EAST ORANGE, ORANGE, NJ — On Friday, Nov. 11, East Orange and Orange observed Veterans Day in very different ways.
East Orange Mayor Lester Taylor and the City Council observed Veterans Day with the annual memorial wreath-laying ceremony at the War Memorial in City Hall Plaza on Friday, Nov. 11, while Orange honored veterans old and new with a parade on Saturday, Nov. 12.
Every year, East Orange presents two awards, one to a community member and the other to a city employee. This year’s Veterans Day honorees were East Orange native Lt. Col. Ronald Stokes, who received the Earl Williams Award, and East Orange fire Capt. David Gonzalez, who received the Stanley Costley Sr. Award.
“We are proud to recognize our heroes on Veterans Day, but more importantly, we honor their courage and bravery every day by upholding the ideals that they risked their lives for — democracy and freedom,” said Taylor on Friday, Nov. 11. “The annual ceremony is always held in the 11th month on the 11th day at the 11th hour.”
Stokes, a highly-decorated Army officer, served a little more than 23 years on active and reserve duty, including several stateside posts and two overseas tours in South Vietnam and South Korea. He earned a number of awards and recognitions, including the Bronze Star, Meritorious Service Medal, Air Medal, three Army Commendation Medals, two Army Achievement Medals, three USAR Achievement Medals, National Defense Medal, Armed Forces Expeditionary Medal, Vietnam Service Medal, Korean Defense Service Medal, Armed Forces Reserve Medal, Army Reserve Overseas Training Medal and the Vietnam Campaign Medal.
Gonzalez is a 16-year veteran of the East Orange Fire Department and currently serves as the officer of Ladder 2 Tour 4. He joined the Navy in July 1994 and served four years active duty on the U.S.S. Enterprise CVN 65, the first nuclear-powered aircraft carrier, achieving the rank of aviation ordnanceman and earning honors and recognitions, including the Good Conduct Medal, Sea Service Deployment Ribbon, Armed Forces Service Medal, Armed Forces Expeditionary Medal and the NATO Medal.
After four years of service, Gonzalez was honorably discharged, Taylor said, adding that he is the first recipient of the newly renamed Costley Award, which pays homage to Stanley Costley, a longtime East Orange resident, educator, combat veteran and Congressional Gold Medal recipient.
Costley, who enlisted in the Marine Corps in 1944, trained at Montford Point, a black training camp in North Carolina, and served among the Marine Corps’ first black battalions in the Asiatic Pacific Area until 1946, when he participated in the consolidation of the Northern Solomon Islands during World War II. On his return to the states, Costley earned degrees in education and vocational training, opened his own auto shop and translated his passion for auto repair into a career teaching at Orange High School, Irvington Vo-Tech and Essex County Vo-Tech.
Orange Mayor Dwayne Warren led his city’s parade on Saturday, Nov. 12, traveling up Main Street before ending in front of the new Community Recreation Center, which is situated in the old YWCA building. He was joined by several members of the Orange City Council and local veterans who were honored during a ceremony after the parade and treated to a free meal inside the center along with their families and community members.
Orange City Council members Donna K. Williams, Kerry Coley and Chris Jackson are veterans. Williams and Jackson both served in the Air Force and Coley served in the Army.
Williams livestreamed the parade and the awards presentations on the internet via her Facebook page; visit https://www.facebook.com/donnakw2/videos/10211278778836333/ to see her footage of the event.
“A lot of people came out to support us. They had some refreshments in the back. This was a great day in the city of Orange,” Coley, who joined the Orange Police Department after he was honorably discharged from the Army, said. He later retired and made his successful run for office in 2014. “A lot people take for granted the basic freedoms that we enjoy every day in this country. And when you see people in uniform who have served like myself, who have put their life on the line to make sure that everyone can enjoy this great experience that we take for granted, it’s a wonderful thing.”
Warren never served in the armed forces, but said he honors and respects those who did.
“Today, we’re honoring the veterans and we’ve had a parade all the way up and down Main Street,” Warren said Saturday, Nov. 12. “It was a joyous time for our community. It really is a time for us to reflect and give thanks for all that they have done to protect us, to give us our liberties and to help us to prosper.”
Warren added that the parade was all about veterans in Orange, including Theresa Borenstein, who attended the event, and the members of her immediate and extended families.
“In front of me, you see a person who has generations of service, from grandfather to father to herself and now to her son, that has put the work in to make sure that we’re free and we’re a liberated people,” Warren said. “And this is what you have in Orange; there were many veterans that were here today, as committed as they were abroad. We should be that committed here at home. And certainly, in Orange, we’re going to do that. That’s why we honored them here today and we’ll make policies that reflect their commitment to our country and our community.”
“I’m a veteran; I was in the Military Police, C.I.D., 1st Cavalry Division 545th, Fort Hood,” said Borenstein, who was joined at the parade by her daughter, Tisa, and other family members. “I served 10 years. My father served, my uncle served and my grandfather served. I have four sons that are Marines and one in the Army now at this present time. If you cut me, I bleed red, white and blue all the time. We’re all one. I think it’s about time they did something for the females. They did it once last year, but it was really nice.”