RELEASE: Gottheimer Honors North Jersey Veterans with Vietnam Veteran Pins, Service Medals

Nov 04, 2022
Press

BERGENFIELD, NJ

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Above: Gottheimer with North Jersey veterans at the Bergenfield Veterans of Foreign Wars Post #6467 today.

BERGENFIELD, NJ — Today, November 4, 2022, U.S. Congressman Josh Gottheimer (NJ-5) held a ceremony to recognize the heroic service of local North Jersey veterans and honor them with Vietnam Veteran Lapel Pins and long overdue replacement service medals.

The Vietnam Veteran Lapel Pins were originally created to commemorate the fiftieth anniversary of the Vietnam War by the Department of Defense, which named Commemorative Partners to deliver lapel pins to living Vietnam-era veterans.

Gottheimer has been helping local American Legion Posts and Veterans of Foreign Wars posts cut through red tape to obtain the service pins for our deserving veterans, and he has worked with the Department of Defense to award replacement service medals that went missing.

To honor the eleven veterans recognized today for their service, Gottheimer had American flags flown over the U.S. Capitol.

Fifth District veterans and residents’ relatives honored today include Retired U.S. Army Technical Sergeant Benjamin Whaley Jr., Retired U.S. Navy veteran Chris Wyman, Retired U.S. Navy Fireman Edward Harmon, Elaine Rabbitt and Brian Clancy receiving medals on behalf of U.S. Navy Chief Petty Officer Kevin Clancy (posthumously awarded), Retired U.S. Army Specialist Fourth Class Ellis Marples, Retired U.S. Navy Private First Class Frank Calandrillo, Jr., Retired U.S. Army Sergeant First Class John Smith, Howard Vigusin receiving medals on behalf of his father U.S. Army Sergeant Benjamin Vigusin (posthumously awarded), Retired U.S. Army Private First Class Ralph Williams, Retired U.S. Army Acting Sergeant Peter Rebsch, and Retired U.S. Army Sergeant Major Warren Williams.

“To all the veterans here, thank you, from the bottom of my heart, for your service, for putting your lives on the line to defend our freedom, our families, and the greatest democracy the world has ever known. Please know this: after sacrificing so much, you should never struggle to get the care or recognition you have earned. These are not Democratic or Republican issues — they are principles of the country we live in, the one you protected, under the flag we all salute,” said Congressman Josh Gottheimer (NJ-5). “We are here today to honor our brave veterans who risked their lives for our country. They did not swear an oath to a political party. They swore an oath to defend our country, and to our constitution – the very foundation of our democracy. The eleven veterans we’re awarding long-overdue pins and medals to today exemplify our nation’s best, and we owe them a great deal of gratitude for their service and sacrifice.”

Gottheimer was joined today at the Bergenfield Veterans of Foreign Wars Post #6467 by Bergen County Commissioner Mary Amoroso, Bergen County Commissioner Germaine Ortiz, Bergen County Clerk John Hogan, Bergenfield Mayor Arvin Amatorio, Bergenfield Council President Rafael Marte, Bergenfield Councilman Buddy Deauna, Bergenfield Chief of Police Mustafa Rabboh, and Bergen County Director of Human Services Division of Veteran Services Shaun Hutchinson. 

Watch the ceremony here.

Below: Gottheimer honoring North Jersey veterans.

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Gottheimer’s remarks as prepared for delivery:

To all the veterans here, thank you, from the bottom of my heart, for your service, for putting your lives on the line to defend our freedom, our families, and the greatest democracy the world has ever known. Please know this: after sacrificing so much, you should never struggle to get the care or recognition you have earned. These are not Democratic or Republican issues — they are principles of the country we live in, the one you protected, under the flag we all salute. 

Thank you everyone for coming together to honor the heroes of our community today, and thank you to the Bergenfield VFW for hosting us. 

