By DONALD WITTKOWSKI
Michael Crescenz, who spent his summers vacationing in Sea Isle City while growing up, was only 19 years old when he was thrown into the maelstrom of war in Vietnam.
Despite his young age, he showed extraordinary bravery on the battlefield to become the only Philadelphia resident decorated with the Medal of Honor during the Vietnam War.
Sadly, Crescenz was killed in 1968 while charging up a hill to attack an enemy stronghold. He was credited with knocking out three enemy machine gun bunkers during a fierce battle, saving the lives of many American soldiers.
Crescenz and the hundreds of thousands of other U.S. military men and women who lost their lives in war were honored in Sea Isle during a solemn Memorial Day ceremony at Veterans Park attended by more than 200 people.
Mayor Leonard Desiderio began the ceremony by asking the crowd to applaud for all of the veterans seated in the audience. Polite applause followed, which prompted Desiderio to exhort everyone, “Come on, we can do better than that. Let’s go.”
The crowd responded with rousing cheers and applause.
In keynote remarks, Desiderio said the “blood of patriots” in all wars helped to secure the freedoms and constitutional rights that Americans have enjoyed for centuries.
“Please, remember the brave men and women who made the ultimate sacrifice,” he said.
During his remarks, Desiderio turned his attention to Crescenz, a Philadelphia native who vacationed at the shore with his family and became one of Sea Isle’s “favorite sons.”
Previously, Sea Isle honored Cpl. Crescenz by naming a portion of 46th Street in his memory.
A miniature statue of Crescenz is on display in Sea Isle’s City Hall. Sea Isle played a major role in raising money for a lifelike bronze statue of Crescenz at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial at Penn’s Landing in Philadelphia.
Joseph Crescenz, Michael’s brother, became emotional while speaking of Michael and his death during remarks at Sea Isle’s Memorial Day service.
“It took a terrible toll on my family,” he recalled.
Joseph Crescenz, 66, and a resident of Coatesville, Pa., said that one of his main wishes is to preserve Michael’s memory. He also expressed hope that the true meaning of Memorial Day is never lost “in our busy lives.”
“This is one day to remember those who gave all,” he said. “Let us please honor their memories.”
Although the Memorial Day ceremony focused on the nation’s war dead, Sea Isle also honored the living veterans who attended the event. Desiderio asked all of the veterans to stand or raise their hands so they could be recognized by the applauding crowd.
Patriotic-themed wreaths decorated in red, white and blue carnations were placed at the base of the Memorial Fountain at Veterans Park to remember all of those who fell in battle during the country’s 247-year history from the Revolution to the war on terrorism.
A particularly somber moment came when Sea Isle’s VFW Post 1963 Commander Mark Lloyd read a roll call of honored dead veterans who had ties to the local community.
Mark Lloyd’s wife, Patti Lloyd, the president of the VFW Post 1963 Auxiliary, said in remarks that Americans should “always remember every freedom” that veterans fought and died for during war.
“Let their memories always be in our hearts and minds,” Patti Lloyd said.
Mark and Patti Lloyd are stepping down as commander of the post and president of the Auxiliary, respectively, in a leadership change. Joe McLenaghan will become the new commander and Peggy Moore was named the Auxiliary’s new president.
Meanwhile, as is his custom during every Memorial Day ceremony, Desiderio included local children in the service by having them sit on the steps of the Veterans Park memorial in front of the audience.
Quinn Laricks, a 12-year-old Sea Isle girl, stood at the podium and read her Memorial Day essay that won her first place in the Patriot’s Pen contest sponsored by VFW Post 1963 and VFW District 17.
Quinn wrote of how grateful she is for the veterans and spoke of a series of “promises” and “pledges” she would make in their honor.
“I pledge to always remember them because they fought for and gained our freedoms,” she said.
In a touching tribute near the end of the ceremony, Sea Isle firefighter Ron Taylor played “Amazing Grace” on the bagpipes to honor the dead.
Part way through the song, Taylor stepped away from the ceremony but continued to play while walking along the street. The mournful wail of his bagpipes filled the air in the distance.
The same gesture of a bagpiper walking away from the ceremony is done during memorials for fallen heroes. It symbolizes the burying of the dead, and the living heading back into battle after attending the memorial.
As a final remembrance, Boy Scouts and Cub Scouts in Sea Isle led spectators from Veterans Park to the beach while carrying a flowered wreath.
The wreath was presented to members of the Sea Isle Beach Patrol, who rowed one of their lifeguard boats beyond the breakers and set the flowers adrift in honor of sailors who lost their lives at sea.