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january/february 2007

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The Elizabeth, New Jersey,
Vietnam Veterans Memorial: The Right Thing To Do

By Herb Worthington

It was a sunny morning in September in Elizabeth, New Jersey, when more than 300 people gathered to dedicate a memorial to the 29 men who gave their lives in Vietnam 35 years ago, thus marking the culmination of a nearly ten-year effort by the members of Eastern New Jersey Chapter 779.

This monument to honor Elizabeth natives whose service to their country seemed to have been forgotten has its origins in a visit by Chapter 779 to Elizabeth. They came to hold a vigil for POW/MIAs and to honor fallen Vietnam veterans. To their dismay, chapter members discovered there was no monument to these men in Elizabeth. Soon after, the chapter decided to begin a fund-raising campaign to build an appropriate memorial.

Fund-raising activities lagged until Mike Guarino, president of the Columbus Association in Elizabeth, offered to help raise funds and to provide a site for a memorial. The plan was approved by the mayor, and although the city could not help financially, the county Freeholders agreed to donate $5,000 in seed money for the project. This began a steady flow of capital and an increased awareness on the part of the citizens.

Sheriff Ralph Froelich involved the president of a bank in Union, and the bank added $5,000 to the project’s coffers, while the police and fire departments raised an additional $5,500. When we offered to inscribe donors’ names on the base of the memorial, this brought in even more funds. An offer to memorialize an individual on a brick brought in fresh donations. Local businesses got on the bandwagon by providing free services and materials. Construction began.

On the morning of September 21, Sheriff Froehlich unveiled the Elizabeth Vietnam Veterans Memorial. Pipers played, and a 21-gun salute was fired. A bell chimed as each of the 29 names was read aloud, and at the end of the ceremony church bells rang out all across Elizabeth. The members of Chapter 799 were thrilled by the turnout, which included people from California, Florida, Georgia, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Rhode Island, New York, and Pennsylvania, as well as most of Chapter 779.

When asked why he wanted to be so involved in the project, Sheriff Froehlich said: “Because it was the right thing to do.” And so it was. Thanks to the initiative of Chapter 779, twenty-nine nearly forgotten soldiers are now remembered and will continue to be remembered for generations to come.

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