Montgomery Township's new designation as a "Purple Heart Township" was marked with a public ceremony at the municipal building Tuesday, September 19th. This designation recognizes a township's support for the sacrifice of military members of a community wounded or killed while serving the nation in a time of war.
Speakers presented before an overflowing courtroom. Representatives from the Military Order of the Purple Heart; Somerset County Veterans Services; Rolling Thunder, Inc., a national veterans support group; the Montgomery Township Veterans Memorial Committee; boy scouts and leaders, and many local dignitaries came out to honor veterans and Montgomery's Purple Heart recipients in particular.
Ted Dima, Senior Vice Commander Chapter 27 of the Military Order of the
Purple Heart presented the Township with a plaque signifying its new status, shared by only nine towns or counties in New Jersey. Montgomery Mayor Ed Trzaska, Administrator Donato Nieman, and Township Clerk Donna Kukla received the honor on behalf of Montgomery after Township Clerk Donna
Kukla read a resolution of acceptance.
"Tonight was a special night for Montgomery. I am proud to be part of our community for many reasons, and on top of the list is how we embrace, honor, and recognize our veterans. God bless our veterans and those that earned the Purple Heart while protecting our freedom," said Mayor Trzaska.
Brigadier General Michael L. Cunniff, Adjutant General of the New Jersey Army and Air National Guard, gave the keynote speech and also presented NJ Medals of Distinguished Service awarded posthumously, for two Purple Heart recipients from Montgomery.
Special plaques were also presented by the Military Order of the Purple Heart to honor the memories of both
1st Lt. Ashley Henderson-Huff
, a military police officer, who was killed in Iraq in 2006, and
SP4 Stephen H. Warner
, a young war correspondent killed in action in Vietnam. Both of these brave soldiers hailed from Montgomery and attended Montgomery High School.
This event occurred on the 11th anniversary of Ashley Henderson-Huff's death Iraq. The United States military had previously awarded First Lt. Huff the National Defense Service Medal, the Global War on Terrorism Expeditionary Medal, the Global War on Terrorism Service Medal and the Army Service Ribbon. She was posthumously awarded the Bronze Star, Purple Heart and the Combat Action Badge.
Frank & Nancy Tetz, long-time friends of the Warner Family, accepted the NJ Distinguished Service Medal for the family of SP4 Stephen H. Warner. Brigadier General Cunniff presented the medal and plaque to the couple. Stephen grew up in Montgomery, attended Yale University, but was killed in action while serving as a war correspondent in the U.S. Army's 7th Public Information Detachment in Vietnam when his unit was ambushed. He was overdue for leave but had opted to remain with his soldiers.
A moment of silence was observed in memory of both these brave soldiers and 'Taps' was played by Montgomery High School Marching Band trumpet player Matias Ng.
A new street sign, designed by Rolling Thunder, was unveiled which will be placed along the entranceway to Montgomery High School, renaming it "1st Lt. Ashley Henderson-Huff Memorial Drive.
Accepting the NJ Distinguished Service plaque on behalf of 1st Lt. Huff's family, who now live in another state, was Superintendent of Montgomery Twp. Schools Nancy Gartenberg. She stated, "Ashley and Stephen are a source of pride for our school community. They represent those characteristics important to as we strive to educate all of our students to be ethical and responsible citizens. We look forward to naming Lt. Ashley Henderson-Huff Drive this winter."
Montgomery Twp. School District reps display three plaques which honor former student 1st Lt. Huff. L to R: Scott Mason, President of the MTEA; Nancy Gartenberg,Superintendent of Montgomery Twp. Schools; and Rick Cavalli, President of the Board of Ed.
Officials attending including NJ State Senator Kip Bateman, Somerset County Freeholder Mark Caliguire, Somerset County Director of Veteran Services Peter Niemiec, Superintendent of Montgomery Twp. Schools Nancy Gartenberg, Mayor Ed Trzaska, Township Committee member Patricia Graham, Planning Board Chairman David Cheskis, former Mayor Don Matthews (MVMC), Former Administrator Pete Rayner (MVMC). Also in attendance were Richard Onderko, Mayor of Manville, and Andrea Bierwirth, Manville Administrator.
The opening invocation was given by Pastor Anthony GodLefski, pastor of Montgomery United Methodist Church. The presentation of the colors and pledge of allegiance was led by Boy Scouts from Montgomery Troop 46.
Rolling Thunder National V.P. Tom D'Alessio spoke and was accompanied by Rolling Thunder Board of Director member Gus Dante. Rolling Thunder, Inc. is committed to helping veterans of all American wars and particularly raises awareness of the issue of Prisoners of War (POWs) and those Missing in Action (MIAs).
Although Ashley and Stephen were most recent, there are eight soldiers with stars next to their names on the Montgomery Veterans Memorial who were killed in action. The eight are (in alphabetical order):
George L Brown
John A Cray
Arthur S Dixon
Stephen H. Warner
The primary organizer of the event was the chairman of the Montgomery Veterans Memorial Committee Mike Maloney. He stated, "As we celebrate our Purple Heart Community Status, we begin a new chapter in our Township's history - our Township's life-story. With our new status, and within that new chapter - comes a renewed responsibility - collectively, individually. As we celebrate - we must always honor and remember those who have provided the very ink to write life-stories in the first place."
Montgomery Township's namesake, General Richard Montgomery, was killed in action during the Revolutionary War. The modern-day Purple Heart award grew out of the Badge of Military Merit, which was established by Gen. George Washington in 1782.