Jackson Township Celebrates America’s Wounded Warriors
By Christa Riddle
Photos by Phil Stilton
For many participants, the positive effects of Jackson Township’s annual Wounded Warrior Day last for a lifetime. October 13th marked the fifth annual parade and event, sponsored and organized by the Central Jersey Rifle and Pistol Club under the direction of Al Dolce. With the cooperation of Mayor Michael Reina and his staff, as well as the National Rifle Association many local emergency service departments and merchants, this year’s event involved approximately 250 invited participants. As the parade made its way from the Jackson Justice Complex to the Central Jersey Rifle and Pistol Club, flag-waving spectators lined West Veteran’s Highway to pay honor and tribute to the soldiers and their sacrifices. “Many of the wounded warriors and soldiers participating in our event tell me how appreciated they feel on this day,” shares Dolce. “One soldier in particular commented how even his own town didn’t do all of this for him. When the soldiers in the parade ride through the archway of two fire truck ladders, the first thing they see is the supporters and their waving flags, all there for them. They are overwhelmed.”
Although Wounded Warrior Day focuses on veterans of wars against terrorism such as Iraq and Afghanistan, each year, veterans from other wars are honored. This year, the event honored Vietnam Vets, with the Patriot Guard Riders adding their presence to the parade; 45 motorcycle riders served as escorts. In the past, Wounded Warrior Day has paid tribute to veterans from World War II and the Korean War as well. “The event is so anticipated by the soldiers each year, we have to keep it to invitation-only so that we can manage properly and provide enough food and activities,” tells Dolce. One of this year’s invites was a 91-year-old World War II pilot who attended with his son.
After the parade, the event culminates each year at the Central Jersey Rifle and Pistol Club, where participants take part in awards and honor ceremonies. Volunteers also provide refreshments and numerous activities, such as crossbow shooting and cowboy action shooting using Old West-style rifles. “We don’t wrap up the day until every participant has had the chance to do whatever activities he or she wanted to do. It is their day to have fun, to try something new, to socialize, and to get the respect they deserve in a relaxed and welcoming environment,” says Dolce. “On this day, it’s all about them.”
Mayor Reina paid a surprise tribute to the Vietnam vets, including Dolce, with a proclamation from Jackson Township. The mayor thought it would be fitting for the vets to read the proclamation aloud, and so, after coming forward for recognition, several vets took turns reading the paragraphs, which proved to be a very moving part of the ceremony. The Central Jersey Rifle and Pistol Club then presented an M-1 Garand rifle to Sergeant Michael Minard of Union Beach to honor his service and sacrifice. Minard, a soldier who lost both legs near his torso at 26 years old, frequently visits Walter Reed Army Medical Center to let recently wounded soldiers know there is hope and a lot of reason to go on. Dolce reflects, “These guys are so strong, not bitter or angry. They are an inspiration to everyone.”
For Dolce, the most meaningful part of his club’s Wounded Warrior Day remains the personal stories of the soldiers like Minard. In a rifle magazine article, Dolce learned about Jeremy Feldbusch, a soldier blinded by shrapnel who, with the help of his parents, hunts using laser-enhanced guns and crossbows. “The story of this determined young man really caught my interest. With support, he could continue life after his injury, learning new activities and doing the things he loved to do before. I read about the Wounded Warrior Project, connected with them, and two months later, sat down with young soldiers from the Walter Reed Army Medical Center,” recalls Dolce. “This is what lies at the heart of our Wounded Warrior Day here in Jackson.” Over the years, Dolce has kept in contact with many of the soldiers attending his club’s annual event, including Jeans Cruz, a U.S. Army Specialist First Class who apprehended Saddam Hussein in 2003 and suffers from post traumatic stress disorder.
Over the years, participants in Wounded Warrior Day have all taken away lasting memories. Last year, club member Marge Grimaldi experienced a moving moment when a soldier fired her late husband’s most cherished pistol for the first time since her spouse’s death. An Army recruiter who attended the 2011 Wounded Warrior Day along with his family expressed appreciation when his physically challenged son was provided with a Nerf crossbow so he could target shoot, just like the rest of his family; the crossbow became his new prized possession. A few years ago, a soldier from Brooklyn trembled and sweated with each firing noise due to post traumatic stress disorder; with Dolce’s help, he gradually learned to hunt and went on to secure his own hunting license in New York. This year, Jason Ubel, a young man from Pennsylvania paralyzed from the waist down, shared his inventions and modifications that make life easier for the physically challenged; Ubel and a triple amputee navigated around the grounds using Ubel’s tracked wheelchairs.
The Central Jersey Rifle and Pistol Club was founded in 1960 by a group of shooting enthusiasts who wished to have a place to safely pursue their passion for shooting sports. The club offers a wide variety of ranges, activities, and organized events at its 180-plus acre facility on South Stump Tavern Road in Jackson. It promotes shooting sports by providing a safe, secure, and private facility that proves educational for novice shooters and extends a challenge to even the most seasoned pros. It is run by a member-elected board of directors who strive, along with the club’s members, to introduce families and people of all ages and backgrounds to shooting sports while stressing firearms safety. To learn more about the Central Jersey Rifle and Pistol Club, visit their website, www.cjrpc.com.
written by Christa Riddle, All About Writing, www.allaboutwritingconsulting.com