“I wouldn’t have it any other way. I wouldn’t ever want to be anywhere else but here today,” Fair Haven’s second oldest living World War II and Korean War veteran Ray Taylor said with a teary-eyed smile as someone shook his hand and thanked him for his service. He then gently placed his decorated hat back on his head after holding it over his heart for The Pledge of Allegiance that began the Fair Haven Veterans Day service on Friday.
Memorial Park was filled beyond capacity with veterans, police, firemen, children, parents and officials who were there to pay homage to those who have served and still are serving.
The fall sun cast a warm glow on the patriotic spirit of the ceremony of honor.
Veterans. Honoring them for a moment on one day at a once-annual small-town gathering on Veterans Day is not enough, Fair Haven Mayor Ben Lucarelli told the crowd gathered for a ceremony in the borough on Wednesday morning.
“It is up to us to honor the lives that we lost — to honor all those who have served our country,” he said. “We honor them through events like this. But we should honor them in everyday life as well.”
Noting the presence of young school children in attendance, as part of the program, the mayor continued, saying that it is “important to note that it is up to the parents to make sure that our children realize the immense sacrifice they’ve (veterans)made.
“It is because of them that we are able to enjoy the freedom and liberties we are afforded. Ceremony is a small token of gratitude to these men and women.”
The mayor’s sentiment was echoed by featured speaker U.S. Marine Corps Major Joshua Zager, a 1989 Rumson-Fair Haven Regional High School Graduate who served in Marine Fighter Attack squadrons 251, aboard the USS Theodore Roosevelt and flew 43 combat missions over Afghanistan in Operation Enduring Freedom.
“People are always thanking me for my service,” Major Zager said, turning his thanks to those serving their own towns at home. “It was my pleasure.
“I’ve stood the watch many times … Right now I’d like to thank our policemen and volunteer firefighters. They’re standing watch right now so that tonight we can sleep safely in our beds.”
That theme of hometown gratitude was emulated in Rumson.
There, First Sgt. James Duffney, 177 Fighter Wing in the NJ Air National Guard, gave thanks as well. “He thanked all those veterans present for their service and remembered all those from Rumson who have passed on,” Rumson Mayor John Ekdahl told Rumson-Fair Haven Retrospect, after missing his speech by a minute.
Yes, thank you. Thank you to the veterans who died serving our country. Thank you to those who served, came home, raised their families in the area, lived their lives out serving their communities, or just being a good neighbor. Thank you to those now serving. Thank you to the police and firemen protecting and serving their communities every single day.
Take a look at the above slideshow for a glimpse into Veterans Day in Rumson and Fair Haven. Don’t forget to click on the lower right icon to enlarge.
Don Blesse lived in Rumson for nearly half a century.
The U.S. Navy World War II and Korean War veteran raised his family in Rumson. And every Memorial and Veterans Day service you’d see the tall, gentleman front-and-center at Victory Park paying ode to fallen fellow vets, hat to his heart.
In fact, it was not too long ago, in May, when we last saw Blesse in his usual spot at the Rumson Memorial Day service.
Now we know that he will be missing at the Veterans Day service in November. That’s because he passed away at 89 on Aug. 12.
We remember Mr. Blesse. We knew his kids. We went to RFH with them. And while we did not know their dad well, we knew he was a vet. We knew he was a father of three. We knew he was excited a couple of years ago, when we chatted with him after a Veteran’s Day service, to soon be on his way to a visit with them.
Sporting his signature veteran’s hat, he modestly talked about how he was an aviation electrician who worked on aircraft carriers in the Atlantic Ocean during the war.
He was proud, yet soft-spoken and modest. You could see his love of country and hometown. He wore it in his smile and demeanor, his bride, the mother of his children still by his side, also smiling contentedly.
He said nothing about working tirelessly to bring that veteran’s memorial to Victory Park that day. We read that in his obituary.
Don Blesse died on Aug. 12 at his relatively new home in Red Bank. He won’t be at the next memorial service in town. His simple legacy will.
We missed his own memorial service. But, we haven’t forgotten him.
People like him shouldn’t be forgotten — people living their lives, cognizant of and considerate of the people in them, serving their country and community in modest, meaningful ways, doing the right thing.
It was nice to have that brief chat with that dad and man behind the kids we knew that one day, a couple of years ago. It was good to get that glimpse — however fleeting — of yet another person who had passed through our lives, in an unobtrusive way, through his children, through his sometimes everyday, sometimes grander contributions to the community.
