|Vietnam Veterans of America|
|Membership Notes, September/October 2021|
New Jersey Shore Area Chapter 12:
It was cathartic, awe inspiring, and solemn. The procession stretched for miles. The sea of lights signaled respect and a promise kept.
On June 23 New Jersey Shore Area Chapter 12 interred the cremains of 23 veterans and two spouses in specially constructed urns made in a workshop at a senior citizen complex and funded with a grant from Home Depot.
Chapter 12 has been involved with the Cremains Project for several years. The chapter was instrumental in having state legislation enacted that allowed it to take possession of veterans’ and spouses’ cremains that had been abandoned on shelves in funeral homes in Monmouth and Ocean Counties.
Richard Gough, head of the chapter’s Cremains Committee, expressed it best: “No veteran should be left behind, not on the battlefield, not on a shelf. Today, their lives have run the full course.”
The chapter has partnered with the Missing in America Project, a nationwide organization dedicated to locating and burying abandoned veterans with full military honors. Through their combined efforts Chapter 12 has interred 90 veterans, including several spouses, returned 25 sets of remains to families, and is processing seven more. Due to restrictions imposed by the pandemic, cremains had to be held temporarily at VFW Post 2226. They were later moved to a secure location in the Manalapan Police Department, with the blessing of Chief Edward Niesz. Cooperation by local funeral parlors resulted in the large number of cremains.
Several years ago, Sheriff Shaun Golden learned about the Cremains Project at a meeting of the Monmouth County Veterans Service Council, and became an advocate for the chapter’s project. He provided an Honor Guard, later joined by the Honor Guard from the Manalapan Police Department, an escort to the cemetery, and participated in the burial ceremony. This time it was grander.
After consulting with Chapter 12 members, “We decided to go big” in June, Golden said. “We have a lot of veterans in our ranks.” Over the course of two months, chapter members took part in organizational meetings that included representatives from police departments in Monmouth and adjoining Ocean County, EMS units, and military representatives, to plan for the interment. The reason for going big was not just to honor the deceased, but to publicize the issue to a wider audience. Local police departments were all in and coordination was complex. A heavily trafficked road would have to be partially closed for 16 miles. Ocean County Sheriff Michael Mastronardy lent his support.
June 23 dawned sunny and mild. Units and organizations, including several motorcycle clubs, gathered at the Manalapan Police Department parking lot. Representatives from Chapter 12 were assigned specific tasks. Coordination was key. Chapter members Ernie Diorio and Dan Higgins made sure that all the parts fit.
After brief introductions by Manalapan Mayor Jack McNaboe, bearers—one carrying an urn, the other an American flag—handed the cremains off to Sheriffs’ Officers, who placed them in a specially outfitted police van for the trip to Brig. Gen. William C. Doyle Memorial Cemetery. Police, bikers, politicians, veterans, and their wives united in a demonstration of respect for the deceased. Every TV station in the area covered the ceremony. Chapter 233 POW/MIA Committee Chair Dave Drummond read the names of the deceased.
Then the procession formed up and started the journey to the cemetery. As it passed through towns, Boy Scouts, police officers, hospital personnel, veterans, and the general public lined the route. Police rifle squads fired salutes. Construction workers stopped working and placed their hard hats over their hearts. A military helicopter flew overhead.
The procession arrived at the cemetery where the police Honor Guards and an advance team of Chapter 12 members made sure positions were known, equipment was fully set up, and final assignments were checked off.
The first urns were placed on a covered table by members of four families the chapter located. The remaining urns were assigned to police officers, chapter members, bikers, politicians, and other veterans. As Chapter 12 Chaplain, I presided over the ceremony. Representatives from the military folded one flag to represent all those interred. Folded flags were presented to the families and one was given to Chapter President Dennis Beauregard representing all of the remaining internees. “Taps” was played and the ceremony concluded.
The aftermath of the day’s ceremonies was exactly what Sheriff Golden and Chapter 12 envisioned. The event was featured in New Jersey Cops, the publication of the New Jersey PBA. Praise was widespread on social media. The procession to the cemetery is believed to be the longest in Monmouth County history.
In the end, 23 veterans from four wars and two spouses received honorable burials so long denied.
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