North Brunswick veterans share experiences with students

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Tracy Latchaw, a guidance counselor at NBTHS who is also part of the U.S. Air Force Reserves

NORTH BRUNSWICK – The Veterans Day ceremony at North Brunswick Township High School (NBTHS) sought to make the concept of military service more relatable for students.

Tracy Latchaw, a 1999 graduate of NBTHS who now works as a guidance counselor, is still an active duty service member.

She said that after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, she felt a calling to the military, but her father told her she had to go to college.

She instead joined the U.S. Air Force Reserves during her first year of teaching as a technical sergeant in the medical unit.

“Thank you to all the veterans for getting us this far,” she said during the ceremony at the high school on Nov. 11.

Chuck Eberle, who is designing the set for the Alchemist Theatre Company’s fall production, is a collector of war memorabilia.

He displayed three posters for those in attendance. One featured the five Sullivan brothers, World War II sailors who, serving together on the USS Juneau, were all killed in action when it sank in November 1942 after leaving the Solomon Islands. He said a law came soon after that relatives couldn’t serve together, and that if one were to die, the other service member is sent home.

He said that a Gold Star is presented to the family of those lost in the line of duty.

He also mentioned Dec. 7, 1941, when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor. He cited “these dead shall not have died in vain” per the Gettysburg Address, which applied to those wanting to avenge the deaths from Pearl Harbor.

Assistant Principal Lou Emanuel recognized North Brunswick police officer veterans in attendance: Officer Ling Tsai, who served with the U.S. Marine Corps from 2003-7; Officer Jeffrey Dominguez, who served with the U.S. Navy from 2003-13; Officer Joseph Grasso, an NBTHS graduate who served with the U.S. Coast Guard from 2000-06; and retired Lt. Anthony Falcone, who served with the U.S. Marines from 1986-90, who is now part of the NBTHS security staff.

Also introduced were U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Tina Ponce and Army Staff Sgt. Jermond Hardison, recruiters from the U.S. Army Recruiting Station in East Brunswick; Vietnam veteran and Rutgers radio host Donald Buzney, who served with the Marines in Vietnam from 1968-69; Harry Rossmann, who served in the Vietnam War with the Marines from 1963-66; Bob Davis, who served with the 11th Special Forces Group during Vietnam and is now a town councilman; and Richard Pender, a U.S. Army veteran who served in the Korean War.

“All these men and women have made a sacrifice for you: their time. Time is a very important commodity for all of us,” Emanuel said.

Hardison has been on active duty since January 2005. He served in seven locations, including Texas, Tennessee, Georgia, Korea, Iraq and Afghanistan.

He said his daily routine consists of waking up at 5:30 a.m., doing an hour of physical training and then heading to the recruiting station.

“I joined service to my country to be something bigger than myself,” he said.

Rossmann said he was prompted by a friend to join the Marines, though he was reluctant to go. He went to Parris Island, South Carolina, separated from his friend – only to meet up with him years later.

“Joining the service has always given me a lot. You learn more about yourself … understanding about you and the world we live in,” he said.

He said war was “frightening” but that you relied on fellow members to take care of you, you had to obey orders, and you had to remember your training to stay alive.

Buzney said the Vietnam War “was a very difficult situation … that could’ve been avoided.”

“It couldn’t be won. There was no way to win it. But we did our best,” he said.

When asked by a student what people in the military eat, Pender said at his time of service, they ate out of a little can, food was cold, sometimes they could heat it on the manifold of a truck.

“If you were lucky you got something decent. If not, either eat it or starve,” he said.

He laughed when mentioning how his grandson, who served a tour in Iraq, was posting on Facebook while in a dining hall – something unheard of decades ago.

Ponce, who served in Afghanistan in 2012, told the children that once you are in the military, you are considered a veteran.

“I’m the only female on both sides of my family, so it’s a big thing. I’m proud,” she said.

Also locally, Elmwood Cemetery on Georges Road is the burial site of veterans dating back to the Civil War. As such, the cemetery association participates in Wreaths Across America, a national effort to place a wreath on every veteran’s grave across the country.

Eleanor Molloy, president of Elmwood, said she partners with organizations to lay wreaths on the graves of the 650 veterans laid to rest there. This year’s commemoration will be on Dec. 14.

Joyce Dreger, president of the North Brunswick Woman’s Club, said club members presented a wreath last year to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the end of World War I, and walked the wreath to neighboring Veterans Park. This year, she said the club is donating 10 wreaths for the project.

She mentioned after World War II, the New Jersey State Federation of Women’s Clubs offered classes in food preparation and canning; collected furniture, radios, fur coats and musical instruments; donated 2,300 bags to Tilton General Hospital at Fort Dix; furnished 130 day rooms; purchased six ambulance planes; and donated $22,000 for the purchase of 15 Army ambulances.

“It is our club’s honor to help in any way we can,” she said.

Davis presented a proclamation marking Nov. 11, 2019, as the 65th annual Veterans Day observance. The ceremony also included the Pledge of Allegiance, patriotic musical selections from the NBTHS Choir and Band, and the playing of “Taps” be the music department.

“We thank all our veterans for their service,” NBTHS Principal Michael Kneller said.