Honoring those who gave the last full measure of devotion
“It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us—that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion to—that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain—that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom—and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”
From “The Gettysburg Address”
November 19, 1863
As I watched the images of United States Marines being brought home from Afghanistan to Dover Air Force Base in Delaware in coffins draped with the American flag, I thought of the servicemembers and civilians who had lost their lives in the August 26 suicide bombing outside the airport in Kabul. Then I thought of the flag and framed certificate hanging on the conference room wall at the offices of The Gazette.
That flag was from another airport, the one known as Bagram Air Base (BAF), which was abandoned by the United States military in July of this year. The flag was flown over the base in honor of The Hammonton Gazette at the request of a member of the military who served at BAF whom we had written about in this newspaper in 2011.
The flag is folded in a box on the wall, behind glass. Underneath it, there is a certificate.
The closure of Bagram Air Base has been discussed and editorialized in major media outlets during the past week, particularly in the wake of the deaths of the 13 Marines and nearly 200 Afghan civilians. For many years, that base served the needs of the military in Afghanistan. Now it is abandoned, and the United States is leaving the country. I’m not enough of a military mind to understand all the reasons why. It does seem abrupt to me, but this country has left war-torn countries abruptly in previous eras.
The second thing I thought of was the plaque at Cpt. Gerard V. Palma Playground at Hammonton Lake Park. The playground and Palma’s name have been in the pages of our news section lately, because the town is replacing some of the playground equipment there with new equipment.
As you approach the main entrance to the park on Sports Drive, there is a stone monument with a plaque. On the plaque, there is a gold eagle at the top and the words “Dedicated May 30, 1970” with the words “Cpt. Gerard V. Palma Memorial Playground” underneath them. Underneath those words are the words “Vietnam Honor Roll” and these names in the following order: George A. DeLuca, Gerard V. Palma, William T. Johnson, Carl S. Merlino, Donald E. Heggan, Rafael Melendez and Robert J. Dougherty.
According to the website for the New Jersey Vietnam Veterans Memorial and Vietnam Era Museum, Palma, who served in the United States Army, was killed in action during the Vietnam War on April 19, 1969, when the helicopter he was riding in was hit. He survived the crash but was hit by ground fire. He was buried at Arlington National Cemetery and in addition to the playground named for him at Hammonton Lake Park that was built with money raised by friends, teachers, coaches and townspeople from Hammonton, he was also honored at the U.S. Army Armor Center in Fort Knox, Kentucky, where there is an Armored Training Brigade building dedicated to Cpt. Gerard V. Palma known as “Palma Hall” because of the efforts of a classmate, according to the New Jersey Vietnam Veterans Memorial website.
The memorials to those who served—and those who gave the ultimate sacrifice—can be found throughout our town. Look below the flagpole at Hammonton High School, or inside the vestibule at Hammonton Middle School, or at the monuments at Veterans Park, or the Grand Army of the Republic monument at the top of the hill at Greenmount Cemetery.
In Hammonton, and in the United States, we never forget those who give, as President Lincoln said at Gettysburg, “the last full measure of devotion.”
They are our honored dead, and always will be.
Gabe Donio is the publisher of The Hammonton Gazette.