SEASIDE HEIGHTS – For decades, former and current U.S. service personnel have been honored on Veterans Day thanks to the membership of the Seaside Heights American Legion Post 351. This year was no exception.
While Superstorm Sandy caused severe damage to the Post five years ago, which resulted in the ceremony being held in a small area of the back of the building, that did not stop more than 50 people from coming out for the service to pay tribute to those who have defended the nation with their service on Nov. 11.
The occasion also allowed Post Commander and Navy veteran William P. Kevish the opportunity to say thank you to Bill Bost and Daryl Kilgore who helped restore the memorial that stands in front of the Bay Boulevard based post.
The patriotic feel of the service began before it even began with white bearded Emil Stefanacci of Seaside Park presenting small American flags while wearing the attire of Uncle Sam. Stefanacci is known for donning the costume during his home town’s annual Fourth of July Patriotic Bicycle Parade.
Among those who came out for the service was Toms River resident Bill Carr and his wife Marci. Bill Carr is an army veteran who served as a company commander in the 24th Infantry from 1965-1969 during the Vietnam War.
“I think it is important to have these ceremonies to honor veterans and so that we never forget what they did. I received my training in the ROTC program and I ended up becoming a 2nd Lt. I saw the world and my experience helped me get a good job,” he said.
Post member Ian Worrell served as master of ceremonies and introduced the speakers of the morning which included Kevish, borough Mayor Anthony Vaz and keynote speaker retired Lt. Col. Michael J. Dean of the US Marine Corps.
The mayor noted that while the audience was made up of mostly retired residents, many of whom were veterans or related to them, that there were several Boy Scouts and Cub Scouts from local Troop 21 present.
Mayor Vaz noted that the greatest qualities of veterans “are that they are team players. When their service is over and they are no longer wearing the uniform but in many ways they never take the uniform off. They are always there to help. These are trying times for our country. On Oct. 22, I was invited to an Eagle Scout presentation where I met a young man (Michael Cisnerosi) who will be going for his Marine training around Thanksgiving. I got emotional. I recognized in this young man his dedication and his future service. In eight weeks his training will end and when he gets his first leave he’ll be able to come back for a while and he’ll come back different. He’ll come back having seen the world.”
While Mayor Vaz referenced future veterans, Kevish spoke about the atmosphere that existed 50 years ago during the Vietnam War era and how the unpopularity of that conflict led to those in service not receiving the respect they deserved.
“They put their country first, their mission first and their comrades first. That is what veterans do. They put people first and on Veterans Day we put veterans first,” Kevish said.
Kevish said “20 veterans a day take their lives. Many cannot adjust to what they have been endured. The American Legion nationwide has trained representatives to help them navigate through the bureaucracy. For them it is not just part of a history lesson but part of their lives.
“Our veterans took an oath to serve and protect our nation. It has been said that the best wars are those that never have to be fought but when fighting is necessary our men and women come forward,” Kevish said.
Among Dean’s many awards was a meritorious service medal. He served in Okinawa, Japan in 1983, in Camp Pendelton, California and at Weapons Station Earle in Monmouth County. Dean praised the work done by Bost and his team of volunteers who restored the Post’s memorial. He described veterans as possessing “loyalty, courage and valor which is what your monument honors. It reflects the best in us,” Dean said.
Kilgore said he and Bost had worked on weekends during the summer into the early fall to restore the steps and other areas of the monument which was first built in 1954.
Bost said the project was part of the Fairy Godfather project which involves companies and volunteers that restore structures that honor veterans. Bost said that other projects in the area include Lakewood and Plumsted.
Legion member Paul Lerin sang the National Anthem and joined Kevish in presenting a painting by an Italian artist Renato Longanessi recently discovered by Worrel, featuring the USS Saratoga.
Honored during the ceremony was the borough’s two living World War II veterans, Stanley Matejkowski, 90, who served in the Army and Navy veteran Frank Parese, who was celebrating his birthday.
When the theme music of each branch of the military was played during the program Parese got up and danced in honor of the Navy.