By Alexis Algazy
Vietnam veteran Emerson Crooks keeps a slip of paper in his wallet, like a receipt, to remind him of the true cost of every purchase he makes.
It bears the names of fallen comrades from his Marine Corps unit.
“I’m so thankful for this country that we live in, because I know their sacrifices were not in vain as long as we keep our democracy, and keep it strong, and be willing to defend it,” Crooks said Wednesday, under a sunny noontime sky in Morristown.
Crooks, a member of the Randolph VFW that will host a touring replica of the Vietnam Memorial Wall at the County College of Morris from July 7-11, 2022, delivered the keynote for Morris County’s annual Memorial Day observance.
Slideshow photos by Kevin Coughlin. Click/hover for captions:
Outside the historic Morris County Courthouse, area veterans were honored with medals and proclamations from the county Commissioners, Members of Congress Mike Sherrill (D-11th Dist.) and Tom Malinowksi (D-7th Dist.), state Sen. Anthony M. Bucco (R-25th Dist.), and state Assembly Members Aura Dunn (R-25) and Christian Barranco (R-26).
Commissioner Director Tayfun Selen began the ceremony with a moment of silence for Tuesday’s shooting victims at an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas.
Father Stepan Bilyk of St. John’s Ukrainian Church in Whippany spoke of the courage of soldiers and citizens in war-torn Ukraine, and solemnly pledged: “We will prevail, together,” against Russia.
“Slava, Ukraini!” said county Commission Deputy Director John Krickus, declaring solidarity with Ukraine.
Krickus, a Marine Corps veteran, paid tribute to Charles Spencer of Rockaway, felled by dysentery while serving with New Jersey’s 5th Regiment, Company D, in the Civil War. Spencer was 19 when he died.
Wednesday’s honorees were:
- David Ernest Brady, Morristown
Served as an U.S Army Medical Corpsman in his term of service, from November 1964 through October 1970 during the Vietnam War.
- William Everett Brady, Morristown
Served in the U.S. Army, stationed in Korea during the Vietnam War from June 1962 through June 1965.
- Carl “Mike” Cabañas, Morristown
Served in both Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom with the U.S. Army from Oct. 1, 2000 through July 21, 2013.
- Joseph Bryan Barbato, Boonton Township
Served in both Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom during nearly 15-years of service with the New Jersey Army National Guard.
- Robert Kent Shaw, Boonton Township (posthumous)
Served in the Korean War after being inducted into the U.S. Army on April 11, 1951 and, upon returning from Korea on April 17, 1953, Mr. Shaw was transferred to the Army Reserves and honorably discharged on May 6, 1957.
- Arthur Charles Schumm, Rockaway Borough
Served with the U.S. Air Force during the Vietnam War from May 2, 1968 through March 30, 1972.
- John P. Wagener, Montville
Served in the U.S. Army during the Vietnam War, from June 1957 through May 1969.
- Ketankuma “Ketan” A. Shah, Parsippany
Served in the United States Marine Corps in both Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom.
- Thomas Philip Infusino III, Montville
Served in the New Jersey Army National Guard, including a tour in Afghanistan during Operation Enduring Freedom in 2013.
- Nancy M. Jones, Wharton
Served in the U.S. Army during the Vietnam War from August 1967 through September 1968.
- Richard Alan Elfenbein, Flanders (posthumous)
Served in the U.S. Marine Corps during the Vietnam War from 1966 through 1968.
Their biographies are here.
The program included a bagpipe rendition of Amazing Grace by Capt. Robert McNally of the Morris Prosecutor’s Office, a 21-gun salute by the Morris Sheriff’s Office, and Taps by bugler Michael J. Del Vecchio, a Korean War veteran.
William Menzel, vice commander of the Randolph VFW, placed a wreath at the base of the courthouse flagpole. Cadets from the county’s police training academy provided the honor guard, and 4th graders from the Lakeview School of Denville, led by teacher Daniel Komorowski, sang the National Anthem and God Bless America.
Crooks said he has been saddened to see small crowds at memorials to veterans of World Wars I and II, as those generations have passed on.
He said he makes a point to visit schools, where he reminds young people of the tremendous sacrifices by millions of servicemen and women. He brought that message to Morristown on Wednesday.
“I come here today to implore you never to forget,” Crooks said. “Because the hamburgers and the hotdogs that you will enjoy this particular weekend, you wouldn’t be able to have that if not for the people from the Civil War all the way up.”
Kevin Coughlin contributed to this report.