Military Veterans honored at the Ocean County Mall in Toms River
Ocean County and South Jersey residents, who risked their lives in defense of liberty, now proudly place among their souvenirs medals commending their service, courtesy of the New Jersey Department of Military and Veterans Affairs.
The families of those who served were in attendance to watch these men and women receive their medals at the Ocean County Mall.
For U.S. Navy Petty Officer Third Class Thomas M. Dooley of Manahawkin who received a distinguished service medal, it was a pleasant surprise.
"It's a huge honor," said Dooley. "This really came out of left field, I didn't even know this was an honor you can accept in New Jersey. It's definitely a big surprise and I'm just very thankful."
Dooley joined the Naval Forces in 2010, where three years later was deployed aboard the Eisenhower in support of Operation Enduring Freedom.
"Deployment's very hard, I mean it's everyday up to 16 hours a day if not longer sometimes," explains Dooley. "Just seeing the dedication everyday with the guy next to you on your left and on your right, there's nothing like it."
For U.S. Army Corporal Robert P. Low who served our nation during the Korean War, it was also a tremendous honor receiving the medal last week.
"It's that you were recognized and my lovely family was here with me," said Low.
The Mays Landing resident adds that it was and exciting feeling when he had come home from the war, because everyone was there waiting to see him.
However not every soldier was greeted with a big welcome when they came home from war, Machinist's Mate Second Class Joseph S. Slusar Jr. of Swedesboro who served during the Vietnam War (1965-1969) was appreciative of the recognition last week which was mostly non-existent when he came home.
"It was just like you went on vacation down the shore, came back and...(people said) 'okay so he's home' and that's it," said Slusar. "There was no hoopla, no nothing, not that I was looking for it...I just did what I had to do but it's changed so much now for these guys that are coming home and their getting the recognition that they deserve."
The ceremony where Slusar received a medal was especially humbling following his service during the Vietnam War because of the mostly non-existent recognition back then.
"(It was) maybe one or two handfuls of people that ever did tell the Vietnam Vets 'thanks'," said Slusar. "We were just shunned when we got home and we really appreciate these kind of ceremonies."
Slusar says things have changed and finds comfort in knowing all veterans today are properly recognized.
"The people that go over there and do what they do, putting their lives on the line, deserve some recognition," said Slusar.
Here is the full list of service men and women receiving medal recognition:
- Sergeant Christopher Anderson of Brick Township, Operation Enduring Freedom, U.S. Army
- Specialist Elisha A. Champion of Egg Harbor Township, Operation Enduring Freedom, U.S. Army
- Sergeant Christopher Cunningham of Toms River, Operation Iraqi Freedom, U.S. Army
- Petty Officer Third Class Thomas M. Dooley of Manahawkin, Operation Enduring Freedom, U.S. Navy
- Chief Aviation Machinist's Mate Paul T. Eckholt of Toms River, World War II, U.S. Navy
- Corporal Jovan S. Espinoza of Toms River, Operation Enduring Freedom, U.S. Marine Corps
- Corporal Robert J. Freeman of Manahawkin, Operation Enduring Freedom, U.S. Marine Corps
- Technical Sergeant James R. Gallagher of Toms River, Operation Enduring Freedom, U.S. Air Force
- Machinist's Mate Second Class Charles R. Kletz of Bridgewater, Lebanon Crisis, U.S. Navy
- Sergeant Misael Lopez-Santiago of Toms River, Operation Iraqi Freedom, U.S. Army
- Corporal Robert P. Low of Mays Landing, Korean War, U.S. Army
- Chief Petty Officer Richard T. Malik of South Amboy, Operation Desert Shield/Desert Storm, U.S. Navy
- Sergeant Alexander J. McKenna of Ocean, Operation Enduring Freedom, U.S. Army
- Sergeant Peter Minichino III of Pine Beach, Operation Desert Shield/Desert Storm, U.S. Army
- Specialist Four Frank B. Scellato of Jackson, Vietnam War, U.S. Army
- Private First Class Melvin L. Schaffner Jr., Operations Iraqi and Enduring Freedom, U.S. Army
- Machinist's Mate Second Class Joseph S. Slusar Jr., of Swedesboro, Vietnam War, U.S. Navy
For bonus content from the medal ceremony, watch the video featured below: