By Maddy Vitale
People took their seats for a Veterans Day ceremony in Sea Isle City’s Veterans Park to honor men and women who have served their country and for those who have fallen, on Sunday, the 100th anniversary of Armistice Day, which marked the end of World War I.
But there were two empty seats.
In August, the community lost two decorated World War II veterans, both at the age of 97, Len Bonnitt and Bill Johnson.
“We will always miss them,” Mayor Leonard Desiderio said in opening remarks during the somber service. “Because of Len and Bill, and other veterans like them, our country was spared of fascism. We can openly speak our minds, read the books we want.”
He noted, “There are many veterans organizations worthy of support. I hope you will do all you can to help them.”
More than anything, Desiderio stressed, “I love the people of this town. It goes without saying our veterans are at the top of that list. Their sacrifices and commitment to the nation helps make America what it is today.”
He added, “Whether volunteering, fighting for citizen’s rights or being a good neighbor, each of our veterans are valuable people who should be recognized.”
During the gathering, Desiderio called all of the children up to sit next to him and other dignitaries.
Local veterans, including Commander Charles Haines and other members of Sea Isle’s VFW Post 1963, local religious leaders, members of City Council and representatives from Cape May County, also participated in the ceremony.
Assemblyman Bob Andrzejczak, a decorated Army veteran who lost his left leg while serving in Iraq, told the audience that he was invited to a ceremony up in Trenton on Sunday.
“I said, ‘I want to participate in this event. I’m coming to Sea Isle. I’m a Cape May County guy and I’d rather be here,’” he said.
He told the crowd that veterans are not the only people who sacrifice during times of war.
People such as spouses wait at home and endure difficulties as well, he said.
He continued, “Keep in mind the vets who didn’t make it home. Remember the vets still deployed and fighting for world peace.”
In an especially moving part of the ceremony, wreaths were placed at the base of Veterans Park’s Memorial Fountain.
Veterans Leonard J. Desiderio, who served in the Korean War and is the mayor’s father, Harry Strack, who was in the Vietnam war, and Police Sgt. James McQuillen, who served in the Middle East conflicts, all placed the wreaths.
Barbara Haines also laid a wreath for the Auxiliary VFW Post 1963, as did Sea Isle City Police Department Chief Tom McQuillen, who is an Army veteran, on behalf of the Fraternal Order of Police.
A touching end to the service was a presentation by the South Jersey Quilts of Valor. A member of the organization gave veteran Marines Dennis Felsing Sr. and Austin Gleeson, Navy veteran Jim Gibbons and Air Force veteran John Orlowski quilts specially crafted for them.
Cape May County Clerk Rita Marie Fulginiti summed up what the day meant, specifically, the significance of Armistice Day.
“World War I made us aware of our duty and place,” Fulginiti said. “Today, as we should every day, we celebrate the sacrifices of those who served.”
She then remembered Bonnitt and Johnson. “I had the privilege of knowing both of these men. Today we celebrate what their service and others meant to this nation,” she said.