Statue Dedication Honors Veterans Spanning Six Wars

Brian Hanlon of Toms River poses with one of the sculptures he created. (Photo by Chris Christopher)

TOMS RIVER – Bey Lea Park was awash in patriotism as the The Jay and Linda Grunin Foundation of Toms River unveiled the Protectors of Freedom Monument in front of the facility on Bay Avenue. The monument, reflecting every conflict from 1917 to today, was depicted through six, eight-foot sculptures of United States Armed Forces members, including a woman nurse serving in the Vietnam War.

With figures representing World War I, World War II, the Korean War, Vietnam, the Middle East and the War on Terror, the work, sculpted by master sculptor Brian Hanlon of Toms River, will touch the hearts and souls of multiple generations.

A ribbon cutting to unveil the Protectors of Freedom Monument took place. (Photo by Chris Christopher)

Veterans and military members from the Joint Base-McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst unveiled each sculpture to the count of 10 along with Congressmen Chris Smith and Tom MacArthur. Dignitaries posed in front of each sculpture and cut a red, white and blue ribbon.

“With one of the largest populations of veterans in the state, Toms River was the natural choice for the home of Protectors of Freedom,” said Jeremy Grunin, the president of the Foundation and the son of Jay and Linda Grunin. “This monument is dedicated to the courageous men and women who have given their all in the defense of mankind. For all those who served and lost their lives and the survivors who returned carrying the scars of war as medals of honor, this memorial stands as an acknowledgement of their selfless benevolence.”

The monument, funded by the organization with the land and facilities provided by Toms River Township, is a tribute to the heroism of each soldier.

“It is a great honor and privilege for our Foundation to be able to underwrite this wonderful and deserving tribute to the millions of men and women who have served in our Armed Forces over the past century and have helped keep our world safe and prosperous,” Jay Grunin said.

Congressman Chris Smith unveils a sculpture. (Photo by Chris Christopher)

The vision and design were sculpted in striking bronze by Hanlon, a world renowned artist.

“It’s extremely rewarding to be able to honor and commend bravery and sacrifice through art with each sculpture in my hometown,” Hanlon said. “This tribute and memorial represent such tremendous stories of each generation of war in such simplicity.”

An estimated 500 people attended the ceremony under 77-degree temperatures, light breezes and sunny skies. Numerous members of veterans’ organizations and civic groups turned out. Small children through senior citizens – some of the latter in wheelchairs – attended. There was patriotic music playing.

The Toms River Township Police and the Ocean County Sheriff’s Department provided security and traffic control. Hanlon invited each Armed Force member and police officer to stand with him while he spoke, which they did.

“It means a lot to me to be here today,” Hanlon said. “It is important that I don’t stand up here by myself. The sculpture of a World War II soldier being held by a comrade sets the tone for this conversation. Entering the world’s stage was not a casual act for the United States. Having a nurse among the sculptures is very important.”

Hanlon said the display was several months in the making.

Joseph Vicari, Director of the Ocean County Board of Chosen Freeholders, presents a proclamation to Jeremy Grunin, President of the Jay and Linda Grunin Foundation. (Photo by Chris Christopher)

“It was born last year over a cup of coffee,” he said. “The display lights up at night. It’s probably the greatest monument in my whole career.”

After speaking, Hanlon led a standing ovation to the Grunin family.

The National Anthem was performed and Veterans carried out The Laying of the Wreaths at the display. Taps were played and there was a Releasing of the Doves and a Retiring of the Colors. The ceremony lasted 57 minutes.

The display hit home for Toms River Township Mayor Thomas Kelaher, a member of the Armed Forces.

“My dad was in our Armed Forces,” he told the spectators. “I was on my way to fight in the Korean War when the cease fire broke out. I am so grateful to the Grunin family for doing this. It’s very important we send a message to the folks in uniform in harm’s way that we appreciate what we are doing. I have one word for this display – wow!”

Freeholder Joe Vicari, director of the Ocean County Board of Chosen Freeholders, presented a proclamation honoring the display to the Grunins.

“Freedom is not free,” he said. “There is a price to pay. There is evil filled with hatred that is determined to destroy the American way of life and Western Civilization. Veterans helped create the lifestyle we have today. We have to defend Western Civilization.

“North Korea has no fear. It hates Americans. There will be 1.2 million people in our county next weekend and I want them to see this display.”

MacArthur also praised the community.

Toms River Township Mayor Thomas Kelaher delivers a speech. (Photo by Chris Christopher)

“I am grateful to be in a community that cares and has a long tradition of supporting our military,” he said. “I thank the Grunin family for its dedication, its adding of beauty and a sense of togetherness. This is not the first time Brian Hanlon has graced this community with his works of art.”

MacArthur, whose father was a Korean War veteran, unveiled a sculpture dedicated to the conflict.

“My wife and I have adopted two of our three children from Korea,” the Congressman said. “The sculptures are not just monuments of the past, but beacons to the future. We must fight oppression and seek justice in the world. This is a day that says we live in a dangerous world–maybe more dangerous than ever. This day points to how important it is that we don’t forget those who served or currently served in our Armed Forces.

“We all thank you for your service. Thank you and God bless you.”

Smith said more than 16 million service members helped defeat the Japanese in World War II.

“The battles there demonstrated the skill and tenacity of our troops,” he said. “The wounds of war are often lifelong. Many GI’s suffered in silence after coming home. Now, they call it Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.”

Smith said his father fought in World War II.

“Our Armed Forces members had deep, deep faith in God that they would prevail,” he said. “My dad never revealed an ounce of self-pity or regret. He was truly a part of the greatest generation – those who fought for us in World War II.”

Jay Grunin led a round of applause for the member of the Armed Forces.

“United States military personnel take an oath that they will defend our nation,” he said. “On June 26, 1917, our troops landed on the shores of France in World War I. It was a quagmire with millions of lives lost on both sides. Toms River and Ocean County have the largest populations of veterans in the state. It’s fitting that this monument should be located here.”

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Chris Christopher covers sports for Micromedia Publications Inc. with knowledge, pride and passion. His beats are the high school, college, professional, youth and recreational scenes. A three-time New Jersey Press Association award winner for sports writing, Christopher was inducted into the Shore Football Coaches Foundation Hall of Fame in 2015 for his work in the media. The Lakewood resident enjoys taking walks in Ocean County Park and on the boardwalks in Ocean and Monmouth counties and rooting for the New York Mets.