In a time fueled by hyper-partisan cable news and social media, where we reward fiery tweets and extreme language seeking to divide us, it’s important to remember what brings us our community and country together. We are here today to honor our brave veterans who risked their lives for our country. They did not swear an oath to a political party. They swore an oath to defend our country, and to our constitution – the very foundation of our democracy.

The eleven veterans we’re awarding long-overdue pins and medals to today exemplify our nation’s best, and we owe them a great deal of gratitude for their service and sacrifice. It’s wonderful to see the community coming together to recognize these eleven veterans who fought for all of us.

There is nothing more important in this job than my responsibility to have the backs of those who have served our great nation.

To all veterans and active-duty service members, know this, after sacrificing so much, you should never struggle to get the care or recognition you have earned.

I’ve been proud to work across the aisle in Congress to care and protect our veterans. Whether that’s at the VA, a mental health issue, or helping a veteran get a job when you come back home. 

The first piece of legislation I passed in Congress was to expand hiring of post-9/11 veterans, and I’ve also led legislation signed into law to address veterans and National Guard suicide. As you know too well, staffing and mental health issues continue to be an enormous challenge, but we’re making important progress.

This year, along with members of the bipartisan Problem Solvers Caucus, which I Co-Chair, I worked to pass the bipartisan PACT Act and get it signed into law, helping veterans exposed to burn pits and toxic substances — covering Vietnam, Iraq, and Afghanistan-era veterans. 

Of course, our fight for our democracy and our veterans is far from over and I will never stop fighting for you. 

When we see a veteran, or a first responder, we should always thank them for their service — and teach our children to do the same. For what they did and the sacrifices they have made, which allows our businesses and families to prosper, allows  us to practice the religion we choose, to speak out freely on the street corner. They deserve our respect and gratitude. And we should remember every day the service members who made the ultimate sacrifice.

When you stand with and get to know our veterans, and hear their stories — some of which we’ll be sharing today — you get a better understanding of what they have sacrificed to protect our nation. You see, the battlefield doesn’t require allegiance to party. It demands allegiance to country, to fundamental values, to the thirteen stripes and fifty stars.

For me, in my work as your Congressman, it’s an honor and privilege to be able to thank and honor so many veterans across the Fifth District for their service, including the eleven heroes here with us today.

It is our duty as Americans not only to honor these men and women — all soldiers, sailors, marines, and airmen and women — but to do everything we can to fight for them when they return, to ensure they and their families have the care they need, the benefits they were promised, and the support we all owe them.

I want to impress upon everyone here that my door is always open for any issues that you may have, whether it’s at the VA, or accessing Social Security or Medicare benefits. I’m here to help you and your families.

[Retired U.S. Army Technical Sergeant, Benjamin Whaley Jr.]

Now, I’d like to introduce our first veteran being awarded a service medal, Retired U.S. Army Technical Sergeant Benjamin Whaley Jr., who first moved to Teaneck in 1983. His father, uncle, brother, and sister all served as well.

Before ending his active duty in 1972, Benjamin served one year in Vietnam with the 173 Airborne and then 18 months in with the 82nd Airborne in North Carolina. While in Vietnam, he was a combat engineer, helping disarm and remove bombs that did not go off, building airstrips for planes to land, and constructing small bridges for troops and supplies to cross on. He went on to serve as a Cargo Specialist for Desert Storm where he helped oversee the cargo transportation of planes to the Middle East for troops. 

Once off active duty, he was a member of the Air Force Reserves from 1980 to 1998, and then a correction officer in New York for ten years. In the Air Force Reserves, he was a transportation supervisor for aircrafts at the LaGuardia Base and a three-time Air Force Achievement honoree. He’s also received the Army Commendation, Campaign Medals, and Unit Citation.

For everything you have done for our nation, thank you — I want you to know I will always have your back.

Today, it is my honor to present you with the Vietnam Veteran Lapel Pin.

[U.S. Navy Veteran, Chris Wyman]

Our next veteran being honored today is Chris Wyman, a lifelong resident of North Jersey who I was honored to acknowledge as a Fifth District Hometown Hero earlier this year.  

