TOMS RIVER – A poignant ceremony that included family history, period music, recreated war service flags and readings from local high school students helped to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the United States entering WWI.
Speakers at the program, held April 6 in the historic courtroom in the county courthouse in downtown Toms River, included Freeholder John Bartlett who shared his family’s history as well as his own research into the war.
By April 6, 1917 war efforts – then referred to as the Great War — were well underway in Europe, but the U.S. had previously taken an isolationist stance before initiating a draft and seeing nationwide patriotism.
With a brass ensemble from the Garden State Philharmonic performing the era’s patriotic music, local students from Toms River High School South, Jackson Memorial and Lakewood Middle School read from diaries and local newspaper accounts that described the draft and sentiments at home.
Around the courtroom hung recreated service banners. Nick Wood described how the Cape May Stitchers group took up the task of recreating the banners similar to the style that hung on town halls and churches here during WWI. The blue stars represent the number of soldiers from each town, with a yellow star and numeral denoting how many had died from that town.
The event was in memory of the 2,433 Ocean County residents who fought in WWI and the 75 men who gave their lives in it.
George P. Vanderveer of Bayville is considered the first Ocean County resident who died in the war when he came home 1918 to convalesce. The American Legion Post in Toms River is named in honor of Vanderveer, and Legionnaires and auxiliary helped to commemorate the courthouse ceremony with a color guard and leading a salute to the flag.
Outside the courthouse, the Grecian pillars were decorated in bunting, and a restored WWI canon was on display. The canon, dedicated as Phenia after Vanderveer’s mother, was restored through the efforts of the Toms River American Legion.