Five of the bravest men in New Jersey were honored June 6 for helping to turn the tide of World War II – and change the course of history – during the D-Day invasion in 1944.
On the 70th anniversary of the harrowing military assault, Brookdale’s Center for World War II Studies and Conflict Resolution and New Jersey Assemblywoman Amy Handlin took time out to recognize those who knowingly walked into the fray and never backed down.
“They saved the world,” said Paul Zigo, associate history professor at Brookdale and founder and former director of the Center for World War II Studies and Conflict Resolution.
“They did so not for glory or honor, not for lasting tributes on a printed page, but simply because it had to be done. It fell to these Americans to save the world from the unspeakable horror of global fascist domination. And this they did.”
The commemoration, held in Brookdale’s Warner Student Life Center and emceed by center co-directors David Bassano and Ashley Zampogna-Krug, drew dozens of veterans, family members, local residents, students and dignitaries to the Lincroft campus.
D-Day army veterans Peter J. Logerfo, Arthur Seltzer, Bernard I. Friedenberg, Edward C. Gorman and Joseph C. Pisano were honored by both Monmouth County and the state Department of Military and Veterans Affairs for their service and their courage under fire.
“It’s impossible for any of us to imagine what it was really like,” said Handlin, who read an account from a terrified 19-year-old paratrooper who dropped into the fray on Normandy Beach.
“Those of us who have spent much of our lives in public service owe a particularly large debt to all of the veterans, and especially those who stormed the beaches. WIthout that victory on June 6, 1944, the system of democracy as we know it may well not have survived into the 21st century.”
Brookdale President Dr. Maureen Murphy also took time out to recognize the freedoms, privileges and advancements won through the sacrifices of the “Greatest Generation.”
“I stand here today humbled to be in the presence of so many veterans, our platform guests, and those in the audience who have served our country so that we could have something like Brookdale Community College,” she said. “Today we celebrate a powerful moment in our history.”
The keynote speaker, Brig. Gen. Michael L. Cunniff, adjutant general of the New Jersey Department of Military and Veterans Affairs, awarded each of the veterans a New Jersey Distinguished Service Medal for their bravery on D-Day and their role in “reshaping the world.”
Their lives and their stories stand as a testament to the more than 16 million Americans who served in World War II, including more than 500,000 New Jerseyans, he said. They also help carry the torch for the 300,000 Americans and more than 13,000 New Jerseyans who made the ultimate sacrifice during the war.
“When you leave here today, I encourage you to tell your stories to your families, your friends, your children and grandchildren,” he said, addressing the honorees. “Your stories help explain to them who you are, where you came from, and how you helped shape the nation and the world.”
Arthur Seltzer, who was part of the D-Day invasion, said he still carries many of the memories and mementos of his time in the service, including a dollar bill signed by all 36 men he landed with on Omaha Beach.
Teaching the lessons and legacy of World War II serves many of the same goals as the Holocaust education initiatives that have expanded throughout the country in years past, Seltzer said. To ensure a brighter future, all Americans must ensure that the lessons of the past are not forgotten.
“I think it’s very important that a younger generation knows what happened,” Seltzer said, “because they are the ones who are going to take over the country.”
Michelle Migot, a high school junior who attended the ceremony with her class from St. John Vianney in Holmdel, said seeing the D-Day veterans in person made a significant impression on her.
“It helps you realize that your freedom isn’t free,” she said. “Someone is paying a price for it.”
Monmouth County Freeholders John Curley and Serena DiMaso were also on hand to officially name June 6, 2014 in honor of the five veterans.
“Today is your day,” Curley said.
The ceremony also featured displays and exhibits provided by the 102nd Armored Cavalry Association, Info-Age Science Learning Center and military memorabilia collector John Egger.
The Rev. Milton Holmes, a World War II veteran and former Tuskegee Airman, gave the invocation, and members from the Marine Academy of Science and Technology NJROTC Color Guard presented the official colors.
Click here for more photos of the ceremony.