By Paula Carlton
If a picture is worth a thousand words, photographs of Gloucester City's veterans are priceless.
That is why Mayor William James, his advisory committee, and several of the town's numerous and extraordinarily dedicated veterans of foreign wars are putting out the hue and cry for pictures of the approximately 68 townsmen who gave their lives defending the United States and its allies.
Their campaign intends to bring 2 feet by four feet banners with photos and other relevant details for each lost veteran to existing poles along Broadway during the months of May and October, when the nation celebrates Memorial Day and Veterans' Day, respectively.
Project Leader Ted Howarth Jr., a Vietnam veteran who ran the town's Memorial Day parade from 1978 to 1998 and currently organizes Brooklawn's memorial services, said the genesis of the banners was a general idea to breathe life back into the town's Memorial Day events, to better honor what Howarth calls "those who made the supreme sacrifice."click link below to read more
Howarth, also a civil investigator for the NJ Department of Law and Public Safety's criminal justice division, says the most significant change was restructuring the town's by-then long-extinct Memorial Day parade.
To get things started, the town held a public meeting seeking input.
Howarth said a lot of ideas, including the parade, were developed from working with local VFW and American Legion commanders, as well as concerned persons in the town and state governments. This year's resurrected parade, for example, featured boats.
In Howarth's estimation, the reaction to the new format was overwhelming.
"I believe the crowd tripled (from previous years)," he said. "If I had to (guess), I'd say there were 300 people there."
This was good news for Howarth and his fellow organizers, who had pitched less successful ideas to a very hesitant public.
One proposal, renaming streets in a new development on Route 130 where the contractor had chosen names of nations to label the roads, met with almost unanimous resistance.
Howarth said, "The names had no significance, but the residents were used to them."
The unequivocal responses from town residents put the idea to rest.
"There were letters to the editor," Howarth said. "We heard the people loud and clear."
Another idea that met with disfavor was to take the parade indoors, Howarth explained, partially owing to the noise that every town resident and visitor hears on a regular basis: planes overhead, flying low and going in for what seems like an extraordinarily loud landing at Philadelphia International Airport.
Yet, it turned out that residents preferred the noise to an indoor celebration.
The torturous trial-and-effort finally developed into a parade and memorial service with a new format, thanks to brainstorming by Howarth; Councilwoman Kellie Ferry; Commanders John Gillespie and Bill Brandt of local VFW Post 3620; and Commander Emery Bittmann of American Legion Post 135.
The result was successful beyond their best expectations, and the town intensified its already strong interest in honoring their past in general, and their military history in particular.
"People wanted to come out to see new format," Howarth said, adding that the organizers received "positive comments about bringing the parade back."
This should not be a complete surprise.
"There has always been support for our veterans in Gloucester City," he said.
Commander Brandt concurred, adding, "We should show support for the men who gave up their lives."
About the actual organization of memorial services overall, and the banner project in particular, Brandt is generous with his praise.
"I think Teddy Howarth's doing a great job," he said.
It could be said that this seemingly unprecedented support for the town's new Memorial Day celebration is, in reality, nothing less than should be expected in a town whose history dates back to the early 17th century, when the Dutch West India Company sent a small group of Dutch families to establish a fur and trading post on the Delaware River.
In one of the earliest examples of American entrepreneurship, the settlement, New Netherland, was operated as a for-profit company, with settlement members acting as investors, employees, and consumers.
In the face of threats largely from Swedish and Finnish companies, New Netherland acquired portions of what are now the states of New York and New Jersey. These included Gloucester City where, in the 1620s, the Dutch built Fort Nassau to defend their territories.
They operated the fort for a quarter of a century before it was taken over by the English and Swedes, who eventually ceded it back to the Dutch.
Colony governor Peter Stuyvesant ordered the fort dismantled in 1651. The Dutch were forced to cede all of New Jersey to the English a mere 13 years later.
This was far from the end of the colonial story for Gloucester City. According to the Gloucester City Historical Society, "Gloucester Town achieved some prominence [and] in 1686 was made the County Seat (sic) of Old Gloucester County[,] until 1786 when the County Seat (sic) was moved to Woodbury.
"Gloucester Town was at first a part of Gloucester Township and known as the Irish Tenth. Later, it was called Union Township. In 1844, Camden County was created from the northern portion of Old Gloucester County.
"Gloucester City was incorporated in 1868, and in the late nineteenth century, became Philadelphia's playground under the reign of William J. Thompson. Gloucester City thrived as an industrial center until the early 1980s."
Fortunately, according to the society's Web site, Gloucester City is coming around. In 1985, a historic preservation district was established.
Ted Howarth said the parallel increase in support for the town's veterans was a strong motivation for the banner project. The key to the banners' appeal is the photo of each honoree.
If people see the lost veterans' faces, he explained, the magnitude of their courage and sacrifice will make a deeper imprint in residents' minds.
Despite residents' renewed enthusiasm for celebrating the efforts of their lost war heroes, Howarth said that the banner project has yielded a mere four photographs. In addition, the project is in considerable need of financial support.
He hopes that, with his fellow project organizers from the town government; veterans organizations VFW Post 3620, American Foreign Legion Post 135, and the VFW museum; and state UEZ Assistant Adrianne Parent, who publicized the information statewide, he can lengthen his reach and find longtime residents who may have photographs and stories to tell about veterans in general, and especially the 68 veterans whom the banners will honor.
Of the project's thus-far snail-like progress, Howarth said, "I think they (residents) figured that everyone else was doing it. But that's not the case."
Right now his goal is to have at least half of the banners ready to fly this November, in time for Veterans' Day. In the meantime, Howarth is very pleased with the impact the new Memorial Day format and banner project have had on the town's overall mood.
"People are just realizing the importance of these services [and projects]," he says. "Hopefully everybody will continue to support our vets."
source Gloucester City News July 17