NORMANDY BEACH – Sixth Ave. in Normandy Beach could not get any more packed this 4th of July, as a heavy crowd gathered there at 1 p.m. for the 30th Annual Flag Raising & Veterans Appreciation.
The Flag Raising is held every year at local veteran Bob Mrozek’s house, who served in the United States Army from 1961 to 1962 in the 10th Calvary during the Korean War. He said the event started 30 years ago with four guys sitting around wondering what they were going to do that Fourth of July. They decided to convince their fathers to put their World War II uniforms on, they’d put theirs uniforms on, and all raise the flag at 1 p.m. The next year they got more veterans on board, and the rest is history. Ten years in, the Shamrock & Thistle Pipes & Drums asked to join in, followed by the American Legion Riders. Thirty years later, a crowd that began at just 10 people is now drawing more than 1,000.
“Basically it’s a good way to raise the flag and also an excellent way to honor the veterans who feel very comfortable in joining us,” said Mrozek.
Veterans attending this year’s event were asked to gather in the garden area behind Mrozek’s home around 12:45 p.m. Dressed in his military best despite the heat, Mrozek was there to greet and shake hands with each veteran. They then emerged as a group onto 6th Ave. to the tune of “Coming To America,” after American Legion Riders buzzed by the house on their motorcycles.
The Star-Spangled Banner was beautifully sung, God Bless America was played, and bagpipers from the Shamrock & Thistle Pipes & Drums added their cadence to the mix. Planes from the Ocean County Sherriff’s Office of Emergency Management flew overhead twice during the half-hour ceremony.
From the steps of his front porch, Mrozek marveled at the amount of veterans lined up in block formation in front of him. “We must have at least 50,” he said, before handing the microphone over to Lt. Governor Kim Guadagno to address the veterans and the crowd.
Guadagno, who said she would rather be introduced as Kevin’s mom, said as the mother of a future veteran, her worst fear is the knock on the door or the phone call about her son. She saluted the veterans standing in front of her – and all 413,000 in New Jersey – who have served from World War II, Korea, Desert Storm and everywhere in between.
“Every single one of you has a memory of kissing a loved one goodbye. Whether you lost someone in the war, or whether you were in the war, you remember kissing someone goodbye, or giving them a hug, or saying goodbye to a big brother or a little brother, and you know the pain, perhaps, of them not coming home. A million of you did not,” she said.
Mrozek said 84 veterans showed up to this year’s July 4th Flag Raising by the end count. He said that while some veterans wear uniforms to the ceremony, some don’t have one to wear, and that just wearing a hat is enough, or even just being there is enough.
“We try not to bring anyone out for acknowledgement; they all did what they had to do,” he said. “When you take the pledge, you’re pledging your life to America.”