Many ask them why. Why do they serve so unselfishly, giving time away from family and friends? Missing birthdays, anniversaries, and the holidays? What makes men and women give to their country, not only of themselves in time and freedoms, but also possibly with the ultimate sacrifice?
Michael Vitulano, an ex-U.S. Marine and a math teacher at Secaucus High School, knows why. And on this Veterans Day celebration on Nov. 11 at the Arthur F. Couch Performing Arts Center, he communicated that message.
Relating a story of his attendance at the 25th reunion of his Virginia Military Institute graduating class, he talked about his arrival at the event and his discussion with fellow graduates about that very topic – and the answer was plain and simple as could be.
“They said, ‘I love doing what I’m doing,’ ” Vitulano said.
The ex-Marine said that one of the video images shown at the Veterans Day observance brought home that point even further. It was a shot of young Middle Eastern children with some of his brethren.
“The victories won by their sacrifice and bravery allow us to enjoy the democracy and privileges we know as the American way of life.” – Mayor Michael Gonnelli
“That’s one thing that we should never take for granted; our freedom,” Vitulano said.
More than 1,000 people attended the event, including Claude Macchieraldo, commander of American Legion Post 118; Tom Brereton, commander of the Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 3776; and Evelyn Bonin, president of the VFW’s Ladies Auxiliary.
“It’s important that all these veterans be recognized for the sacrifices they made,” said Macchieraldo, who served in the Army from 1969 to 1975. The American Legion commander said more must be done for the younger veterans who have returned from the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, in terms of post traumatic stress disorder and physical injuries received from the two conflicts.
“It’s more important today than it ever was” to honor veterans, said Brereton, also an Army veteran. “The kids in Secaucus are good as far as being patriotic.”
Besides Vitulano, two U.S. Navy veterans who teach on the Secaucus High School staff participated: John Ennis, physics instructor; and Michael Gehm, history teacher.
Gehm said it is important to let veterans, especially injured ones, know the public cares.
“I visit the VA (Veterans Administration) hospital a lot, and I encourage everyone to visit the hospital,” he said. Gehm, injured in an accident and using a wheelchair to move about, said that as a sailor he never considered the ramifications of his duty.
“You don’t think about it when you serve,” he said. “You don’t think about how it will affect you long term.”
Ennis talked about military service being a source of family pride, with uncles and others who saw action at Iwo Jima and the Battle of the Bulge.
“Veterans make many sacrifices,” he said. “Other sacrifices have been made by their families.”
Mayor Michael Gonnelli, Deputy Mayor John Bueckner, Councilmen William McKeever and Gary Jeffas, Councilwoman Susan Pirro, and Councilman-Elect Mark Dehnert attended the observance.
Gonnelli spoke both about those who served, and those who are in need right now, the victims of super typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines.
“Pray for those people, pray for their families,” he said. “If you see them in the halls, ask them what they need, like we do here in Secaucus.”
Regarding the veterans, Gonnelli praised them for being defenders of “our lives and our freedoms” and thanked them for their service.
“The victories won by their sacrifice and bravery allow us to enjoy the democracy and privileges we know as the American way of life,” he said. “We can count among our many blessings the right to vote, speak freely, and worship where we choose.”
The Secaucus High School Band and Chorus performed. Readings were done by middle and high school students. Video clips paying tribute to all five branches of the military were shown.
The event is well attended each year, as residents, workers, and visitors honor those who have served, according to Principal Dr. Bob Berckes.
A different Veteran’s Day celebration was held earlier in the day at Town Hall.
Joseph Passantino may be reached at JoePass@hudsonreporter.com.