Lawrence Township celebrates veterans

Pictured clockwise, from back left: Mayor James Kownacki, Lt. Col. Steven J. Austin, Andrew Tunnard and Frederick Tuccillo, in front of the monument for Mercer County residents who served in World War I, during a Veterans Day observance in Lawrence Township on Nov. 11.LEA KAHN/STAFF
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Pictured clockwise, from back left: Mayor James Kownacki, Lt. Col. Steven J. Austin, Andrew Tunnard and Frederick Tuccillo, in front of the monument for Mercer County residents who served in World War I, during a Veterans Day observance in Lawrence Township on Nov. 11.LEA KAHN/STAFF

In these trying times, it can be difficult to see who the heroes are – but it’s actually not that hard, Andrew Tunnard said as he welcomed attendees at Lawrence Township’s annual Veterans Day observance Nov. 11.

It’s not the celebrities or the athletes or the politicians who are the heroes, said Tunnard, who served as the master of ceremonies at the event held in front of the Lawrence Township Municipal Building.

“There are living, breathing heroes all around us. They are called veterans, and that’s what we celebrate today – living heroes,” said Tunnard, who is a retired U.S. Navy officer.

Among those heroes, seated in a wheelchair, was 95-year-old Frederick Tuccillo. Tunnard offered a special welcome to Tuccillo, who served in World War II.

Tunnard introduced another “living, breathing hero” – Iraqi war veteran Steven J. Austin, who is a Lawrence Township police officer and the guest speaker at the Veterans Day ceremony. He is a lieutenant colonel in the New Jersey Army National Guard and served 10 years of active duty in the U.S. Army.

Veterans Day was established more than 100 years ago to commemorate the first anniversary of the end of hostilities – an armistice – between the Allied nations and Germany. Known as Armistice Day, it was first celebrated on Nov. 11, 1919.

“President Woodrow Wilson proclaimed Nov. 11, 1919, as the first Armistice Day with these words – ‘To us in America, the reflections of Armistice Day will be filled with solemn pride in the heroism of those who died in the country’s service,’ ” Austin said.

Congress passed a resolution in 1926 to make Armistice Day an annual observance. It became a national holiday in 1938, and its name was officially changed from Armistice Day to Veterans Day in 1954 by President Dwight Eisenhower. It honors American veterans of all wars.

“Ever since then, Veterans Day recognizes and celebrates patriotism, love of country and willingness to serve and sacrifice for the common good,” Austin said.

World War I marked a clash between old and new ideas, and old and new technology, he said. It ushered in a new era of industrialized combat – machine guns, mechanized warfare, tanks, airplanes and chemical weapons. The dogfights above the trenches created a new battle space and a new understanding of air power, he said.

By the end of World War I, more than 140,000 New Jersey residents had served in the military, Austin said. The war also marked the first time that New Jersey Army National Guard soldiers were deployed overseas.

Austin said soldiers and airmen in the New Jersey Army National Guard and the New Jersey Air National Guard have raised their hands to serve, with the expectation that they will deploy, fight and win the nation’s wars.

Thousands of National Guard members have been deployed – sometimes, two or three or four times – to overseas assignments, Austin said. Thousands more have responded to missions at home for natural disasters or civilian disturbances.

“The National Guard has always stood ready to help,” Austin said.

Hundreds of New Jersey’s citizen-soldiers and citizen-airmen are on duty now to serve the community in the fight against COVID-19, he said. They helped to give 500,000 COVID-19 tests and distributed more than 2 million vaccinations.

The National Guard helped following Tropical Storm Ida in September, which dumped a year’s worth of rain in one hour, Austin said. A National Guard unit spent one month in the Passaic River valley to ensure citizens had adequate water.

“Let us remember those citizen-soldiers and citizen-airmen who have given service to their country. Let us also remember those who cannot be here with us today. To them and to you, our veterans, we say thank you,” Austin said.

Wrapping up the observance, Austin and Tunnard placed a wreath at the memorial to Mercer County residents who served in World War I, followed by an artillery salute from the 112th Field Artillery Association cannon crew.