanic on a submarine for eight years;
William McCauley, a recent Rutgers University graduate who joined the military five months ago;
Joseph Maltese, an 18-year veteran of the U.S. Air Force who served in Afghanistan and Iraq and who now does recruiting;
fellow recruiter Joseph Sapikowski, who enlisted in 2003 with the U.S. Air Force and completed five combat tours in the Middle East;
U.S. Marine Sgt. Mario Reyes who served in Japan, California, North Carolina, South Carolina and New Jersey, and does recruiting at NBTHS;
NBTHS math teacher Kelly Slingerland, who served in the U.S. Army Reserves from 2006-11 with a military police unit;
and Joseph Scaturro, a U.S. Marine from 1983-87.
“I feel really humbled being in front, sharing this moment with these fine gentlemen,” Reyes said.
“These people are, for me, role models and who I want to be. Just joining, I have the whole world ahead of me,” McCauley said.
“If it wasn’t for these gentlemen before us, none of us would even be here,” Joseph Maltese said. “I’m really humbled to be part of this.”
“The lessons of leadership and humanity and how to be a man are lessons I carry with me every day of my life,” Scaturro said.
“I don’t consider it a service. I consider it my duty,” Slingerland said as she choked back tears. “I love this country and I believe in it. We’re resilient.”
The ceremony on Nov. 9 was filled with patriotism, including selections from the NBTHS Band and the NBTHS choir. Students from John Adams Elementary School assisted with a flag folding demonstration by Joe Maltese, Sapikowski and Jollie; the flag belonged to Smutko’s father from before 1959, since it only has 48 stars. Wahler described the proper protocol to dispose of a flag, which is turning it over the a veterans organization so that members may host a proper flag burning ceremony. In a very solemn moment, a student played “Taps” outside of public view.
Proving a local angle to Veterans Day, Kneller said that NBTHS introduced a new course titled America’s Military History.
“We want to make sure our students are aware of America’s military history and the role it has played in making sure our country is safe,” he said.
He also talked about Sabella Park, which is named after Pfc. Joseph Sabella, a township resident who was killed in action during the Korean War; and about the newly renovated Veterans Park, which includes a memorial to veterans living and deceased who have a connection to the township.
“I’m lucky enough that I can go there anytime and there is a brick I bought with my grandfather’s name on it, to be memorialized forever,” Kneller said of Veterans Park.
Davis read a proclamation on behalf of the mayor and Township Council to commemorate Veterans Day as a special day of observance in North Brunswick.
In addition, a video clip was shown of U.S. Air Force Capt. James Curran, a township resident who is currently stationed at the Bagram Air Field in Afghanistan. Kneller said Curran was a three-year letter varsity football player and four-year letter varsity lacrosse player who received a scholarship to the U.S. Air Force Academy to play lacrosse after graduating from NBTHS in 2006.
In the news clip, Curran said he is part of the 455th Air Expeditionary Wing staff, whose aircraft are responsible for cargo or strategic airlifts around Afghanistan.
“Obviously, we can’t thank him in person for his service. We’re very proud of him,” Kneller said.
Superintendent of Schools Brian Zychowski paraphrased former British Prime Minister Winston Churchill in saying, “Never before have so many owed so much to so few.”
“We are who we are today, the greatest country in the world, because of our veterans and their sacrifices,” Zychowski said.
In addition to the high school ceremony, NBTHS Principal Pete Clark planned to conduct a wreath laying ceremony at Veterans Park, while Elmwood Cemetery was scheduled to offer a walking tour of its Civil War and World War I grave sites on Nov. 11.
“These gentlemen are true, live heroes,” Smutko said before inviting the veterans to a special lunch.
Contact Jennifer Amato at firstname.lastname@example.org.