“Speak to people.” It’s what Fair Haven Police Chief Darryl Breckenridge told us was his mother’s best advice to him in life.
She was right. One hello, one day, brought a little insight into a life and a nice surprise. And every time we saw Don Blesse after that, we remembered a little something about him.
Now we say goodbye, never forgetting the hello.
RIP Mr. Blesse. Condolences to Carol, Paul, Donald and Ken — and your many friends and extended family.
Donald Edwin Blesse, 89, of Red Bank died at home on Wednesday, Aug. 12, 2015.
He was born in Weehawken and lived in Rumson and Little Silver before moving to Red Bank three years ago.
He was a tall, friendly and kind man who willingly served for many years in the communities in which he lived and his church. After earning a bachelor’s and master’s degree in Business Administration from Rutgers University, he worked for Bell Laboratories for 38 years before retiring in 1987.
He honorably served in the US Navy as an Aviation Electrician’s Mate aboard aircraft carriers during WWII and the Korean War.
Continually steadfast in his faith as a member of St. George’s by the River Episcopal Church for 53 years, he served as church school Superintendent for 28 years, Canterbury Fair treasurer, sang in the choir and was on the Vestry.
In Rumson, he was on the school board, active as a leader in Cub Scouts and Boy Scouts, and in later years worked tirelessly to create a new veterans’ memorial in Victory Park.
He is survived by: his wife of 63 years, Carol Einbeck Blesse; three sons, Donald A. Blesse, of Lakewood, OH; Ken Blesse, of Fairview Park, OH; Paul Blesse, of Johns Creek, GA; five grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.
In lieu of flowers, donations in his name would be welcome to the St. George’s Outreach or Memorial funds, 7 Lincoln Avenue, Rumson, NJ 07760; www.stgeorgesrumson.org. In the notes section, please identify which fund.
With all the talk about emergency responders and Monday’s Rumson fire, it seemed logical to take a moment to focus on Rumson police.
In this Retro Pic of the Day, Rumson officers and Chief Scott Paterson were poised to remember the borough’s residents who served in wars at the 2015 Veterans Day ceremony at Victory Park this past fall.
They are charged with protecting and serving; and, that’s just what they do.
Kudos to our community police officers! Have you thanked your local cop lately?
“Many of those who were drafted into war many years ago were only seniors in high school. They were so young, their faces looked like dough,” Fair Haven Mayor Ben Lucarelli said, explaining the significance of what is dubbed the Doughboy Statue that stands at Memorial Park.
It’s where the Veterans Day ceremony in the borough took place on Tuesday. It’s also where some of those once dough-faced soldiers, now wearing the passage of time and life experience on their faces and in their eyes, gathered to pay tribute to fellow vets, those who have passed, those killed in the line of duty and those still in service.
They gathered in both Fair Haven and Rumson.
In Fair Haven, World War II vet Warner White, recipient of the Purple Heart award and Combat Infantry Badge, made his way up to the mic to speak of his time on the Atlantic French Coast at Utah Beach (D plus 94) and the Battle of the Bulge.
A native of Ohio, White has made Fair Haven his home since 1962.
Modest, as many World War II vets are, White quipped, “Ya see this picture of me here (pointing to the program). They make it look like I’m saluting. I really wasn’t. I was just combing my hair.”
He spoke of his experiences and all listened intently, including the very young, doughy-faced students in attendance.
Also recognized were a couple of the oldest living World War II vets in the audience: Ray Taylor, who served in Korea as well, and Oscar Hille, of the U.S. Army Air Corps. Also still living in Fair Haven, Rumson-Fair Haven Retrospect has learned, is 97-year-old World War II vet, Ken Curchin.
In Rumson, special recognition was paid to Jack Donovan Fowler, who was a First Lieutenant in the 7th Armored Division of the Battle of the Bulge.
Captain Daniel J. Edwards was the “presiding officer of the day” for the ceremony and Captain Mike Lilley, of the U.S. Marine Corps, spoke. Lilley, a Rumson resident, is executive director of Better Education for Kids, Inc.
All are the faces of service to the country. There were many thank-you’s and handshakes Tuesday morning. And Mayor Lucarelli called for that and more consideration to be a constant.
“In war there are and (have been) so many casualties and lives lost … Many who served and return have wounds that cannot be seen, such as post traumatic stress disorder and brain trauma …
“If you see a vet, thank a vet. If you see a vet and it seems like he’s having a hard time, understand. Go up to him and comfort him if you can.”