William Joseph LaRosa had a special reason for attending the awarding of the Hudson County Distinguished Military Service Award on Jan. 22.
He had come to pick up a medal for his father, Sgt. Anthony LaRosa.
Bill, who serves as the director of Hudson County’s Division of Cultural Arts and Tourism, said his father was raised in Jersey City, but lived in Bayonne at the end of his life.
“He passed away on Feb. 14, 2005,” LaRosa said, choking up with emotion as he talked about his father. “He would have been very honored by this. It means a lot to me.”
Anthony LaRosa served in North Africa and Italy, and was involved in some of the most intense street fighting during the war. This has given his son, Bill, some understanding of what troops in Iraq must be facing.
“My father said street fighting was very different from fighting on the battlefield,” Bill said. “In the battlefield, you could always find shelter. In the streets, you never knew where the attack would come from.”
Bill was named after two of his father’s friends, who were both killed.
This was Hudson County’s eighth medal ceremony honoring veterans.
Hudson County has held ceremonies honoring World War II veterans as well as veterans who served in Korea and Vietnam.
Barry Dugan, director of Hudson County’s Veteran Affairs, said the ceremonies would not be possible without the support of County Executive Tom DeGise, Freeholder Chairman Jeff Dublin and the Freeholder Board. The Jan. 22 ceremony honored current and former residents of Hudson County, most of whom are currently 80 years or older.
Dugan described the veterans of the World War II era as people who went to get a job done, did it, and came home.
“You never asked for recognition,” Dugan told the assembly. “But we think you should get it. Sixty-five years ago, the world was threatened by evil forces, and you men were called to serve and protect, and that’s what you did. Some didn’t come back.”
Dublin said the men and women who protected this country need to be thanked.
“You deserve it and much more,” Dublin said.
Carol Ann Wilson, director of the Department of Health and Human Services said the sacrifices of these men benefited her generation.
“What if no one took up the call?” she asked.
Dugan began to push for the awards while he was still serving as a freeholder from Bayonne on its Freeholders Military Affairs Committee and has continued in this role after retiring as freeholder last year.
Not getting recognition
Dugan, a former U.S. Marine, said many veterans of the past have not received the recognition they deserved. He got his idea for the awards when he learned that other counties in the state had honored their vets in a similar way. While there are awards for combat veterans given on various levels of state and federal government, the county medal is being issued to any veteran that has served. The award consists of a lapel pin and medal with ribbon.
Medals for World War II service will be presented to those veterans who were discharged honorably and who served between Dec. 7, 1941 and Dec. 31, 1946.
Among those honored were brothers from Secaucus: George Jindela, who is still living, and his brothers, Joseph Jindela, Rudolf Jindela, William Jindela Jr., who died over the intervening years.
Two veterans honored during the ceremony were the last remaining Hudson County residents that witnessed the attack on Pearl Harbor.
Receiving the medal at this ceremony was Albert Merdo Sr. of Jersey City. The other one was Frank Wasniewski also of Jersey City, who already received his medal at the first ceremony held on Dec. 7, 2005.
Those honored in ceremony
Of the 91 World War II veterans who received medals on Jan. 22, 82 are currently Hudson County residents, and nine are former residents. Of the 91, 11 were residents of Bayonne: William Feinberg, John Fekety, Stanley Freizer, Anthony LaRosa; and posthumously: Edward Lukac, Louis Panaccione, Robert Schall, Henry Siegelman, Edward Suczewski, George Van Woeart, and Frank Falandys.
Also honored, Thomas Oriolo, of Guttenberg; Nicholas Bardzilkowski, from Harrison; Sylvester Garrick and Frank Molta, of Hoboken; Charles Bellavia, Robert Button, Michael Carattini, Herman Hollowell, Albert Merdo Jr., George Polasky, Monroe Prentiss, Francis Steinhauser, Anthony Volante, Thomas Boyd, and Robert Ross, of Jersey City; Joseph Rossillo and Edward Sonvico, of North Bergen; James Daly, George Jindela, Joseph Jindela, Rudolf Jindela, William Jindela Jr., Patrick Kennedy, George Kieck, Raymond Kolar, Michael Mercurio, William Schell, and Emmett Thompson, of Secaucus; Willis Hams and Joseph Palladino from Weehawken; and Alfeo Indri from West New York.
Former residents of Hudson County included Timothy Buckley, John Frost, Raymond Haley, Charles Kaye, Maurice Kaye, George Malgran, Elmer Mellett, and Frank Korek.