WEST ORANGE, NJ — Residents gathered on the lawn of Town Hall on May 28 to celebrate Memorial Day, honoring those who have died while serving in the U.S. armed forces. The most decorated town in the state, West Orange played host to current military personnel and veterans, as well as West Orange High School’s Air Force ROTC students. Mayor Robert Parisi also declared May 28 Ralph Panciello Day, to honor the West Orange resident and VFW Post 376 commander.
Panciello served in the U.S. Army in the South Pacific during World War II, and is currently a deputy mayor in West Orange and the head of veterans affairs.
“There is no one that has been to more ceremonies or supported the town more than Ralph Panciello,” Parisi said at the ceremony. “He never asks for attention but never says no when asked to lend a hand. Today, in what is long overdue, we thank him for his service to our country and his service to our community.”
In an interview with the West Orange Chronicle at the event, Panciello said he was not expecting the declaration from Parisi.
“It’s a surprise,” he said. “I’m glad to be here, I’m honored.”
Three students from WOHS took the oath of enlistment from Army Lt. Col. Alfred Rosu during the ceremony. Jonathan Arroyo, who graduated from WOHS in 2017, and senior Maya Zaruma enlisted in the U.S. Marines. Senior Sayeed Bennett, who is in the ROTC program at WOHS, will be joining the Air Force.
Councilman Victor Cirilo said it is encouraging to see so many young people joining the military and participating in the ROTC program at the high school.
“It’s so important that something that started as an idea has blossomed,” Cirilo told the Chronicle in an interview at the event. “West Orange is New Jersey’s most decorated community, so it’s good to see that take root here.”
Councilman Jerry Guarino agreed, telling the Chronicle: “It’s so great to see the young people. These are the true youths of America, I’m proud of them. It’s also nice to see the new generation and the old generation together; they care about each other.”
The youth were an important part of the ceremony, with the ROTC and West Orange Fire Department coming together to present the colors. The West Orange Police Department Honor Guard stood in the middle of Main Street throughout the ceremony before a rifle salute while WOHS student Stanley Lim played taps.
Guarino also acknowledged the veterans at the ceremony to celebrate Memorial Day.
“I’m honored that they’re here,” he said. “It’s a privilege to know that people in our community have given so much. I wish more people would come to the ceremony, just to say thank you and show support.”
Jan Carden was at the ceremony to provide music, singing “Wind Beneath My Wings” and closing the observance with “America the Beautiful.”
“This is one of the most special events of the year,” Cirilo said. “Remembering how we attained our freedom is extremely important in this day and age. I’m so glad that as a community we can come together and celebrate it.”
Photos by Amanda Valentovic