...And it was probably the easiest one of a long and colorful life. 

Senior Chief Petty Officer Nicholas Scutti (USN-Ret) was the easy choice for Ocean County's Freeholders as they sought an honoree to light the county's Christmas tree in the heart of his hometown of Toms River. The ceremony took place on the 70th anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor, December 7.

Scutti tells us his whole life revolved around the sea, starting as a Sea Scout before he was old enough to enlist. When he reached that age, he joined the Navy - a full year before Pearl. He spent three decades sailing the Pacific aboard aircraft carriers, seeing action during World War II, the Korean conflict and the war in Vietnam aboard the Saratoga, Intrepid and Enterprise.

In the last 10 years of his Navy career, Scutti did double duty aboard the carriers that retrieved astronauts from the Pacific after their return from outer space in the Mercury, Gemini and Apollo programs. These were pre-Space Shuttle days, when the space explorers rode in oversized tin cans and risked drowning after they splashed down.

Scutti retired in 1969, but he wasn't done blazing trails. He picked up work in technology as Ocean County offiicials entered the computer age. We're talking pre-Internet, pre-cell phone, the Jurassic era when PCs were the size of wall units and spewed forests worth of paper to solve math problems. Scutti set the stage for what we know now as the IT guys.

For all of this, Scutti was overwhelmed by the attention he got at the ceremony. "I was just lucky," he mused. "I was just doing what had to be done."

He's closing in on nine full decades of life, surrounded by an adoring family, somewhat restrained by the infirmities of age, but Nicholas Scutti remains a vibrant reminder of America's greatness; one of Ocean County's last living links to what we justifiably now identify as  The Greatest Generation.