OCEAN CITY — For a little more than a century, an eagle-topped granite monument has stood watch in the center of Veteran’s Memorial Park, a city block-sized swath of green between 5th and 6th streets across Wesley Avenue from the Ocean City Tabernacle.
A light patina covers the bronze plaque on one side of the massive upright. The plaque reads, “In Grateful Memory to the men and women from this community who served in the Armed Forces of the United States during any wars and a lasting tribute to those who gave their lives in the service of their country.”
On the south side, there’s another plaque listing the names of those from Ocean City who served in what was once called The War to End All Wars. The park includes a piece of navy artillery and an anchor stand dedicated to those killed aboard the USS Arizona at Pearl Harbor. Along a low, red brick wall at the park, the names of those killed in action are listed.
There has been more conflict since the Armistice of November 1918 and the attack on Pearl Harbor, and Ocean City plans to expand its homage to these local residents by erecting a new monument for those who served in later wars including in Korea, Vietnam, Afghanistan and Iraq.
At a recent meeting, the Ocean City Council approved a $1,500 contract with Czar Engineering of Egg Harbor Township to design new monuments for the park.
The existing structure isn’t going anywhere, according to Mike Allegretto, aide to Mayor Jay Gillian.
“We want to add to what’s there,” he said.
According to Allegretto, the idea came from Bob Marzulli, the commander of the Morvay-Miley-Cruice American Legion Post 524 in Ocean City.
“We were just going to do something at the park for Vietnam,” Marzulli said in a recent interview.
But that would have left out the Korean War and the more recent wars in the Middle East, some pointed out. “We said, ‘You know what? You’re right.’”
The proposal calls for the city to install the stone, with the American Legion raising funds to install the plaques. City spokesman Doug Bergen said there is not yet a cost estimate for the project.
“The plan is to duplicate the pillar that’s already there,” Marzulli said.
There will then be four faces to the hewn stone. On one side will be a plaque for Vietnam, another for Korea, and a third for the wars in the Gulf. That will leave one side open.
“God forbid, we should never have to fill it,” he said.
Marzulli said one additional monument planned, but the city resolution and Bergen both state there will be two new monuments.
“They will match the existing one. Each will provide the ability to add other plaques over time to honor other veterans,” Bergen wrote in an emailed response to questions.
According to Marzulli, the Ocean City VFW Post 6650 members have been invited to participate in the project. Representatives of that post did not respond to a request for comment.
Marzulli said he has been in contact with the city. There seems to be an issue with finding a source for a massive block of granite to match the existing memorial, he said.
On snowy weekday afternoon, Jim Peterson of Peterson Memorials in Egg Harbor City measured the existing piece while waiting to meet with a city employee to discuss the project. He estimated the existing monument weighs more than 18,000 pounds, not including the stone ball at the top where the bronze eagle is perched.
The first step will be Czar’s design of the base, Allegretto said, with plans to move quickly once a monument design is completed.
“We’re hoping to have it done by Memorial Day,” Allegretto said.
Last year was the 100th anniversary of the dedication of the existing monument, Allegretto said. The city had planned to recognize that occasion, but because of COVID-19, the city’s Memorial Day observance last year was held virtually, with a video of speakers, music and other traditions presented in a posted video.
Other years, crowds have gathered at Veterans Memorial Park for Memorial Day, Veterans Day and other events at which representatives of local veterans’ organizations have placed a wreath at the memorial.
In his video presentation in 2020, Marzulli said it was 50 years since he became a Marine.
“So not only do I remember and honor those gone, I remember and honor my brothers of Platoon 3120” after so much time, he said.
In those comments, he mentioned a proposal to add a monument to the city. He indicated the pandemic delayed those plans.
“This Memorial Day was to be a special day for the veterans of the Korea War and the Vietnam War. The city and veterans were to add a monument to those two wars. I’m sure as this virus is beaten and subdued, we will again gather to unveil this monument to the men and women who served in these two wars,” Marzulli said at the event.
In a recent interview, he also said he wants the piece ready this spring.
“We’d like to be able to unveil it and have Memorial Day outside where it belongs,” he said.
Financed by the people of Ocean City, the original monument in 1920 was organized by the Young Men’s Progressive League. It includes the names of four who were killed in the war, as well as a much longer list of those who served.
That list appears to include a single woman, shown as Miss Aletha E. Townsend, U.S. Navy.