By KATHY CHANG
EDISON — The freedoms Americans experience today did not come without a price, said U.S. Navy veteran Edward Marczak.
“We honor [military men and woman] and their families for the sacrifices they make for us each and every day to keep our country free and safe from terrorism,” he said. “When you see a veteran or an active-duty member of the services, take a moment to say, ‘Thank you.’ We owe them our way of life, and a moment of your time is well spent.”
Marczak, who served in the U.S. Navy during the Vietnam War era in 1968 and 1969 and is the president of the Vietnam Veterans of America Chapter 233 in New Jersey, joined dignitaries, veterans, active-duty members and the public for the seventh annual Wreaths Across America (WAA) ceremony that remembers the fallen at the Piscatawaytown Burial Grounds on Woodbridge Avenue on Dec. 27.
Each December on National Wreaths Across America Day, according to its website, the mission to “remember, honor and teach” is carried out by coordinating wreath-laying ceremonies at Arlington National Cemetery in Arlington, Virginia, as well as over 1,100 additional locations in all 50 U.S. states, at sea and abroad.
Gloria S. Dittman, chairperson of the local WAA, introduced everyone. The Middlesex County Police and Fire Pipes and Drums were on hand playing “You’re a Grand Old Flag” and other patriotic music.
American Legion Post 211 in Sayreville, led by Ed Strek, posted and retired the colors as well as held a 21-gun salute at the end of the ceremony; Boy Scout Troop 110 in Edison led, by Tom McCann, recited the Pledge of Allegiance; Mara Levine, a folk singer from Edison, led the crowd in “God Bless America”; Fred Wolke, a U.S. Merchant Marine veteran, read the “Gallant Men” poem; and Gil Castro, of the John Basilone Marine Detachment, played “Taps” during the ceremony.
Margaret Inglese and Chris McCann, of the Terra Nova Garden Club, read the 90 veteran names of those buried among the 7.5 acres of area of the Piscatawaytown Burial Grounds.
The burial ground, which is located next to St. James Church, is one of the oldest cemeteries in Middlesex County, with one grave dating to 1693.
Soldiers from the French and Indian War, the Revolutionary War, Mexican-American War, Civil War, Spanish-American War, World War I, World War II and the Vietnam War are buried on the grounds.
A British camp during the Revolutionary War occupied the area from December 1776 to June 1777. The church was used as an infirmary for the sick and wounded. The site was where the Colonials attacked the British. During the attacks, several hundred men were killed, and some were buried on the grounds of the church.
A wreath was laid for each branch of the military, including the U.S. Army, Navy, Marine Corps, Air Force, Merchant Marines and Coast Guard, and wreaths were laid for the Missing in Action (MIA) and Prisoners of War (POWs).
George “Red” Ellis, of Edison, a U.S. Army veteran, who was a POW during World War II, laid the wreath for the U.S. Army.
“He was [a] Nazi Prisoner of War twice, not once, but twice and he got away,” said Marczak as he introduced Ellis.
State Sen. Patrick Diegnan (D-Middlesex) laid the wreath for Edison native Capt. Ronald M. Mayercik, a navigator with the U.S. Air Force, who was declared MIA in 1967 during the Vietnam War.
After the ceremony, people who attended the ceremony laid wreaths on the gravestones in the cemetery.
For more information, visit www.wreathsacrossamerica.org.