Wednesday, May 24th, 2017

Military veterans from across Morris County, and representing a host of military conflicts from World War II and Vietnam to Operation Iraqi Freedom, were honored today at Morris County’s Memorial Day ceremony, which was sponsored by the Morris County Board of Freeholders and conducted on the lawn of the historic County Courthouse in Morristown.

Group of Morris County veterans who received the Distinguished Military Service MedalOne of the honorees was U.S. Army and World War II veteran John McDermott of Denville, who served in Japan at the conclusion of the war, and today received his long-awaited World War II Victory Medal and Army of Occupation–Japan medal.

The medal was presented to him by fellow World War II veteran Hjalmar Johansson, an Air Force veteran and former German prisoner of war. Johannson, a Montville resident, was today’s keynote speaker.

photo: Freeholder Director Doug Cabana addresses veterans

Freeholder Director Doug Cabana addresses veterans

“We in Morris County honor those Americans who have served in the armed forces and honor those Americans who have given their lives while serving,’’ Freeholder Director Doug Cabana said at today’s event. “President Harry Truman once said, ‘our debt to the heroic men and valiant women in the service of our country can never be repaid. They have earned our undying gratitude. America will never forget their sacrifices.’’’

Freeholders Cabana, Hank Lyon, Tom Mastrangelo, John Cesaro, and Deborah Smith were joined at the event by Assemblyman Michael Patrick Carroll, Sheriff James Gannon, Prosecutor Fredric M. Knapp, and Superior Court Assignment Judge Stuart Minkowitz.

The county’s Memorial Day ceremony featured the freeholders presenting the Morris County Distinguished Military Service Medal to the eight honored Morris County veterans in recognition of their service to our nation.  

The full list of honorees include:

  • George Briscoe, Budd Lake, U.S. Navy. 2001-2004
  • Loris Clarke, Kenvil, U.S. Army, 1992-95
  • Louis Bodian, Morristown, U.S. Army, 1969-71
  • Eugene Lemoncelli, Dover, U.S. Marine Corps, 1954-57
  • Kenneth Gorman, Mount Hope, U.S. Air Force, 1965-71
  • Christopher Orr, Wharton, U.S. Army, 1974-89
  • Paul Vico, Morris Plains, U.S. Army, 1969-70
  • John McDermott, Denville, U.S. Army, 1946-47

The county’s Distinguished Service Medal is unique to Morris County and features the county seal encircled with the words, “Morris County Distinguished Military Service,” on the front.  An outline of the county and the American flag is on the back of the medal, along with the words, “Morris County Freeholders Military Commemorative.”

phot of county medal hanging on laniard

County Medal

Each medal’s striped ribbon is the color of the specific conflict during which the veteran served.

Since the freeholders began the program in 2000, nearly 10,000 medals have been presented to veterans or to their family members.

Hjalmar Johansson, WW2 vet and keynote speaker, smiling as he watches the ceremonyDuring World War II Hjalmar Johansson was assigned to a heavy bomber crew of B-24s, as a nose gunner, with the 15th Air Force, 461st Bomb Group, Squadron 767.

In December 1944, during a mission to take out a refinery in Poland, his plane encountered German fighter planes, engaged in battle, was badly damaged, and eventually crashed in Austria.

He was able to bail out. However, while some of his crew were saved by Romanian partisans, he was captured by the German Army and became a prisoner of war for six months, until liberated by the Soviet Army.

His story is chronicled in a History Channel in a video entitled “A Leap of Faith.’’

As for McDermott, he has long been eligible for his World War II medals but he never received them after service – possibly due to bureaucratic snafu. His daughter contacted Morris County Veterans’ Office last year and they interceded to contact the Army and arranged to have the medals sent to her.

Today’s ceremony featured the Marine Corps Color Guard, Golf Co, 2nd Battalion, 25th Regiment from Picatinny Arsenal; the Morris County Sheriff’s Department Color Guard; an invocation by Rev. Sydney Williams, Bethel AME Church, in Morristown; and patriotic songs by the Lakeview School Select Chorus of Denville.

Bagpipes were played by Sergeant Matt Potter and Captain Robert McNally of the Prosecutor’s office, and the wreath laying featured retired County Veterans’ Services Officer Charles Jurgensen and Gary Zakrzeski.

Watch the ceremony on YouTube:

To view the full program, please visit: https://morriscountynj.gov/wp-content/uploads/2017/05/Memorial-Day-Program-2017.pdf