29 May 2023
By MADDY VITALE
Hundreds gathered in Veterans Memorial Park in Ocean City on Memorial Day for a heartfelt tribute to the military service men and women who made the ultimate sacrifice so others may be free.
The community also joined to honor active service members for their bravery and to recognize the veterans who served their country and continue to help others through programs and services.
“Today is a good day to remember that we can sit here on the beaches in Ocean City because of those who stormed beaches in faraway places,” VFW Post 6650 Commander Mike Morrissey told the crowd. “We can enjoy our family traditions with barbecues and family picnics, because of those who answered the calls to duty to protect those freedoms.”
Morrissey, an Army veteran, reminded those in attendance about what the day means: “We come together as a nation, to remember those who lost their lives to the horrors of war,” he said, noting that because of their sacrifices others may enjoy a land that is free.
Throughout the service, there were many traditions honored.
This year, there were also two new portions. There was a special fly-over of F-16s from the 177th Fighter Wing of the N.J. Air National Guard 15 minutes before the start of the program. There was also an unveiling of a plaque that honors veterans, created in partnership with American Legion Post 524 and the Ocean City Exchange Club.
The plaque will soon be installed on a new, brick wall behind the flagpole at Veterans Memorial Park.
Like Morrissey, a longtime commander of Post 6650, Post 524’s Commander Bob Marzulli gave heartfelt remarks during the ceremony.
“Friends, we do not forget, whether an hour ago, or a century ago. We honor the heroes of all wars, not just on Memorial Day,” Marzulli said.
Marzulli urged the community to not just think about the sacrifices of the fallen on Memorial Day, but on all days.
“Today, we are living and we are dedicated to continuing the work of those who have gone before us. We are dedicated to preserving the memory of our fallen heroes and declare our unending gratitude and support for their families,” Marzulli vowed. “Let us take this time to remember and honor the men and women who have given their lives for this great country.”
At the start of the service, Mayor Jay Gillian thanked Morrissey and Marzulli for their longtime dedication to helping others.
“They served their country and now they serve the community,” he said. “Events like this would not happen without them and all of their veterans at their posts.”
Gillian said Memorial Day should be a day of reflection.
“I urge everybody here to take some time today to reflect on the hundreds and thousands of men and women who have died in the name of freedom and what we can do ourselves to make America truly free,” he said.
During the service, there was the Armed Forces Medley, in which veterans stood up when a veteran carried a flag for their particular branch of service.
There was the presentation of the wreath by Fred Distel, of Post 524 and George Meyers of Post 6650. There was the performance of taps by bugler Greg Murphy. Natalie Ragazzo, of Ocean City, sang the national anthem and “God Bless America.”
Some portions of the ceremony were particularly emotional.
Marzulli read a long list of names of men and women who died while serving. He read them in what is called the honor roll. As Marzulli read the honor roll, a veteran sounded a bell.
American Legion Post 524 Adjutant Jack Hagan spoke of the prisoners of war and those missing in action. He pointed to an empty table that was just a few feet from him as he stood at the podium.
A small table was draped with white tablecloth and a red rose. A glass was inverted on the table. There was one empty chair. The table and other items represented the soldiers who were taken prisoner or went missing in action and never returned home from war.
The chair remained empty because the soldiers are still missing. But a white candle was also placed on the table, symbolizing the hope that all of the missing soldiers will someday return home.
Earlier in the service, Morrissey spoke of a man who impacted his life greatly and who helped countless veterans, “hundreds if not thousands of veterans.”
He spoke of a man who died of cancer on May 13. Nick Constantino, a senior advisor for Operation First Response, dedicated his service to veterans.
“He knew in his heart that he had to give back to this country. He chose to honor America by starting Operation First Response to help veterans in need of assistance,” Morrissey recalled.
Morrissey spoke of the people Constantino helped. He spoke of the scars of war, mental or physical, or both and how Constantino and Operation First Response was there to help the struggling veterans.
“When things were at their worst and a veteran didn’t know where to turn, this is where Nick Constantino would enter your life and things just got better from there.”
Morrissey’s voice choked with emotion when he said, “On behalf of every veteran that Nick has touched, he may be gone, but you will live forever in all of us you have helped throughout your life. I thank God for giving me one of my greatest privileges in life. I am able to call Nick Constantino my friend.”