Chris is a fantastic member of our community who I am fortunate and happy to see at events throughout Jersey regularly. He has lived in Vernon for twenty-nine years. He is a U.S. Navy Veteran, where he was taught how to use sonar technology and worked with electronics. He served during the Vietnam War era and continues to support fellow veterans wherever and whenever they may need. He is a member of the Wallkill Valley Vietnam Veterans of America Chapter 1002, he presents his program called “Honoring a Veteran” at high schools and libraries, and he has even been awarded an Appreciation and Recognition Certificate by the U.S. Department of the Interior Fish and Wildlife Service for his work in the Double V Rod & Gun Club, helping disabled veterans. 

Now, you can find Chris throughout New Jersey working as a photographer — a passion for which he has received many awards. He has been a part of the board of directors for local libraries, and takes photos from numerous other organizations such as the Vernon Township Economic Development Committee, Recreation Department and Committee, Chamber of Commerce, and so many more. Chris has also become a true historian of North Jersey and can help provide valuable information on dozens of our towns and how they have grown over the years.

Chris, for all the sacrifices you have made in service of our nation and protecting the freedoms we are so fortunate to have, it is my honor to present you with this Vietnam Veteran Lapel Pin.

[Retired U.S. Navy Fireman, Edward Harmon]

Our next veteran is Retired U.S. Navy Fireman Edward Harmon, who was born in Paterson, grew up in Fair Lawn, and now lives in Midland Park. 

With his parent’s approval, he enlisted at the age of 17, and he told my team — quote: “coming out of the 60s, you were either for your country or against it; I was one of those that was for it.”

He comes from a military family, his father served in the Navy for four years at the end of WWII in Galveston, Texas.

Edward served from June 1970 to April 1972 and was stationed at Diego Garcia repairing engines and then stationed in Saigon — repairing small boats that patrolled  the Vietcong River.

One year after returning home from his service in the Navy, he married his high school sweetheart, Gail. Now, they’re approaching 49 years of marriage.

Edward, for your selfless service to our country, I am honored to present you with this Vietnam Veteran Lapel Pin.

[Elaine Rabbitt and Brian Clancy receiving medals on behalf of U.S. Navy Chief Petty Officer Kevin Clancy]

Next, we are honored to have Elaine Rabbitt and Brian Clancy here to accept a medal being posthumously awarded to U.S. Navy Chief Petty Officer Kevin Clancy. Kevin, who enlisted straight out of high school, was born and raised in Jersey.

He served in the Navy from 1966 to 1969 and was deployed to Vietnam from 1967 to 1968. While deployed, he worked on patrol boats in Saigon before being transferred to Yokosuka, Japan.

For his service, he received Navy Unit Commendation, National Defense Service Medal, Vietnam Service Medal 3 Campaign Stars, and a Republic of Vietnam Campaign Medal.

But his service to our nation didn’t end there. On top of his day-to-day work, he was a vital part of the community here in Bergenfield — helping solve problems and get this community the resources it needed. He served as a Bergenfield Councilman for three years, Bergenfield Mayor for four  years, and the Sergeant of Arms under New Jersey State Senator Byron Baer for more than four years. Then he was Bergen County Election Commissioner for three years. 

He also looked after our veterans as head of Bergen County Veterans Services for ten years — an impressive career in public service.

Elaine and Brian, on behalf of Kevin’s selfless service to our country, I am honored to present you with this Vietnam Veteran Memorial Lapel Pin.

[U.S. Army Retired Specialist 4th Class Ellis Marples]

Our next veteran being honored today is U.S. Army Retired Specialist 4th Class Ellis Marples, who answered his call to service in 1964, two years after graduating from high school. 

He is a lifetime Jersey resident and served from January 1964 to November 1966 in Augsburg, Germany, as Specialist Fourth Class. 

There, he was a Tactical Infantry Nuclear Weapons Gunner and an Instructor under the nuclear weapons unit. For his great training and service to our nation, he received the Good Conduct Medal.

