For about a decade, members of the Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 7858 have been raising and lowering the flag outside the Bernardsville post office on the week before each Memorial Day and Veterans Day.
Although they were not asking for special appreciation, their ritual captured the attention of Bernardsville resident Megan McDowell around 2006 when she said she was rushing around at the post office at the start of a long holiday weekend.
"I realized I had neglected to do anything for the veterans," McDowell said on Friday morning, as she and others gathered around about a dozen veterans for a ceremonious flag raising at 8 a.m.
"I was ashamed of myself, and I said, 'Never again,'" McDowell said.
McDowell wasn't just any resident — she already had mobilized a group called Heartworks, a non-profit organization created after Sept. 11, 2001, when her brother-in-law, John Farrell of Basking Ridge, was killed in New York City.
Heartworks already was dedicated to acts of kindness, and the members of the group began serving breakfast to the veterans each morning after the flag-raising. They returned each afternoon with a dinner after the flags were lowered at 4 p.m.
"I didn't expect this — the girls go out of their way," said Charlie Jerolman, a Bernardsville native, who said he had served on a destroyer during World War II, as he enjoyed breakfast on Friday.
Robert Puglisi, an Army veteran who lives at in Basking Ridge, said Heartworks also delivers cakes and cookies to veterans on holidays.
Puglisi was accompanied by another Ridge Oak resident, Walter Yarrington, 92, who said he was a Navy sailor during World War II.
The veterans were planning to return that afternoon for a performance of taps, and to show local youths how to properly fold a flag, as well as explaining the symbolism of the folds.
The VFW also will lead the Memorial Day Parade at 10:30 a.m. in Bernardsville, stepping off from Church Street onto Route 202, the men said.
Bob Walsh of Bernardsville, the post's quartermaster, said that the post includes members from Bernardsville, Basking Ridge, Far Hills, Bedminster and elsewhere in the Somerset Hills. Post Commander Joe Bennett is from Basking Ridge.
Prior to Friday's flag-raising, Kelly Ketterson of Tewksbury Township addressed the crowd with a brief reading, during which she quoted late U.S. President Ronald Reagan:
"We see these soldiers in our mind as old and wise. We see them as something like the Founding Fathers, grave and gray haired. But most of them were boys when they died and they gave up two lives — the one they were living and the one they would have lived. When they died, they gave up their chance to be husbands and fathers and grandfathers. They gave up their chance to be revered old men. They gave up everything for their country, for us. And all we can do is remember."
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