The Linden High School Navy Junior ROTC honored dozens of local veterans as well as military tradition on Nov. 12 with its annual Veterans Day ceremony and Navy/Marine Corps birthday celebration. More than 400 cadets – that is about a quarter of the total school population – stood in formation in the LHS gym before veterans, local officials, and bleachers filled with parents.
The ceremony was highlighted by an “Old Glory Presentation” in which cadets gave a flag to guest of honor Dennis Costello, commander of the Linden John Russell Wheeler VFW Post 1397. The post is named in honor of the first Linden resident killed in World War I.
Before it was given to Costello, the folded flag was slowly passed through the hands of five cadets in line, shown above, ending with Cadet Master Chief Petty Officer Maurice Faulk, who kneeled and handed the flag to Costello, who saluted the cadet. Meanwhile, an emotional reading about the history and meaning of the flag was performed by Cadet Lt. Commander Ariana Eastwood, the master of ceremonies.
Speaking to the assembled crowd, Cadet Capt. Gibert Nolasco, the NJROTC’s student commanding officer, thanked all veterans for their service.
“We reflect and express our gratitude to those who have served our country in uniform, as well as those who are deployed overseas,” he told the crowd. “No words can express how grateful we are for your service. Veterans are the reason our nation remains strong and a fighting force for freedom around the world.”
Nolasco also said veterans epitomize the sentiment in President John F. Kennedy’s inaugural address, “Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.”
Commander Boyd Decker, the high school’s senior Naval Science instructor, who retired from the military in 2015 after 20 years as a Navy pilot, also thanked all the local veterans for their service and for joining the cadets for the ceremony.
He also highlighted the service of the young men and women of the NJROTC.
“I could not be more impressed with this group of kids that I am honored to get to work with every day,” Decker said. “Anything that is asked of these kids, whether it is supporting school functions or supporting local organizations, they just always come through.”
More than 100 of the cadets also pitched in the previous night when the City of Linden honored 43 Hometown Heroes with a ceremony in the same gym to unveil banners that will fly on Wood Avenue throughout the month. The cadets handed out plaques to the veterans or to family members of veterans who are deceased.
Superintendent Danny A. Robertozzi also praised the dedication of the cadets.
“They are truly exemplary young men and women,” he said. “Though some may go into the service, most will not. But the lessons that they are learning in this program, of leadership and service and character, are lessons that will serve them for the rest of their lives.”
Linden Mayor Derek Armstead praised the cadets as “some of the most disciplined, most respected children.”
“It’s no secret that you can find me here to watch basketball games, because I love Linden athletics,” he said. “But there’s not a finer team assembled in this school than this ROTC program.”
The occasion was capped off with cake in celebration of the Navy’s 243rd birthday. The first piece was presented to Costello as guest of honor. As is tradition, the cake is then given to the oldest sailor and Marine present, who pass it on to the youngest. The NJROTC honors that tradition by also recognizing the oldest and youngest cadet.
The oldest Marine present was Robert Kratzer, custodian and groundskeeper at Tiger Stadium at Cooper Field, the district’s football and soccer stadium. The oldest sailor was Linden High School teacher Peter McTiernan.
The youngest sailor was Lt. Clara Rosales, a 2003 graduate of LHS, whose sister Isabelle Vazquez is a sophomore in the NJROTC. The youngest Marine was Sgt. Bradley Wozniak.
The oldest and youngest cadets were senior Yesenia Fernandez and freshman Emily Silva.
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On Wednesday, Nov. 7, School No. 10 hosted six veterans of the U.S. armed forces for a morning of patriotic songs.
Music teacher Lisa Mallick worked with each grade level to prepare songs for their guests, all of whom had ties to members of the School No. 10 family.
The students sang from their seats while their visitors listened from the stage. Afterward, the six men stayed to talk to the school’s fifth-graders about some of their wisdom and experiences in the military.
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Three cadets and two NJROTC instructors visited School No. 2 the morning of Nov. 12 to take part in their Veterans Day assembly and to inspire the younger students to reach for new heights.
“We truly appreciate your support but more importantly your service to our country,” Principal Atiya Perkins wrote in a thank you note to instructors Master Sgt. Nicholas Gombocz and Chief Petty Officer Mark Velez. “Your words not only encouraged our students to walk in greatness but you also challenged them to be the best that they can be by helping one another through acts of service and kindness.”
Also visiting for the program was Navy Lt. Commander George Lawton, a Linden native who has been in the service for 18 years and is the uncle of third-grade teacher Tionna Givens.