WEST ORANGE, NJ — Sand from Omaha Beach was scattered on the front steps of Town Hall as West Orange residents and officials gathered for the annual Memorial Day Ceremony on May 27, honoring two World War II soldiers from West Orange who never returned home. The ceremony also celebrated the four West Orange High School Class of 2019 students who were accepted to West Point United States Military Academy, the four WOHS Class of 2019 students who will be enlisting in the military after graduation and all veterans who live in the town.
Mayor Robert Parisi discussed Dylan Pennell, a member of the WOHS Class of 2014 who graduated from the United States Naval Academy and is now serving overseas. Pennell was instrumental in bringing the Junior Air Force Reserve Officer Training Corps to WOHS and his family tied yellow ribbons around the trees on the lawn of Town Hall, a symbol of bringing troops home safely.
“Other students followed Dylan’s example,” Parisi said at the ceremony, before introducing the West Point-bound WOHS students.
Colin Morgan will be joining his older brother, Chris Morgan, at the military academy, along with Wes Rideau-Winds, Andrew Amoyaw and Vanessa Lettman. Lettman is the first female student from WOHS to be accepted to West Point, and the admission of four students from the same class to the military academy is a West Orange record. Amoyaw and Lettman will spend one year at the United States Military Academy Preparatory School at West Point before attending the college.
“Finally, I have to thank those who gave their lives and allow us to be here each year,” Parisi said.
Retired Army Lt. Col. Alfred Rosu administered the oath of office to the four other WOHS students who will be enlisting in the Army and Marine Corps after graduation. Angel Cordero, Carlos Rivas, Joseph Farro and Armani Smith raised their right hands and took the oath in front of West Orange residents. All four are members of the WOHS ROTC program.
Township historian Joe Fagan then told about the sand he had brought back from Omaha Beach, the site of the D-Day invasion during World War II. He spread it on the steps in honor of Daniel Haggerty and Gordon Hansen, West Orange natives who were killed in Europe during the war.
“He was one of the first soldiers killed during the battle,” Fagan said of Haggerty. “His body never came home, and the VFW registration card is the only thing left of him today. He defined the meaning of sacrifice that day.”
According to Fagan, Hansen survived the D-Day invasion but was killed two months before the war ended and is buried in a military cemetery in France.
“As we remember the 75th anniversary of D-Day, let us remember the sacrifice of all of our military members that day,” Fagan said. “Their mission is not overlooked. There will never be triumph without tragedy or victory without loss. Since they never returned home, let us bring the place they stepped here. They are finally home among friends here today.”
Pastor Doug Adams, who served as a first class petty officer in the Navy, closed the ceremony. He thanked the military-bound WOHS students and the ROTC students after discussing the sacrifices made by members of the military and their families.
“What you do with what you’ve lost is what inspired the young people,” Adams said.
Photos by Amanda Valentovic