JACKSON – The coordinators of the Jackson Veterans Memorial Garden were more than pleased that during this year’s Veterans Day ceremony, attendees could see a new addition to memorial site.
The new 20-foot-long, five-foot-wide base was noted during the Nov. 11 Veterans Day service and also referenced during last month’s 6th Annual Dinner Dance/Gift Auction benefit for the Jackson Veterans Memorial Garden. That event once again filled AmVets Post No. 2.
Hosting that event were the Memorial Garden’s two founders. Charles Garofano serves as president of the nonprofit Veterans Memorial Garden, Inc.; and Township Councilman Ken J. Bressi serves as the organization’s vice president.
Both expressed thanks to those in attendance and for the support the effort has received from the community in the years since the memorial project was conceived.
“This is our 13th year now and 100 percent of the donations we receive goes toward the project. No one gets paid and once the columns are finished things will start to move more rapidly,” Bressi said.
Bressi said that different sized pavers may be a part of the site and would allow for more benches to be added. “We are very happy to see the base added. That was a big step.”
Back in 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 U.S. Marine veteran with his idea. 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.
Both men sought input from veterans from World War II, the Korean War, the Vietnam War and those serving in recent years on how they felt about presenting a memorial in an appropriate and dignified manner.
One thing they knew for certain was that it would “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.
Over the course of 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. 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.”
Bressi said he was touched to learn that his daughter Kimberly Taylor had created a GoFundMe campaign requesting people donate to the project for her birthday. “That was very nice. She didn’t even tell me she was going to do that.”
Another special feature will be 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 said.
The organization has also raised funds through charitable donations collected from individuals at various store fronts.
During the past six years, one of the most popular fundraisers has included a dinner dance gift auction held at the township’s AmVets Post on Toms River Road. This year’s well attended event was held on Oct. 12.
“It was jammed that night. We all had a good time and it was a very patriotic evening,” Bressi said.
Reviewing the project during the fundraiser, Bressi said 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.
The monument consists of five columns with each two-foot diameter 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. “We have 400 pavers and 16 benches. A lot has been done now.”
“We are hoping that in the next few years it will be finished,” Garofano said.
For further information about the Veterans Memorial Garden and how you can support it, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org