WEST ORANGE, NJ — West Orange’s annual Veterans Day ceremony couldn’t take place as usual this year because of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, so it was livestreamed on Facebook on Nov. 11. Hosted as usual by resident and Vietnam War veteran Joe Brennan, the ceremony was still held outside the West Orange Police Department’s headquarters.
“Veterans come in all shapes and all sizes,” Brennan said at the ceremony. “They’re young, they’re old. They are men and women who have served and still serve America, whether on the beaches of Europe, the islands in the Pacific, the jungles in Asia or the deserts in the Middle East. Whether you’ve served here at home or overseas, in wartime or in peace, whether you’ve served proudly in the Army, the Navy, the Air Force, the Coast Guard or the Marines, we are all part of an unbroken chain of patriots who have served this country with honor.”
Mayor Robert Parisi said at the ceremony, the first event West Orange has held in-person since the beginning of the pandemic, that his father-in-law, Ed Roth, served in the Navy during the Korean War. According to Parisi, Roth was friends with the crossing guard at the corner of Main Street and Harrison Avenue, and would spend time with him there every afternoon.
“He liked to chitchat with the neighbors as they went in and out of the West Orange Pharmacy,” Parisi said. “He liked to see the neighborhood kids, many of which he knew, walk home from school and help them cross the street. He liked to wave to friends who might have been at the red light. Even if he didn’t know them at all, he liked to wave at people as they drove by.”
Roth died in 2012, and his face is now on a banner at that corner, thanks to the Hometown Hero program run by the Downtown West Orange Alliance. The banners, located along the Main Street Corridor, display current and former members of the military from West Orange, as well as with their years of service.
“Ed is back at his corner, as his Hometown Hero banner is mounted on the pole at the corner of Main Street and Harrison where Ed spent so many afternoons,” Parisi said. “Ed’s banner now joins 43 other banners here on Main Street, many celebrating people we know. There are West Orange legends like James Sheeran, Sonny Ciamillo, Ralph Panciello and our own Joe Brennan.”
Younger West Orange residents are on the Hometown Hero banners as well. Dylan Pennell, a West Orange High School graduate who is now in the Navy, has his photo displayed next to C.J. Morgan, a friend of his and a cadet at West Point who was killed in a training accident in 2019.
“These 44 are but a small representation,” Parisi said. “As a community, we celebrate the thousands of West Orange hometown heroes that dedicated their life to service and country. I’m pretty sure Ed wouldn’t have it any other way.”
Pastor Douglas Adams, himself a Navy veteran, spoke at the ceremony as well.
“Even in these chaotic times as we look at the shifts politically, we deal with social injustice issues, and we are still currently dealing with a global pandemic, it’s important for us at this time to also remember our covenant of support. Our young men and women are all over the globe representing our national interests. It’s important for us to not make their service more arduous than it already is.”