LAKEWOOD – A patriotic Army veteran has a plan to bring his neighbors together and to see each other once a day in their adult community during this period of quarantine by coming out of their homes every day at 5:30 p.m. and singing “God Bless America.”
John J. Mirabella, 75, spent 313 days in Vietnam in 1966-1967 after being drafted. He lived in Essex and Sussex counties before moving to Four Seasons in Lakewood 13 years ago.
He said that he plans on singing the song until the coronavirus ends.
Mirabella got the message out via email, social media, and a robo-call made to the residents through their management office for his “United We Sing” idea, and pockets of up to a dozen residents in his community can be seen outside singing the song every evening.
“A lot of people here live alone, and this helps them because they can see and talk to each other while maintaining a distance,” Mirabella said.
He said he also sings “God Bless America” to his flag in the mornings when he wakes up.
“I like to sing, but people don’t like to hear me,” he joked. “My cat runs away.”
Mirabella is a combat veteran of Vietnam and a Purple Heart recipient who walks with a cane due to a bullet wound he sustained in combat that shattered the neck of his femur. The bone never set properly, he said.
“I’m very patriotic,” he said. “This country needs something to bring us together. This song is about pride and appreciation, and it came close to becoming our national anthem.”
There are a lot of veterans in Four Seasons, and in all of the adult communities in Ocean County.
Mirabella has served as a hospice volunteer and as a chairperson for their We Honor Veterans Program since 2013.
According to the hospice website, We Honor Veterans is designed to empower hospice professionals to meet the unique needs of dying veterans. After taking a one-week course, the volunteer is taught respectful inquiry, compassionate listening, and grateful acknowledgement to comfort patients with a history of military and possibly physical or physiological trauma.
Mirabella works as a volunteer with VNA Hospice on Hooper Avenue, and has been with over 200 veterans in hospice, averaging 10-12 hours a week.
“I introduce myself, we have a little ceremony, and we talk about whatever they want to talk about,” he said.
The program is on hold right now during the quarantine, Mirabella added.
“Veterans are forgotten,” Mirabella said. He gets a lot of satisfaction from interacting with the hospice patients and giving their caregiver a break, he said.
“The first time I went to see one of the veterans, who was in his 90s, his wife said that he really doesn’t talk much,” Mirabella recalled.
Mirabella added, “I suggested that we look at pictures together, and his wife got them out. Afterwards she said that was the most he had talked in a long time.” He said that being veterans creates an immediate bond.
“When I retired, I thought, what value do I have? Some people make it all about themselves,” he said. “I have enough time for myself.”
Four Seasons resident Dorothy Rohland said she comes out and sings every night with Mirabella.
“It makes me feel like I’m doing something meaningful,” she said. “It’s good for me. I love our country and I have faith in it.”
Neighbor Francine Greenberg said she is patriotic and singing the song is her way of paying her respects to Mirabella.
“John is very loyal to veterans, and it’s very important to treat the government well, especially our wounded veterans,” she said. “He goes out of his way to help people.”
Mirabella was awarded “Patriot of the Year” by the Military Order of the Purple Heart for the State of New Jersey in 2017-2018.