OCEAN COUNTY – County officials, veterans, historians and residents all gathered for a unique ceremony on Veterans Day which observed the Armistice Day centennial of World War I.
Throughout the year, various programs were held to note the centennial and the war’s impact on Ocean County 100 years ago. The Ocean County Board of Chosen Freeholders hosted the event marking the Armistice Day Centenary on Nov. 11.
The ceremony was held on the front lawn of the Ocean County Courthouse, on Washington Street. The program included period music and to add to the atmosphere, the exterior of the courthouse was decorated with red, white and blue bunting typical of the time period, and an enlarged replica of the Victory Medal which currently hangs between the columns.
Speakers included Ocean County Freeholder Virginia E. Haines, Ocean County Historian Tim Hart, and Michael Schaffer, the Head Trustee of American Legion Post 129. Michael Magnum, the director of the Ocean County Parks and Recreation Department, served as master of ceremonies.
As is tradition, at 11 a.m. local time, Americans across the nation rang bells in remembrance of those who served and sacrificed during World War I.
Attendees of the morning ceremony rang a historic bell that had previously been housed at a Presbyterian Church in town, 75 times for the number of residents who made the ultimate sacrifice during World War I.
Among those who rang the bell was Don Dorski, a township resident and Vietnam War veteran who was joined by his wife Barbara. The couple was enjoying their wedding anniversary and said that it was important to come out for the ceremony.
“When you think about what this country has gone through, you want people to remember our history,” said Barbara Dorski, a retired teacher. She has written patriotic songs for different occasions and noted the importance of instilling patriotism in young people.
That lesson wasn’t lost on Michael B. Mangum, 7, Little Egg Harbor, who is a Cub Scout of Pack 539. The scout was the first to ring the bell in front of the court house.
“America entered the war in 1917 but it had erupted in 1914. The US could not stand idly by. The total number of both civilian and military casualties was estimated at 37 million people,” Haines said. She added that 2,433 county residents served in the war which was over 10 percent of Ocean County’s population at the time.
Recognition of the World War I Centennial began with a ceremony on April 6, 2017 honoring the County servicemen who were involved in the “War to End All Wars.” The event’s location was symbolic and fitting as it was held in historic Courtroom 1, because Ocean County soldiers heading for war in 1917 first mustered at the county courthouse.
The Centennial Commemoration, initiated by Freeholder Deputy Director John C. Bartlett Jr., continued with the help of the Tuckerton Seaport Stitchers by constructing Centennial Service Flags. The stitchers donated their time to create 28 commemorative service flags, one for each of the municipalities that existed in 1918 in Ocean County.
The flags were designed in homage to the World War I era practice of creating community flags. Each of the flags includes 13 stars representing the original colonies, a blue number indicating the total individuals who served from each municipality and a gold number representing the total individuals from that town who made the supreme sacrifice.
The Stitchers used an existing service flag located and examined in Cape May to provide a basis for the contemporary effort.
“The Service Flags have added a unique perspective to the history of World War I in Ocean County,” Freeholder Bartlett stated in a county press release. Bartlett serves as liaison to the Ocean County Cultural and Heritage Commission. “The flags have allowed the public to be re-engaged with the World War I era, and has shown how their towns were impacted by the war.”
“John is a history buff and has read over 100 books on the subject and worked with our historian Tim Hart and the County’s Parks & Recreation Department,” Haines said during the ceremony.
The program concluded with a dedication of a cannon, which was restored by the American Legion Post 129, as the County’s new monument to the Great War. “It was in pretty bad condition when they got it,” Hart said.
Magnum joined members of the post to unveil the plaque. “They found it. It was in horrible shape. These guys restored it and it is now in magnificent. It will now be here for everyone in the county to see,” Magnum said.
Parks and Recreation staff member Brianna Blank read the poem “When the Battle Is Over” following the dedication.
The St. Brendan the Navigator Pipes and Drums, Point Pleasant, also took part in the ceremony.