LONGPORT – Each year, the Longport American Legion Post 469 honors America’s veterans on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month. Nov. 11, 1918 is just one of the many brass markers noting important dates in American military history on the sundial monument located in Thomas B. Reed Park.
Spectators milled about for several minutes waiting for the sun to cast its shadow on the perfect spot signaling time to start the ceremony. The service started with a prayer for all veterans and their families and for peace in our time. Members of the Jersey Girls acapella group sang the Star Spangled Banner and God Bless America.
Mayor Nicholas Russo thanked all veterans for their service and called for the country to be sure veterans receive proper medical care when their service to the nation is completed.
“We need to ensure these men and women get the proper aftercare they need, not only for their physical health, but for their mental health as well,” he said. “My clear message today is to make sure we support whatever health care that’s needed after these individuals complete their service to our country.”
Commander Larry Pacentrilli recalled that Veterans Day was originally known as Armistice Day, so designated in 1918 to mark World War I as “the war to end all wars.”
“Of course, that did not happen and wars continued. The freedom we enjoy today is never free. There is always a price to pay,” he said. “Our veterans stepped up to pay that price in continuous wars since then.”
The Legion continued their tradition of installing engraved pavers near the monument to honor deceased veterans who made Longport their home. This year, three veterans were honored.
The first was for deceased veteran Robert E. Burns of Longport who served as a sergeant in the U.S. Army from 1962-1964. His wife Yvonne helped to lay a brick bearing his name next to the one honoring deceased veteran Joseph J. Kalkbrenner, who served in the U.S. Army from 1951 to 1958. Kalkbrenner’s family members gathered around the monument to ensure his memorial brick was properly placed.
The final brick was a surprise for veteran Elmer Foster, who was the only living veteran honored on Monday.
Foster, who lives in Mount Laurel with his wife Michelle, the baritone singer in the Jersey Girls, served from 1967-1968 during the height of the Vietnam War. He attended the event to support his wife and take some pictures.
He was surprised when Pacentrilli called his name and asked him to step forwar to help place his own engraved brick.
Overcome with emotion, Foster, now 72, said he was “honored and surprised,” but still has “survivor’s guilt.”
“Over the last five years, I’ve received more recognition than I received in the previous 40 years,” he said. “When we first came home, we were spit on, so this came as a complete surprise to me.”
Foster said he understands today how young people at the time felt about sending American soldiers to fight what they called, “an unjust war,” but disrespecting those who served was unacceptable.
Nevertheless, several years after returning from Vietnam, Foster joined the Vietnam Veterans Against the War.
“War is horrible. I wouldn’t want anyone to go through the experiences of war like I did,” he said. “But I wouldn’t change anything. I learned so much during that time.”