JACKSON – Several hundred veterans came out on Oct. 7 for an event which once again honored their service and brought awareness to the issues facing military personnel following their tour of duty.
Township Mayor Mike Reina once again had the honor and privilege of recognizing the wounded veterans who served during military conflicts in Iraq, Afghanistan, Vietnam, Korea and World War II during the 10th Annual Wounded Warrior Parade. The event began around 9 a.m. with veterans assembling at the Justice Complex on West Veterans Highway. The veterans then rode down to South Stump Tavern Road, where the Central Jersey Rifle and Pistol Club is located, since they were the host of this year’s event again.
The Warriors were escorted to the club range by members of the Jackson Township Police Department, Jackson Township Volunteer Fire Companies, Jackson Township First Aid squads, several motorcycle groups, as well as other grateful individuals volunteering to show their support. The escort departed around 9:30 a.m. from the Justice Complex.
“I was approached by a few people almost nine years ago to see if I could get a police car to escort a few Wounded Warriors from the Justice Complex to the CJR&P club. In less than two weeks after that request I came up with the idea of a motorized escort to transport all the Warriors to the Rifle and Pistol Club,” Reina said.
“This escort, then as it does now, consists of motorcycles, fire company apparatus, first aid vehicles, police cars, antique and muscle cars and a few times some military vehicles. The result has been nothing short of heartwarming and amazing for our soldiers young and old,” the mayor added.
Resident Bob “Bronco” Shelley is the president of the township based motorcycle club Sinister Steel. He joined 15 of his members who brought six motorcycles for the event. “We met Mike (Reina) six years ago when we were doing a cancer benefit and we became involved in this. We have 28 members and we strongly support this program.”
Shelley’s nephew Peter Reed, who also lives in Jackson and is a member of the club, served in Iraq in the U.S. Army from 2004 to 2010. “It is great to see the town stand behind our veterans.”
The day’s weather was perfect. “Weather is always a contributing factor for the escort. We always hope for ideal conditions so that the turnout of participants as well as residents,” Reina said.
A number of residents lined up on the streets including several local scouting groups who held signs of support and cheered and waved at the procession.
Firefighter Frank Schultz, a member of the Jackson Mills Fire Company also commented on the weather. “It has been beautiful each year. The turnout gets better each year too.” There were at least eight fire trucks from the township’s local fire departments, not counting other fire vehicles, first aid squad vehicles and police vehicles.
Among the veterans who participated in the procession and were escorted to the club headquarters, were eight members of the Winding Ways development veterans club.
U.S. Marines veteran Bob O’Connell said members of his group take part in special trips to Washington, D.C. as part of a program whose spokesperson, “actor Gary Sinise has been wonderful to veterans from across the country. We’re proud to be here today.”
Les Bauer, a U.S. Army veteran added that “we really appreciated what they do here for this program in town.”
Len William, the president of the group is also a member of the Tin Can Soldiers which is the National Association of Destroyer Veterans. “Our local club of Winding Ways Veterans has 44 members and we’re very active. This is a great event today.”
Al Dolce, who oversees the Wounded Warrior program in the township, said that around 25 Wounded Warriors are honored each year on average. Involvement includes businesses in Jackson, Plumsted and Howell who contribute everything from bagels and coffee to sandwiches, soda, cake, water and paper goods.
Following the procession, the large crowd gathered at the club’s range but not without a few words by Dolce, Walter Bachmann, the chairman of the Board of the club and special guests Lt. Governor Kim Guadagno, Ocean County Sheriff Michael G. Mastronardy and Freeholder Virginia Haines.
Guadagno applauded the effort of the township, the Central Jersey Rifle and Pistol Club and residents of the community in honoring the veterans present.
“It is a great event and we should always honor our wounded warriors. It is important that we always remember what they’ve done and continue to do,” Freeholder Haines said.
“It is an excellent event and a beautiful day for it. It is wonderful to support the veterans who always supported all of us,” Sheriff Mastronardy said.
Reina said that “each year many people look forward for a chance to come see our veterans. We owe a great debt to those who have served in defense of this nation. The freedoms we enjoy today as Americans have been purchased at a high price. For many, their sacrifice ended in permanent injury, yet their spirit remains in the continued preservation of our freedoms and the promise of liberty.”