Veterans and Fallen Honored at Annual Memorial Day Event

May 22, 2024

Morris County, NJ

Morris County Distinguished Military Service Medals Presented to 13 Veterans

The Morris County Board of County Commissioners presented Distinguished Military Service Medals to 13 veterans at the Morris County Annual Memorial Day Observance ceremony outside the historic county courthouse in Morristown today.

State legislators and Congressional office representatives also delivered honors to the veterans whose service ranged from World War II to Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan and Operation Iraqi Freedom.

“My father, a World War II vet, and my father-in-law, a Vietnam Vet, spoke very little of their time in combat to spare us what they had to endure, so I can only imagine the suffering of those who lost their lives in battle and those of you being honored today. While Memorial Day is a time to reflect on those who fell in battle, it also serves as an opportunity for us to be thankful for those who bravely served and returned home to us. We need you. We need your wisdom, especially in these troubled times,” said Commissioner Director Christine Myers.

Watch the Full Morris County Memorial Day Ceremony Video

Sen. Anthony Bucco and Asw. Aura Dunn presented Joint Senate-Assembly Resolutions to each veteran. Kellie Doucette, representing U.S. Rep. Mikie Sherrill and Nicholas Henry, representing U.S. Rep. Tom Kean, Jr., presented Certificates of Honor from their offices.  

Check Out Photos of the Ceremony

The keynote address of the ceremony was delivered by U.S. Army Veteran Derek Oates, who served in Operation Iraqi Freedom from 2004 to 2006. He spoke of the importance of soldiers returning from conflict finding strong support at home.

“We owe a debt of gratitude not only to them, but to every soldier across the generations of conflict. The ultimate tribute we can pay those who lost their lives during combat is to support those who are still with us today,” said Oates, reflecting on his post-war experience as a disabled veteran. “Upon my return from service I struggled making the transition into civilian life. One of the only reasons I am here with you today, while many of my brothers and sisters are not, is because of the support I received.”

Oates, inspired by the terrorist attacks of 9/11, enlisted in the U.S. Army after graduation from Seton Hall Prep in 2002. He deployed to Baghdad with the 82nd Airborne in 2004. During many convoys, he operated as a gunner on top of Humvees, handling weapons like the 50-cal and MK-19. He was injured during those enemy incursions.

SPC. Oates received the National Defense Service Medal, Global War on Terrorism Service Medal, Army Service Ribbon, and Iraq Campaign Medal.

Upon returning from active duty, Oates trained cadets at West Point and participated in the Helmets to Hardhats program, becoming a Union carpenter and dock-builder. He now owns Roofing Innovations, a veteran-employing construction company in East Hanover.

Morris County Prioritizes Veterans’ Support

Following this year’s Memorial Day Observance, Veterans Tom Mazzaccaro and Emerson Crooks of the Advisory Council on Aging Disabilities & Veterans (ACDAV) and Christine Hellyer, Director of the Office of Aging, Disabilities and Community Programming joined the Commissioners at their public meeting to provide updates on the Morris County Commissioners’ expansion of veterans services.

“Over the past two years, Morris County has expanded its Veteran Services Office. The office is currently in the process of hiring a fourth full-time Veterans Services Officer and a seasonal intern will start in June,” said Commissioner John Krickus, a U.S. Marine Corps veteran. “In 2022, Morris County allocated $350,000 to veteran services, and last year contributed an additional $300,000 to address the growing demand for mental health, shelter placement, transportation services, meal assistance, counseling, legal services and other veteran services currently being provided by the Morris County Human Services Department.”

Director Hellyer noted a new federal Veteran Center Community Access Point (CAP) opened on May 2 at the Morris County Veteran Services Office located at 540 West Hanover Avenue in Morris Township. Morris County volunteered to share and improve space at the county VSO to host the VA CAP.

Services are provided every Thursday by appointment by two Veteran Affairs (VA) counselors from the federal Bloomfield Vet Center. Veterans who wish to make an appointment should call the Bloomfield Vet Center at 973-748-0980.

“A Look Back on a Morris County Hero”

Morris County does not forget its heroes, especially those who have fallen in combat in service to the United States and as a result, the county has made it a tradition to recognize at least one by name at the Memorial Day Observance ceremony.

This year the county looked back on Private William Hedges Baker, who died in World War I.

“He had a promising life and career in front of him when he left college on May 2, 1918 to enlist at Fort Oglethorpe in Georgia, where he was attached to the 26th Infantry. On July 20 of that year, less than three months after he joined the Army, Private Baker was shot dead by a German sharpshooter while attempting to retrieve injured comrades on the battlefield at Plouisy, France.  He was only 22 years old,” said Commissioner Deputy Director Stephen Shaw in leading the tribute.

Private Baker was originally buried in France, but he was returned home to Dover on May 10, 1921 for burial in the Orchard Street Cemetery, where his marker remains today.  Many members of the American Legion Post 27 in Dover, named in honor of William Hedges Baker, attended his funeral, and on Memorial Day that year, a platoon of Marines fired three volleys over his grave. Private Baker was posthumously awarded the Silver Star, one of this nation’s highest military honors, and his name is memorialized on the “Dough Boy” World War I monument that continues to grace Dover’s Hurd Park.

The Morris County Distinguished Military Service Medals are unique to the county and were first issued in 1999 to honor World War II veterans on the 55th Anniversary of the 1944 D-Day Invasion and the liberation of France from the Nazi occupation. They were later expanded to honor service in Vietnam, Korea and general service in the U.S. military during other conflicts. In 2022 Morris County unveiled medals for Iraq and Afghanistan. These awards are presented to veterans who served honorably to help make the nation and Morris County a better place to live.

See Details of All the Honored Veterans & Their Biographies

The veterans honored on May 22, 2024, included:

Peter L. Cullen, Dover
Kimberly Dean, Chester Township
Anthony T. Donadio, Jr., Randolph Township (posthumous)
Fabio A. Escobar, Randolph Township
Wayne F. Henderson, Madison
Elihu W. Kaufman, Long Hill Township
Bill Lee, Roxbury Township
Susan Eno Foelsch-Maher, Chatham Borough
Robert J. McDonnell, Lincoln Park
Mateo Osorio, Madison
Frank Rigillo, East Hanover
Robert W. Smith, Florham Park (posthumous)
Brian Stanislaus, Mount Olive

In other Morris County Veteran news, NJ SOS Veterans Stakeholders will host a meeting on Wednesday, June 5 from 1:00-3:00 p.m. at the Morris County Veterans Services Office, 540 West Hanover Avenue, Morris Township. All Morris County veterans and service providers are welcome. This is a great networking opportunity to share information about your services. Light snacks and refreshments will be available. Please RSVP by emailing [email protected] or calling 973-326-7847.