JACKSON – For the eighth year in a row, the township’s Veterans Day ceremony was held at the Veterans Memorial Garden located at the intersection of Jackson Mills Road and West Commodore Boulevard.
The ceremony appropriately began at 11 a.m. and along with honoring veterans it also served to showcase years of work to provide a special location in the community to honor veterans of each era and all military branches.
The two founders of the nonprofit Veterans Memorial Garden, Inc., president Charles Garofano and vice president Ken J. Bressi, said they are very pleased with the community support the project has received since it was conceived.
In the summer of 2007, Garofano had the idea to create a memorial to honor all men and whom who served and were still serving and those would serve in the future in the armed forces throughout the country.
Garofano contacted Bressi, a US Marine veteran and a township councilman, with his idea. Bressi opens each township council meeting asking attendees to take a moment to remember the service and sacrifice of those who serve in the military.
In the weeks and months to come, the two men had many meetings to discuss the idea and develop their vision for the Veterans Memorial Garden. “Ken and I are both combat veterans from Vietnam and this memorial will be somewhat unique in this state,” Garofano said, noting that it had a special focus to honor all veterans of each era war time and peace time.
Bressi and Garofano sought input from veterans from World War II, the Korean War, the Vietnam War and those serving in recent years what would be the most appropriate and dignified way to create a memorial.
“We spoke and we all agreed that it should be a memorial for all veterans,” Garofano said. With that in mind, the Veterans Memorial Garden includes all veterans who served in the Armed Forces of the nation and over the course of the next 18 months, Veterans Memorial Garden Inc. was granted its non-profit status with the state.
This included its tax-exempt status by the Internal Revenue Service while the architectural plans were being drawn up. Trustees of the organization include William Blake, Karen Bressi and Debra Garofano.
Various fundraisers were undertaken, including the sale of dedicated pavers, dedicated granite benches, and flagpoles with dedicated monuments, all of which would become a part of the memorial itself. “There are personalized pavers and engraved solid granite benches in this area which families have purchased to honor their loved ones,” Bressi said. “This tradition will continue for many years to come, for future generations to add to and cherish.”
Also added was a peaceful waterfall and reflecting pool located on the lakeside of the pentagon area which is also a future site for additional personalized pavers and engraved benches as the site grows,” Bressi added.
The organization has also raised funds through charitable donations collected from individuals at various store fronts.
During the past five years, one of the most popular fundraisers included a dinner dance gift auction held at the township’s AMVETS Post on Toms River Road.
The fifth annual dinner dance and gift auction was held on the evening of Oct. 13 to a packed crowd. The special guests of the night included two World War II veterans. They were recognized by Bressi, who served as the event’s master of ceremonies. Anthony DiSiena, a U.S. Marine, and James A. Viviano, who served in the SeaBees, were both present with members of their family for the fundraiser.
DiSiena said during the event that he was proud to have recently been named as this year’s “Marine of the Year” by the Marine Corps League. “I am very happy to be here tonight,” DiSiena said.
“We began making arrangements for tonight’s fundraiser a year ago tonight,” Bressi said addressing the crowd during the fundraiser. The volunteer hours given to the memorial by Theresa Clayton, Laura Madden, Jeff Shapiro and Kimberly Taylor were also noted during the fundraiser.
Among the several hundred people who came out for this year’s fundraiser, was 12th District Assemblyman Ronald Dancer who regularly attends the event.
Dancer, a veteran himself, and former long-time mayor of nearby Plumsted Township, commended Bressi and Garofano for their work and dedication toward making the Veterans Memorial Garden a reality.
“It is a wonderful tribute to all veterans regardless of service time. This memorial highlights the courage of every veteran in every branch of the service,” Dancer said.
Jackson Mayor Mike Reina was also among those who attended the evening’s program and said “this is a wonderful occasion where we come together as a community to support our veterans.”
Bressi said during the fundraiser that he and Garofano had been working on raising funds to complete the final phase of the Veterans Memorial Garden, which will consist of a 52-ton solid granite monument that will be 21 feet wide and 18 feet high. This now completed monument consists of five, two-foot in diameter columns with each column representing a branch of the armed forces. The funds from the evening’s fundraiser went toward that endeavor.
Bressi said phase one and two had been completed previously and consisted of flags that had previously flown over the Pentagon, the State and Jackson Township and one for each branch of the armed forces.
Garofano said that pieces of the current phase of the project are on order and should be in this spring with the top pillar to be ordered next. “We are hoping that in the next two years it will be finished.”
For further information about the Veterans Memorial Garden and how you can support it, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org