West Orange Memorial Day ceremony honors past, looks to the future

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WEST ORANGE, NJ — In its first public event in 15 months, West Orange Township and the West Orange High School’s Junior Air Force ROTC honored the 156 residents who died while serving in our armed forces, and recognized future heroes during the annual Memorial Day ceremony. Township officials, members of the West Orange Police and Fire departments, West Orange School District administrators and Board of Education members, and the community gathered at Town Hall for the hour-long ceremony. 

The ceremony also recognized Glennon-Sayers VFW Post 376, which is celebrating its 100th year, and Commander Ralph Panciello, who died in March at age 93. JROTC members presented Panciello’s family with a shadow box highlighting his achievements and a township flag. 

Color guards representing the JROTC, WOPD and WOFD presented the colors and the ceremony began with Mayor Robert Parisi noting that the breaking clouds overhead were perhaps a symbol of moving forward from the pandemic, which claimed the lives of 230 West Orange residents. A memorial is planned in the future to honor their memory. 

Parisi thanked police, fire and Department of Public Works staff, many in attendance, who worked throughout the pandemic. 

“They all went to work every day and worked at a frantic pace to keep us all safe,” Parisi said. 

Parisi also recalled Panciello and West Orange resident Gary Englert, who organized the ceremony from 1999 to 2015 and restored the monuments in Veterans Plaza next to Town Hall. Englert also instituted the annual program of recognizing the 360 West Orange veterans who have been awarded the New Jersey Distinguished Service Medal, making West Orange “New Jersey’s Most Decorated Community.” Englert died in 2015. 

Positioned along the downtown corridor are banners of veterans and those currently in service to our country. The “Hometown Heroes” banners are a reminder to the community of those who put “service above self.” The program was initiated by the Downtown West Orange Alliance. 

USAF retired Major Joseph Marchesini recognized JROTC cadet Nathaniel Vinoya, who has received a full JROTC scholarship to the Honors Engineering School at Rutgers University, and Royson Folas, who will be attending the United States Military Academy at West Point. Folas is the 11th WOHS student to attend a military academy since 2013. 

WOHS alumnus 2nd Lt. Andrei Rosu, a recent graduate of West Point, administered the U.S. Army oath of enlistment to Jerrick Tigre, Jasmine Palaguac, Ariana Prado and Marie Pierre. 

Councilpersons Susan McCartney, Michele Casalino, Tammy Williams and Bill Rutherford, along with Superintendent of Schools Scott Cascone placed wreaths in Veterans Plaza as township historian Joe Fagan regaled the crowd with the tale of World War II veteran and town hero Sonny Ciamillo. Ciamillo was serving on the battleship Massachusetts in 1942 when the U.S. Navy fired their first shots of the war. He went on to serve on the Lo, which was attacked by a kamikaze pilot. Ciamillo lived to tell the tale, which he kept silent for 67 years. The complete text of Fagan’s speech can be found at https://tinyurl.com/3ps4y6mh.  

“Although we gather together in remembrance of those who have fallen, let us also remember the way each of our veterans lived,” Fagan said. “We come this day not to mourn them, but to praise them and to thank them. Our flag doesn’t fly because the wind moves it, it flies because of the last breath of each man and woman who died protecting it. They will forever be our West Orange hometown heroes.”

Photos Courtesy of WOSD