SOCIAL ISSUES

Gold star families celebrated at NJ Vietnam Veterans’ Memorial

BY Michael Hill, Correspondent |

Fifty-one years ago today, Lance Corporal Jedh Barker of Park Ridge risked it all to save his fellow Marines. Assemblywoman Serena DiMaso explained in giving Barker’s Gold Star sister a state proclamation.

“He gave his live to save his fellow soldiers by throwing himself upon a grenade, and he later administered first aid to a wounded comrade before tragically succumbing to his wounds,” said DiMaso.

The bravery earned Barker a Congressional Medal of Honor posthumously. Friday, his sister was among those at the New Jersey Vietnam Veterans’ Memorial remembering and honoring Barker and recognizing other Gold Star families and those of prisoners of war and missing in action.

“We’ve come to remember the loved ones that we’ve lost, to honor their sacrifice that each and everyone has made, and to perhaps get a little closer to their spirit,” said Susan Barker Rilliet, a Gold Star sister.

Former Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno became emotional as she welcomed the Gold Star families.

“These mothers know firsthand the grief that comes with losing a son or daughter during a war,” said Guadagno.

Guadagno, a memorial board member, put the war losses in numbers.

“As of January 2018, 16,001 American servicemen and civilians remain unaccounted for from Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia,” she said.

If the memorial could talk, it would tell a thousand or more war stories, such as what happened to Bayonne’s Douglas O’Neill who was killed April 3, 1972. He’s missing in action.

“He was Army helicopter and he was in the communications unit, so they were carrying radios to this group that was under fire, and they didn’t get there. They had a heat-seeking missile hit them at 4,000 feet,” said Bob O’Neill, Douglas’ brother.

Families and war veterans presented colorful wreaths to a half-filled ceremony, which caught the attention of Dr. Lisa Hou, New Jersey’s deputy commissioner of Veterans Affairs.

“I think part of the issue is that not enough people know that this memorial exists,” said Hou.

There were lots of empty seats, but lots of hearts filled with remembering and honoring those who made the ultimate sacrifice and those still missing in action.

“The only dream worth having is to dream that you will live while you’re alive, and die only when you are dead. To love, to be loved. To never forget your own insignificance. To never get used to the unspeakable violence and the vulgar despair of life around you. To seek joy in saddest places, here,” said Rilliet.