After leaving the military, he was hired by IBM as a computer repairman. 

Today, we are not just honoring Jack for his selfless service to our country, but also his younger brother, Staff Sergeant James Marples, who spent two tours in Vietnam and served in U.S. Army Special Forces.

Ellis, on behalf of your brother’s sacrifice, I am honored to present you with this Memorial Pin and, on behalf of your tireless sacrifices, I am honored to present you with this Vietnam Veteran Lapel Pin.

[Retired U.S. Navy Private First Class Frank Calandrillo]

Now, I’d like to introduce Retired U.S. Navy Private First Class Frank Calandrillo who was born and raised right here in Bergen County and first moved to Mahwah in 1990. His father served in World War II and was stationed in Fort Jackson, South Carolina, with the 100th Infantry Division.

Frank enlisted in his senior year of high school and was called into active duty in September 1969. He served till 1971, climbing to the rank of E-3 which equates to a Private First Class.

As a fireman aboard the USS Bigelow, he worked in the boiler room of his ship, which was stationed primarily in Northern Europe, including Germany, England, Norway, and Portugal. For his hard-work and dedication keeping us safe, Frank was awarded the National Defense Serivce Medal.

Upon leaving the Navy, he continued working to better the community, volunteering as a firefighter since 1971, serving 19 years on Saddle Brook’s Fire Department and 32 years on Mahwah’s Fire Company 2. To this day, he still serves in the radio room for Mahwah Fire Department and is the Commander of Mahwah American Legion Post 531. He is also the Vice Chairman of the Advisory Board of the Paramus Veterans Home.

His wife, Brenda Calandrillo, whom he married in 1984, is here with us today.

Frank, for everything you have done for our nation, thank you — I want you to know I will always have your back.

It is my honor to present you with the Vietnam Veteran Lapel Pin.

[Retired U.S. Army Sergeant 1st Class John Smith]

Our next veteran is Retired U.S. Army Sergeant 1st Class John Smith, who was born in Passaic, and is a more than 60-year resident of Bergen County, he now lives in Bergenfield. 

John did two tours in Vietnam, performing River Patrols while he served in the Army from 1967 to 1970 — and he was stateside for just 8 months in between tours.

His service keeping us safe didn’t end when he came home. He immediately became a police officer and served for four more years. Eventually, in 1982, John reenlisted into the Army and served until 2002. He had a multitude of jobs and assignments over those twenty years, ranging from training for units, supply logistics, platoon logistics, and brigade logistics.

Over his years of service he received numerous army commendations, achievement medals, good conduct medals, service ribbons, overseas ribbons, Gallantry Cross, and Vietnam ribbon. 

When home in Bergen, John earned an associate degrees in both criminal justice and accounting from Bergen Community College. 

John, for your selfless service to our country, I am honored to present you with this Vietnam Veteran Lapel Pin.

[Howard Vigusin, receiving medals on behalf of his father, U.S. Army Sergeant Benjamin Vigusin]

Next, we are honored to have Howard Vigusin, receiving medals on behalf of his father, U.S. Army Sergeant Benjamin Vigusin.

Benjamin served from 1942-1946 throughout World War II and was stationed at Fort Thomas, in New Port, Kentucky. He served in the 96th Infantry Division, an elite infantry division.

When he returned from the war, he helped throughout the community and was heavily involved with the Jewish War Veterans organization.

Benjamin’s brother, Howard’s uncle, Uncle Arnold Viner, also served in the military.

Today, I am honored to reunite his son with his father’s long-lost medals including the American Campaign Medal, Good Conduct Medal, Honorable Service Lapel Button WWII, Marksman Badge & Cabine Bar, Marksman Badge & Rifle Bar, Meritorious Unit Commendation, Philippine, Liberation Ribbon & Bronze Star, the World War II Victory Medal, and Vietnam Veteran Memorial Lapel Pin.

