Medals ceremony honors Burlington County veterans

Estimated 10,000 people attend special event

By:David Koch
   FORT DIX—Veterans and their families, including many from the local area, gathered Saturday for what county freeholders called the largest public event ever in Burlington County.
   An estimated 10,000 people attended the first-ever Burlington County Military Service Medals Ceremony on Doughboy Field.
   Coordinated by county freeholders, the event was held to honor 2,600 veterans in the county with pewter medals. Recipients of the award include veterans from pre-World War II to Operation Desert Storm and everything in between.
   "The field has seen a lot of soldiers since 1917 … it has never held a more distinguished group than here today," Freeholder Vince Farias said at the ceremony.
   Originally scheduled for Sept. 22 of last year, the event was postponed after Fort Dix was placed on high alert due to the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11.
   "We turn to you in our time of need, our veterans and our military, for strength," said Congressman Frank LoBiondo (R-NJ).
   State, county, local and military officials presented the awards to the several thousand veterans in attendance.
   North Hanover Mayor Kenneth Inman was one of Saturday’s presenters and also a medal recipient. He served in the Navy from 1959 to 1963.
   "I am very proud," said Mayor Inman. "I think it’s a great thing."
   Although the medal was intended for living veterans, several families registered for the medal to be awarded posthumously.
   Philadelphia native Steven Hughes came to the ceremony to watch his mother, Helen, accept the award for this father. Joseph Hughes Sr. had moved into the Homestead Retirement Community in Mansfield several years ago before passing away last year. He served in the U.S. Marines during the Korean War.
   Steven Hughes said his mother enjoyed receiving the medal for his father.
   "I was always proud of my father," said Mr. Hughes. "He didn’t say much about what happened to him in the war. I think he wanted to hide a lot of stuff from us."
   Freeholder spokesman Dave Wyche said the event was also a chance for the county to create a database of veterans so they can be informed of government programs and benefits available to them.
   Disabled veteran and Bordentown Township Committeeman William Nine Jr., who also received a medal at the ceremony, said he was surprised by the number of veterans unaware of these available benefits.
   When he was mayor of Bordentown Township last year, Mr. Nine created the township’s Veterans Advisory Committee to inform local residents of the services and benefits they are entitled to.
   "Most of the veterans I spoke to in the township didn’t even know they were eligible for a rebate on their property taxes," said Mr. Nine.
   Mr. Nine is a veteran of the Army Signal Corps and served in Vietnam from 1969 to 1971.
   "I think this was a great honor that the county freeholders bestowed upon all us veterans," said Mr. Nine.
   Of the estimated 44,000 eligible veterans in Burlington County, 6,000 applied for the medal. Freeholder spokesman Ralph Shromm said the county will work with local Veterans of Foreign Wars and American Legion posts to ensure that all who applied for the medal, but were unable to attend Saturday, will receive it.