Freedom is not free. Sometimes, it comes at a very high cost.
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Situated on Westfield Avenue north of Browning Road in Pennsauken NJ, this monument is dedicated to those who served in all wars.
name is George Martin, I helped set a lot of the memorials in Crescent
(Jewish) Burial Park cemetery years ago and I "engineered" the
Westfield Avenue War Memorial, on Westfield Avenue and Merchantville
Avenue, Pennsauken, New Jersey, our "main street", all the
ground layout & actual footings, erection, etc. on the 14 ton job,
20 years ago this month.
changed my life for a long time. I was asked by N.J. Marble & Granite
to assist in the excavating, foundation & erection of the Veterans
Monument, circa May of 1988. On a shoddy lot, the corner of which was earmarked for the new memorial
too much specific assistance, I felt very alone after I accepted the
job. Priced only from me at wages, (no profit or overhead) one paid
laborer, with a couple of volunteers & money for concrete &
forms, right on a corner, in the public eye, under daily scrutiny, with
a plywood sign, depicting the "level" of pledge money to pay
met the then township engineer, who furnished no plans, no specs, no
details. I questioned which direction the 3 sided obelisk, should
face...he looked around & said...aim one edge to that pole across
the street...I then asked...”What will the base look like?”
hurriedly drew a sketch on a napkin & handed it to me.
having been a model builder since childhood and a decent building remodeler,
it was vague, but I had insight. When I inquired about the degree of
angle, on the base, he laughed and said “Go back to college”, hopped
in his car and took off.
got some specific numbers from the granite company, as to the base
dimension, hand built remote location forms, in sections, added a rebar
cage that no one mentioned and opted for 4500 grade mix, upon finding
the gross weight was on or about 14 tons.
Rain plagued the entire job, and no township official could be found for answering questions, as most were away at some convention out of town, for days.
had to set lot grade, borrowed a back hoe, dug it out, deeper than
needed, brought up the pre-fabricated forms, assembled them, called a
local welder to help with the rebar cage, ordered concrete and borrowed
an old tent from a cemetery, to shield the project.
the base runs like 7 foot to an angle of 2 1/2 feet and so forth. I need
another finisher! My laborer and volunteers aren't skilled and the top
has to be like glass flat!
old navy bosun’s mate, known as great concrete guy, stops by and says
“Hey kid...what ya doing?”
signed him up. The concrete truck came and the driver shot the pour. A
'Nam vet, he jumped out, boots on & trowel in hand and jumped in.
Raining, tent up, all went great under adverse conditions. I took it on
and what got me through it was, I wanted to be a part of a memorial for
all those service people, who shared their futures, for ours. Something
my family could see, long after I was gone. Everything was falling into
a few days, area was backfilled & we prepared for delivery from
Vermont. The crane truck was on site and we began assembly. It didn't go
well at the upper section. The parts were all marked, but when erected,
the monument was tilted. Out of plumb no matter what.
went in to Vermont & public opinion on the "leaning
monument" sparked debate. Vermont agreed to send a flatbed tractor
trailer to retrieve the monument and supply crane needs.
we begin to disassemble the memorial, the Philadelphia Inquirer shows
up, with a dress military detail, wanting to take photos. The cameraman
asks “Who's in charge?”
said “I am.”
reporter came over and asked me “What's going on?
mentioned the parts were going back to Vermont, for re-cut &
re-evaluation and such.
says “Yeah, right, f**king funny, you j**k-**f” and walks around
asking others who’s really in charge.
point back to me. Humbled he comes back, takes a brief bunch of stat
notes and has the photographer snap a photo of a highly decorated
marine, behind the two separated sections, being lifted by a crane. It
all went to press. Very nice...good story.
the unaware public, saw a picture of a monument assembly, not one
being taken away. Vermont made good on all aspects, to insure a proper
assembly next time around. They found the cut and rectified all details.
second setting of the monument, went flawless. That day, a small
business I built, with no advertising, over the years, finally made me
feel I was in on a job, that would outlive me, dedicated to those whose
sacrifice, allowed me the privilege to participate. That day, the phone
stopped ringing. No customers for months. Just like turning off a
local newspaper, the Courier-Post, issued a story the foundation was
faulty. Here, some Maple Shade vet, with no affiliation to our town or
job, gave the paper his version of the now rectified "mishap",
after all was well, after a delay.
snotty writer, at the paper told me, when I called to say “You’re
ruining me, 'swami” said “Who cares, nobody reads and believes
what's in the paper anyhow, they use it to wrap fish and line
said “Really? Then why do you write news?”
said. “It's just a job.
pending jobs I had were cancelled, and it made life locally miserable.
It was difficult for my wife to take out my toddler daughter or go to
the local market without some snide remarks, regarding the memorial
site. I sweated the detail and went above and beyond. The paper never
printed a retraction. Nobody came to my "rescue". People do
believe what they read, even if it's not true.
remember that job, as clear as today's events. Well, 20 years passed and
I went there to remember. My dad, brother, other family members,
friends, tradesmen and a site I initially wanted to avoid, but did the
best I could, with what I had, at the time.
still level, looks great & under adverse conditions during that job,
was only a small sacrifice on my behalf, and wasn't shot at, tortured,
starved, drowned, captured, burned, drowned, wounded or worse. It was
worth our efforts, regardless what others think.
the son of an ex-service man, gave me the self-discipline to do the
right thing, for all concerned, and my wife stood by me through a
difficult time in my career. My wife still has that paper delivered
Memorial Day. Remember those gone before us... and don't believe everything
you read...look deeper.
can tell this story now, without any further reprisal from a township
official who wanted to declare the monument was vandalized and
had to be sent out for "repair", grandstanding for no good
purpose, and threatened me to be "quiet"...against my
truth, that would hurt donations and veterans and me, for no reason at
all. He's dead, and so is the other vet post member
remember them too.
Six men from Camden NJ, Frank Ballerino, Michael Carr, Michael Yachus, Stephen V. Koscianski, Lewis Riondino, and Joseph H. Johnson died together when the troop transport HMTS Rohna was struck by a German guided glider bomb and sank of the coast of North Africa. In addition, six other Camden County men, Jacob K. Jenkins and Carl Johanson of Pennsauken, 19 year-old Harry V. Taylor Jr. of Haddonfield, William McKeon of Blackwood, Merl Reagle of Lindenwold, and Elmer F. Day of Merchantville and also were lost that day. Many other South Jersey men also were killed. In total, 1,015 men were lost, but the story was never told to the families or the general public for over 57 years due to wartime censorship.
Click links to visit web-pages on these memorials, and to visit "virtual memorials" to Camden County's fallen heroes.
GUEST BOOK & E-MAIL
of this date, February 6, 2002 I have not erected a guest-book. Please
e-mail all comments to email@example.com.
If you would like your comment published in the upcoming guest-book,
please let me know.-
Phil Cohen, Camden NJ