John Reed of Egg Harbor Township, center, speaks about his uncle, John A. Kuzmann, the namesake of Longport American Legion Post 469.


EGG HARBOR TOWNSHIP – On a normal Memorial Day, all three Downbeach communities hold memorial services and parades to honor those who died in service to the nation and to celebrate the unofficial start of summer. Although this year things are different, a longtime Longport tradition “continues unbroken.”

On Memorial Day, flags fly at half-mast until noon to honor the men and women who gave their lives for liberty. After 12 p.m., the flag is raised to celebrate the American way of life patriots died to preserve. This year, the flags remain at half-mast to honor those who have perished on the battlefield of the war against an unseen enemy – COVID-19.

Although Memorial Day services were held privately with wreath laying in Ventnor and Margate, veterans of Longport American Legion Post 469, founded in the 1950s by veterans including longtime Longport Commissioner of Revenue and Finance Thomas B. Reed, Longport’s tradition was upheld in an offshore town. The Post is named in honor of his brother-in-law John A. Kuzmann, a World War II soldier killed in action on April 8, 1945, just weeks short of his 20th birthday. Kuzmann aspired to be a designer of war planes.

Army Pvt. John A. Kuzmann.

Kuzmann’s nephew, John Reed, 73, of Egg Harbor Township, who was named for his mother’s brother two years after he died, has attended a private Memorial Day service held at Laurel Memorial Park cemetery on Tilton Road across from the runway used by the 177th Fighter Wing.

“I was the first male born in the family after my uncle died, so I was named for him,” Reed said Monday morning, just before a handful of Post members held a solemn tribute to his uncle. “I have been coming here as long as I can remember. I remember when I was a little boy, I used to run and pick up the shell casings after the salute.”

This year, a legionnaire handed him the six spent shell casings from the rounds honoring all those service men and women who died in American wars. They also honored the veterans and frontline medical workers who have died in the war against COVID-19.

Kuzmann, who grew up in the Olney section of Philadelphia and spent the better part of his youth summering in Longport, was an excellent student, graduated from Central Philadelphia High School and was drafted into the Army at the end of his senior year. His parents, Alexander and Elizabeth Kuzmann owned and operated a luncheonette and bathhouse at Pacific and Yarmouth avenues in Longport.

Although this year’s parade and service normally held at Thomas B. Reed Park at the foot of the Longport bridge was cancelled due to Gov. Phil Murphy’s executive order limiting the size of groups allowed to gather in public places, Post Commander Larry Pacentrilli, who organizes the borough’s patriotic celebrations offered to organize a small service in Kuzmann’s honor. As always, the service was brief but meaningful, with the chaplain saying a prayer, Pacentrilli and Reed offering remarks and a three-round gun salute. Members of the Women’s Auxiliary participated as well.

American Legion Post 469 Commander Larry Pacentrilli presides over the 75th annual Memorial Day service for WWII soldier John A. Kuzmann, who died in Okinawa, April 8, 1945.

Pacentrilli recalled how Kuzmann lost his life in the Pacific theater of operations, one of 50,000 American soldiers who went ashore in Okinawa unaware of the bloodshed and death that would come during an 82-day battle against 100,000 Japanese soldiers. Kuzmann was among the 13,241 Americans who lost their lives in that battle. He was killed in action on April 8, 1945. The war ended four months later.

Kuzmann’s captain wrote the family: “When John and his buddies in the 96th Infantry, 382nd Division started advancing, they were inundated with sniper fire. John was one of the men who volunteered to uproot the sniper. When the volunteers started to go over the hill, John was killed instantly by machine gun fire. Eventually, all of the volunteers were killed.”

Kuzmann’s body was shipped to Longport, “the place he loved most,” his coffin placed in Borough Hall for viewing (now the Longport Historical Society Museum) and he was buried in the Pomona cemetery next to the graves of other family members.

He was awarded a Purple Heart, WWII Victory Medal, American Campaign Medal, Army Presidential Unit Citation and Army Good Conduct Medal.

“I never got to meet my uncle,” Reed said with emotion. “I thank Larry and the American Legion Post for coming out here and remembering him and others who died in war.”

“They went to war to preserve the American way of life. A way of life that is vested in freedom,” Pacentrilli said. “Today, as the nation faces a deadly but less visible enemy in the form of a virus, can we afford to be less resolute than past generations? Like those who came before us, will we confront today’s pandemic enemy in a way that will preserve that American way of life for future generations? I’m sure Johnny Kuzmann would expect nothing less from us.”

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Nanette LoBiondo Galloway

Award winning journalist covering news, events and people of Atlantic County for more than 20 years.