Keeping the flame burning: Vets honor all who served

Photo by Daniel Jackovino
Four commanders, past and present, of VFW Post 711 during the annual Veterans Day breakfast held Sunday at the Newark-Bloomfield Elks Lodge No. 21. From left, Joe Ellmer, Joseph D’Arco, Gennaro Celano and Allen Garth, the present commander.

BLOOMFIELD, NJ — The Bloomfield Joint Memorial Day Committee held its annual Veterans Day breakfast on Sunday, Nov. 4, at the Newark-Bloomfield Elk Lodge No. 21, located on Bloomfield Avenue. The event has been held for about 20 years, according to Joe Ellmer, a past commander of VFW Post No. 711, Bloomfield, and a Korean veteran.

There were not as many people attending the meal as in recent years and that was a shame because the food is always prepared well by members of Lodge No. 21 and the coffee is good. Also, women who had been members of a service-related auxiliary were noticeably absent on Sunday. This was not true even two years ago. But at one table, three past commanders of No. 711, Ellmer, Joe D’Arco and Gennaro Celano, and the current post commander, Allen Garth, sat.

“To join the VFW, you have to be in a combat zone,” Ellmer said. “The younger groups don’t want to join.”
D’Arco attributed this to people’s work schedules.
“It’s tough to get out at night,” he said.

The Bloomfield VFW group meets the third Tuesday of the month. It use to be Monday, but when D’Arco became commander, he worked that night.
“So we changed it to Tuesday,” Ellmer said.

Iraq War veteran Garth is also the newly recruited commander of all Essex County VFW posts.
“There are 11 VFWs in the county,” he volunteered. “Only six have their own building.”
Garth has been the No. 711 commander for five years now. As county commander, he will go to the labor unions and look for new members.
“Every organization has the same problem,” D’Arco said.

Recruiting needs the personal touch, he said, meeting another combat veteran and telling them that being in the VFW is more than just showing up for a meeting.

“It’s going to schools and talking to the kids about veterans,” he said. “I’m a Vietnam War vet. We don’t want other veterans to feel subject to what we felt when we came home.”

“I was called a baby killer,” Celano said.
“We want veterans to feel honored and cherished, to be honest,” D’Arco said.
Garth said it is not what the community gets out of the veteran, but what the veteran puts into the community, drawing a distinction.
Ellmer changed the subject. He wanted to know how many steps the guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier takes. Answer: 21. The guard then turns and pauses for 21 seconds before proceeding, Ellmer continued. And a soldier cannot drink, smoke or swear while in the unit guarding the Unknown Soldier.

This coming Sunday, Nov. 11, the annual Veterans Day Parade will leave the Bloomfield Town Hall at 10:30 a.m.