WARETOWN – At least 150 people assembled to celebrate the dedication of the new Veterans Memorial Park behind the Waretown Fire Department.
“Since I was elected to the township committee, one of my goals was to build the Veterans Park,” said Township Committeewoman Lydia Dodd. “The township committee and I discussed locations and decided on this one when it became available.”
Dodd said the park’s location was ideal as people could see and appreciate it. The site faces Wells Mills Road, one of the main thoroughfares in the small community. A light will illuminate the flags when darkness falls.
Plans called for Dodd to head up the dedication last year when she was the township’s mayor. However, delays related to COVID-19 put a hold on the project. It took time to assemble all that was needed for the finishing touches, from the plaques, the wall itself, and the flagpoles.
Several state and local veterans’ groups participated in the dedication, as well as county and state government officials and members of the local police and fire departments. Barnegat American Legion Post 232 opened the ceremony with the presentation of colors. They also conducted the Rifle Salute and Taps.
“The month of May is military appreciation month,” Dodd said. “This month is dedicated to reminding everyone to pay tribute to those who have sacrificed so much for our freedom.
“The township committee and I feel dedicating this park during this month is appropriate,” continued Dodd. “This park is dedicated to all veterans, whose sacrifice is a true expression of selflessness in service. If a person volunteered or was drafted to serve during a time of war, or served during peacetime, they represent the best of the country and our nation.”
Brian Hagel spoke to those assembled in his capacity as the Ocean County American Legion Commander. He told the group that he and his wife relocated to Waretown from Bergen County in 2009. Hagel commended the township for stepping up to pay tribute to its veterans.
According to Hagel, many veterans did not receive the thank you that they deserved. Hagel felt the memorial was a good way of saying thanks and reminding the residents and visitors of their service.
“Although the plan was to dedicate the park on Veterans Day last year, we were all aware the pandemic caused delays,” Hagel said. “However, today is actually a very fitting day as National Loyalty Day – a day when we reaffirm our allegiance to the nation we share, and the principles of freedom, justice and equality, just as we did in the Pledge of Allegiance.”
Danny Dunn, American Legion Department of NJ State Commander reiterated Hagel’s comments and also thanked the township for a beautiful monument. He expressed his gratitude for those who remembered the men and women who have done things that included the right to gather.
“It’s not about the money spent on any of these things,” Dunn said. “It’s the price that was paid by the women and men who have worn the uniform of our armed forces. It’s about Waretown native sons like Walter Horner, who went off as a young man to defend our way of living and made the ultimate sacrifice.”
The New Jersey Vietnam Veterans’ Memorial Foundation contains biographical information on Horner as part of its Wall of Faces. Horner was 20 when he enlisted in the United States Marines in January 1966. His tour of duty in Vietnam started nine months later.
During a reconnaissance mission on Hill 881 at Khe Sanh, Thua Thien Province, South Vietnam, Horner suffered a bullet wound to his chest and died at just 21 years of age.
In today’s world, Dunn said the American Legion is talking about things like buddy checks to ensure friends and neighbors are all safe.
“COVID did a lot of things to us and kept up all bottled up inside,” reminded Dunn. “They’re not used to the isolation, so we should that extra step to check up on veterans and first responders who have gone through some things most people might not understand.”
Keynote speaker Jay Hayden is a Waretown native, and a veteran of the Air Force. He recalled how much he enjoyed growing up in the community – with fond memories of skateboarding and playing both baseball and football.
Hayden said that every part of the town was safe and the start of many lifelong friendships. Parents all got together and formed bonds that Hayden said would never be broken.
“The bonds we formed growing up here were not unlike the ones we formed while serving,” Hayden said. “The main similarity is the unbroken bonds of which I developed during the several times I deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan. Those I shared a tent with while in the AOR (Area of Responsibility) became family.”
In July of 2020, Hayden said that he and Waretown resident and veteran Garry Castaldi left for Air Force basic training just a couple of months after graduating from Southern Regional High School.
After 14 years of dedicated military service, Hayden was honorably discharged and returned home to Southern Ocean County.
“Assisting my fellow veterans has been a big part of my life,” shared Hayden. “I’ve worked with several organizations and individuals, government offices and veterans groups to do so over the last eight years.”
The Township of Ocean added the park’s location to the Open Space and Recreation plan that allowed the project to be funded with open space funds for approximately $150,000.
Township Engineer Jason Worth designed the park, which was built by the Public Works Department and an outside contractor.
“I am very pleased that we have reserved this space as a tribute to our veterans,” said Mayor Ben LoParo. “These men and women were prepared to make the ultimate sacrifice so we can live free.”
Residents can purchase a bench with an engraved plaque dedicated to a loved one to sit in Veterans Memorial Park. The donation per bench is $900 and includes everything. More information is available on the Township of Ocean’s website.