“I think it’s marvelous,” said Lorraine Chmielewski, who was at the event with her husband, Korean War veteran, Ken Chmielewski. “There’s my father and there’s Ken,” she said, smiling along with her husband. Her father died in Okinawa and is buried in Pearl Harbor.
“It’s great,” said her husband, Ken. “People can come in and see these pictures because a lot of younger people don’t realize the sacrifices these people made.”
A similar, but unique, story is behind every photograph. At the ceremony, many residents shared stories about their relatives who served in the armed forces.
The experience of veterans can never truly be felt by those who’ve never personally experienced war, but a profound respect and gratitude can, as student essay contest winners revealed.
“Our country is free because of our lovely heroes and our veterans,” said seventh-grade contest winner, Victoria Vigvie. Sixth-grade contest winner, John Burke, shed light on veteran poverty and the issue of healthcare for veterans. “I think this is disgraceful,” he said. “I think we should do more for veterans when they return home from war.”
“Thank you for allowing me to hear your stories. – Matt Piscopo
“Although this is my Eagle Scout project, what is most important is who and what it represents: our great nation and the great men and women who defend and protect us every single day,” said Piscopo in prepared remarks in front of an audience of veterans. “It has been my privilege to be able to honor you. You are America’s true heroes. Thank you for allowing me to hear your stories. Thank you for your sacrifices and thank you for your service.”
The word “hero” was used a lot throughout the ceremony. It was how Mayor James Davis described his father, a U.S. Marine, whose photograph hangs in the Hall of Heroes. “It’s funny to say this, but he always threatened me with the Marine Corps, so by the time I was ten years old, I was scared as hell of the Marine Corps, even though I didn’t know what they were.”
Jason Wilson’s mural in the lobby depicts Bayonne’s three Medal of Honor recipients, and short biographies of them over an American flag and images of a battlefield cross.
John Nicaretta, a World War II veteran, said of Wilson, “His artistic ability really came through. His desire to do something beneficial to the city and our veterans really stands out.”
The Hall of Heroes is an ongoing project that collects the photographs of Bayonne veterans. Mayor Davis said it will go on “forever.”
“I wish I could sit here and say that I wish forever would end, that we would never have to send one of our sons and daughters overseas, or anywhere to defend our country,” Davis said. “And maybe someday humanity will come to where we won’t be fighting. But until that day happens, this project never ends.”
Residents can submit photos of Bayonne veterans at the Mayor’s Office on the first floor of City Hall, right past the “Uncommon Valor” mural. Name, years of service, branch of service, and highest rank held should be included in the submission.
Rory Pasquariello can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.