LAKEWOOD – The stadium was packed with soldiers and their families for the Lakewood BlueClaws’ annual Military Appreciation Night on July 11.
Despite the gloomy weather, the atmosphere was anything but as tons of supporters came out in honor of the men and women who serve. The event is hosted each year by the Lt. Dennis W. Zilinski, II Memorial Fund, a nonprofit established in 2006 to honor local hero Lt. Zilinski who was killed in action in Iraq by a roadside bomb.
“I was grateful to see the showing of support for our military and their families. The positive impact created by the camaraderie shared among soldiers, their spouses, and their children is priceless,” said Marion Zilinski, Co-Founder and Board Member of the Lt. Dennis W. Zilinski, II Memorial Fund.
Lt. Zilinski was only 23 at the time of his passing. Lt. Zilinski was a Middletown resident, a Christian Brothers Academy alumnus, a distinguished West Point graduate, and a member of the 187th Infantry Regiment, 3rd Brigade Combat Team of the 101st Airborne Division.
Since his untimely death, the Lt. Dennis W. Zilinski, II Memorial Fund has brought together family and friends to provide support to improve the morale and welfare of members of the United States Armed Forces and their families.
Although the BlueClaws baseball game was rained out, soldiers and their families were still able to enjoy a fun night among other military families. The event also featured a supply drive for deployed troops and special ceremonies with our military.
“This has a whole new meaning this year. Usually, Matt (Dennis’ brother) is here to attend. I’m proud, trying to explain to my kids. We always talk about Uncle Dennis, but this year, we’re here for Daddy, too,” said Brie Zilinski, wife of Matt Zilinski, who is currently deployed in Kosovo with the Army National Guard.
While Matt is deployed, Brie is home raising their three girls, Ellie, Quinn, and Piper.
“Being at an event like this, dedicated to military and their families, teaches our girls that we are a military family and to be proud. It is important for us to instill these values in our girls at an early age,” she added.
Eric Trust, Pine Beach resident, said: “Being back and seeing all the support is nice. Especially the way people look at military these days, it’s nice to have the appreciation for us being away from family. It’s awesome to see people still care. You don’t realize it until you see things like this – a whole night dedicated to military.”
Trust served in Afghanistan during his four years in the Army. He’s now a welder with Local 9 and the father of a seven-month-old son.
Willie Armhold, Freehold Township resident, said: “It’s wonderful for all the soldiers and their families. We all appreciate it…Unfortunately, it brings bad memories back of people who lost their children. I was very lucky with what I went through, not everybody is.” Armhold was an Army paratrooper in the 101st Airborne. He is currently a member of Disabled American Veterans (DAV), Chapter 74, in Freehold.