Howard, please come and accept these medals for your father’s years of hard-work and sacrifice keeping us safe.

[Retired Acting Sergeant Peter Rebsch]

Our next veteran is Acting Sergeant Peter Rebsch [REB-SH], who was born in West Germany but has lived in New Milford for the past 32 years.

In 1971, when he was living in the U.S. with his green card, Peter was drafted and served till 1973 as an Acting Sergeant in the U.S. Army. He received basic training at Fort Dix New Jersey before transferring to Fort Gordon in Georgia. While stationed in Georgia, he received orders to serve in Vietnam, but was sent to Fort Riley in Kansas instead.

Peter’s Commander was impressed with his dedication and service to our great nation and sponsored him for U.S. citizenship in 1972. He proceeded to serve in the Pentagon for roughly eight months as the General’s Staff before receiving a Meritorious Service Medal and Good Conduct Medal.

Today, he is Commander of the American Legion Post #207 in Paramus and runs a commercial sign company based in Bergenfield which has been open for over 30 years.

Peter, for your selfless service to our country, I am honored to present you with this Vietnam Veteran Lapel Pin.

[Retired Army Private First Class Ralph Williams]

Our next veteran is Retired Army Private First Class Ralph Williams, a resident of Dumont since 1991.

Taking after his father, who served in the Army in the Korean War, Ralph wanted to join the Army to “change his life,” and he graduated high school and by September — at the age of 18 — he enlisted. He served in the U.S. Army from 1972  to 1974 and was an Infantry man in the 9th Infantry Division based out of Fort Lewis, Washington. 

After his service, he graduated from Mercy College in New York as a Biology major, attended the National Health Institute, and then worked at James. J. Peters Medical Center in the Bronx for 35 years.

Ralph, for your service to our nation, which led you on to serve your community for decades, I am honored to be able to present you with the Vietnam Veteran Pin. Thank you for everything you’ve done for New Jersey, our region, and for the United States of America.

[Retired U.S. Army Sergeant Major Warren Williams]

Now, I’d like to introduce Retired Sergeant Major Warren Williams, who moved to Bergen County in 1992 and lives here in Bergenfield. Warren and his wife Linda have three children — including a son who fought in the Army in Iraq — and eight granddaughters, three grandsons and five great grandchildren.

He originally enlisted in the Navy in 1969, with two years in Vietnam in active duty where he was on river patrol taking — boats from Saigon to the Cambodia border. While on river patrol, he was wounded and earned the Purple Heart. 

After his active duty in the Navy ended in 1975, he immediately joined the Army — because he enjoyed helping people. He served till 2009, serving in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Desert Storm.

In 2006, for his service in Iraq, he earned the Bronze Star. Over the course of his service, he’s also earned the Legion of Merit, four tour service ribbons, a President Unit Citation, four Army Achievement Merits, the Overseas Ribbon, Combat Badge, and Medical Expert Badge.

I’m honored to add to that long list today, and present him with the Vietnam Veteran Lapel Pin.

However, there’s more. Sadly, Warren’s brother — George Allen Williams, Jr. — who also served in Vietnam, passed away in 2012. He lived in New Jersey and then Virginia, and served in the Army from 1968 to 1971, where he was on outpost duty in Vietnam outside of Saigon.

Today, posthumously, I’m honoring George Allen Williams, Jr. with the Vietnam Veteran Memorial Pin, and I’m proud to be able to present it to his brother Warren. 

For Warren, for your service to our nation, it’s my honor to present you with the Vietnam Veteran Lapel Pin, and to present you with your brother’s Vietnam Veteran Memorial Lapel Pin.

As we close today’s celebration of our nation’s heroes, I want to once again thank all of our veterans, service members, and their families for the sacrifices they’ve made so that we are able to live freely and safely. 

Here in the greatest country in the world, we will always take care of our own. That’s the only way to ensure that our best days will always be ahead of us.

God bless you, your families, and our troops, and may God continue to bless the United States of America.

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