By MADDY VITALE, OCNJDaily
Ocean City Council President Bob Barr posed in front of his late father Jerry Barr’s military banner on Memorial Day. He took a picture to capture a memory he would surely never forget.
His father’s banner for military service in Vietnam can be seen on a lamp post on the Boardwalk near the Music Pier.
“It warms my heart,” Barr said in an interview Wednesday. “It makes me feel good personally to see my dad’s banner.”
While it is just a sample banner, Barr and other city officials hope to make it part of a broader program, called “Honoring Our Veterans,” that will become a way families could honor their loved ones who served in the military.
“I hope my dad is looking down and is proud,” Barr said.
The plan is that it will begin by this time next year after some logistics are worked out.
“We just wanted people to see it and get the idea because maybe someone else will see it and have a better idea,” Barr said of the sample banner. “I want people to come and see something that they can feel proud of. This is a program that I am really excited about coming to fruition.”
Mayor Jay Gillian remarked about the program and the sample banners during the May 27 City Council meeting.
“The city is working on a new program to honor veterans with sample banners that are hung right outside the Music Pier going north,” Gillian noted. “I want to thank Council for bringing this idea forward and look forward to working with you on this great event for our local veterans.”
Perhaps more than anyone, even more than Barr, there is one person who has waited for the program to become a reality since 2017.
Councilman Keith Hartzell brought the idea back to Council four years ago. But many things had to be worked out and there were several discussions with the local VFW Post 6650 and American Legion Post 524 to get the members’ input before anything went into motion.
Hartzell, the son of the late Paul Hartzell, a veteran of World War II and the Korean War, was inspired by military banners he saw in Frackville, Pa., when he was there on a business trip.
The Frackville downtown was filled with military banners. He went back to Council to see about starting a similar program in Ocean City to honor members of the military who have ties to the community.
Some of the logistics that had to be sorted out were where the banners would go and who would be eligible and if they would be limited to only those who served in combat or for all who were members of the military.
While everything is still being considered, Hartzell said he is thrilled that the idea is finally starting to look like it will indeed be a program in the community.
Hartzell noted that his father’s sample banner is displayed on the Boardwalk, as is Councilman Pete Madden’s relative.
“This is something that took a long time. I was riding through a small town and I really had never seen one before and the town was so small and had two main streets. There was a ton of them. I got out and took a picture of it,” Hartzell said of the banners in Frackville.
The sample banner Hartzell had made up in 2017 was for Joe Caserta, a World War II veteran who passed away earlier this year at age 98.
Caserta was a tank driver in some of the fiercest battles in Europe. His bravery earned him the Bronze Star, Purple Heart and numerous other medals and honors.
“I will always feel bad that Joe won’t be alive to see the banners,” Hartzell said.
In all, Hartzell traveled to about 15 towns that had military banners to do his homework.
Now, it is just a matter of working together to get the program approved.
“They will keep the sample ones up on the Boardwalk and then work out what the program will be. We look forward to working this out. We are very committed to it,” Hartzell said.
In a Facebook post, Barr wrote some words that summed up the feelings of those who want to see the military banner program become a reality.
He wrote, “Memorial Day is a day of remembrance. Today I remember my dad who now has a banner on the Ocean City boardwalk in his memory. Always remember those who served both at home and abroad. Freedom is not free. Thank you to all the Veterans and their families for serving and sacrificing for our country. May God bless you all.”