By NANETTE LoBIONDO GALLOWAY
The residents of Ventnor, Margate and Longport gave this year’s Longport American Legion Wounded Warrior Week recipient, U.S. Navy Chief Petty Officer Phillip Fong Jr. and his family Tuesday evening in grand style.
The Ventnor City Fire Department hoisted the American flag high above Ski Beach, where Fong, his wife of 19 years, Sylvia, and sons, Phill, 11 ,Will, 9, and Dill, 7, were greeted by Mayor Lance Landgraf and Commissioner Maria Mento with gifts and cookies in hand. They arrived from their home in Riverview, Florida, to stay in the beach-block home of Longport Commissioner Jim Leeds, who was off to his home in Florida for the week.
American Legion Post 469 provides the holiday week to a worthy veteran selected by military authorities.
The long, white, convertible limousine that the Legion has used to transport 11 previous Wounded Warrior Week recipients to their home-away-from-home in Longport was replaced by a bright red Cadillac convertible this year. Legion Commander Larry Pacentrilli said the limo had been sold and was in the process of being delivered to its new owner in Holland.
American Legion Riders on their flag-waving Harley Davidson motorcycles and fire apparatus from all three towns led the caravan along Dorset and Atlantic avenues to the bayfront park behind Longport Borough Hall, while residents gathered in groups on street corners and in front of town libraries to wave flags and handmade posters thanking him for his service.
The American Legion provides a week-long, all-expense-paid vacation to a worthy veteran, some of whom are still in recovery from wounds suffered in service to the nation. Although Fong had no wounds to heal, he did contract cerebral malaria and encephalitis while serving in Monrovia, Liberia, in 2008, which required a 12-month hospitalization and rehabilitation at the Naval Hospital in Bethseda, Maryland.
His military career continued after recovery. His latest tour of duty was in Tampa, Florida, where he worked in warrior care for the U.S. Special Operations Command. An avid athlete, Fong participated in the Department of Defense Warrior Games in 2018 and 2019, competing in powerlifting, rowing, shot put and discus. He also represented Team USA in the 2018 Invictus Games in Sydney, Australia, and in 2022 at The Hague, Netherlands, where he brough home gold and bronze medals in rugby and rowing.
The ceremony in the park included a color guard from Atlantic City High School Junior ROTC, Boy Scout Troop 94 of Egg Harbor Township. The commander of the American Legion Riders provided Fong with a Navy Challenge Coin and a little spending money for Sylvia.
The ceremony ended with the presentation of a red, white and blue Quilt of Valor made by local quiltmakers. Debbie Conrad proceeded to wrap Fong and his family in the colorful, handmade quilt, which she said symbolizes healing. The Quilts of Valor organization presented its 350,000th quilt to a veteran in August.
Members of the American Legion Auxiliary served up some all-American hamburgers and drinks for the hungry crowd.
“This is something you never expect,” Fong said after the ceremony. “Everything I’ve seen so far is so beautiful – the warm welcoming, the beautiful architecture of the homes and the people wearing colors and waving the American flag.”
The Navy man said it was his first-ever visit to the Jersey shore and that the Legion has provided the family with an itinerary of activities they are looking forward to, including dinners, boat trips, and a visit to the Ocean City boardwalk.
“The kids are really looking forward to going to the beach,” he said.
The Legion has other surprises in store for the Fong family, as well.
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