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Perspectives on Memorial Day by the Burlington County Historian

How our County Remembers; How I personally connected through travel

Joseph M. Laufer

Three years ago I was appointed Official Burlington County Historian. When I designed my stationery I wanted to state what my job was all about – so there are four words across the top of my letterhead: Remembrance, Preservation, Memorialization, Celebration . I guess you can call it my mission statement. One aspect of that mission is to catalogue people, places and things that had an impact on our history according to themes. Along those lines I’ve been doing just that regarding our Military connections.

Interestingly, Burlington County was founded by conscientious objectors. Those original colonists were Quakers who landed in Burlington City in 1677 and 1678. Many of them were shunned or excommunicated for participating in the Revolutionary War. And like some of their shunned forefathers, Burlington County citizens have contributed to war efforts over the years, war after war -and have done a good job of remembering and memorializing those brave men and women who made the supreme sacrifice to maintain our freedoms – among them, the freedom to conscientiously object, which motivated our founding Quaker ancestors.

Let me just run down the list of major Military-Related sites in Burlington County:


Beverly National Cemetery, Bridgboro Rd. in Beverly

Began as one-acre plot in 1863; added to in 1936, 37, 48 and 51.

147 Union soldiers buried there – 10 of them unknown

Listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1997.

64.6 acres; 48,533 veterans


Brigadier General William C. Doyle Memorial Cemetery, Arneytown, North Hanover Township – on Province Line Road, which intersects Route 664, 537 and 528.

May 30th 1986 ( 20 years ago) Gov. Tom Kean: New Jersey’s first state-operated veteran’s memorial “Dedicated to those men and women who put their lives on the line to defend our country’s honor and freedom”.

225 acres; 154,000 veterans.

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Three cemeteries which honor Burlington County’s Black Civil War Heroes – one at Timbucktoo off Beverly-Rancocas Road on Church St., not far from the Mt. Holly bypass; one in Cinnaminson on (307) North Fork Landing Road and one on Pearl Street in Burlington City along the river. These latter two are graveyards of African Methodist Episcopal Churches.

Highways with special Military Names:

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A. County Route 537 - This “ Marne Highway” part of Burlington County Route 537 connects Moorestown with Mount Holly. The last great attack in World War I by three German Divisions in Battlefield sectors of the “Marne” in France was crushed during July and August, 1918. So named the “Marne” by local veteran posts to honor in this action the 109 th infantry regiment of the Pennsylvania National Guard, 28 th Division, the 30 th and 38 th Infantry regiment of the US 3 rd Division and a US Marine Brigade of the 2 nd Division.

As memorialized by General John J. Pershing: “In their deviotion, their valor and in the loyal fulfillment of their obligations, the officers and men of the American Expeditionary forces have left a heritage of which those who follow may ever be proud”.

B.County Route 541 from Burlington City to Westampton: American Legion Highway.

-Dedicated in 1921 to American War Veterans;

-Recently, re-dedicated after signs, which were removed in 1980’s were re-

installed on May 24, 2006 – last Wednesday – after almost 20 years.

C. County Route 543 – ( River Road – Front Street, Delran) St. Mihiel Drive – so named after The St. Mihiel Offensive of the 89 th Division - Sept. 12-16, 1918 in World War I under General John J. Pershing against the Germans. Memorable for being the first US Operation and Victory by an independent Americn Army.

D. County Route 630 – connecting Mt. Holly and Pemberton: Argonne Highway.

- Honors the gallantry of engaged American and Allied Forces between the Meuse River and Argonne Forest in France from Sept. 26, 1918 to Armistice Day, Nov. 11, 1918. The 78 th “Lightning” Division with NJ draftees and the 92 nd “Buffalo” Division of all black troops who trained at Camp Dix.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . .. "Ultimate Weapon" sculpture at Fort Dix

Fort Dix – Located in parts of New Hanover, Pemberton and Springfield Towsnhips.

Named for Major General John Adams Dix, a veteran of the War of 1812 and the Civil War. Construction began in June, 1917 as Camp Dix. After World War I it became a demobilization center then it became a training center for the CCC – Civilian Conservation Corps. It became Fort Dix in 1939. A mock Vietnam Village was constructed there and Vitenam-specific training took place there. A major transformation took place in 1988 – but its mission continues today. Two very special items at Ft. Dix stand out for me: “The Ultimate Weapon” monument – a symbol of the infantryman for more than 40 years. Begun in 1957 and completed 18 months later – the statue is located in Infantry Park – 14 feet tall, and weighs 300 pounds. It was actually recast in 1988 and re-dedicated in August of 1989 .

One of the best kept secrets in Burlington County is the Fort Dix Military Museum which not only provides a history of Camp Dix and Fort Dix, but is a museum of American Military History worthy of much more attention than it gets. It is located on Eighth Avenue on Fort Dix.

. . . . . . . . Life-size bronze sculpture of Thomas B. McGuire, Jr.

McGuire Air Force Base, located in parts of New Hanover and North Hanover Townships. It first opened as Rudd Field in 1937 as a single dirt-strip field that served a support role for Ft. Dix. During World War II it was expanded and reassigned to the Air Force in 1949. In January, 1948, it was named after Major Thomas B. McGuire, Jr., the second leading air ace in World War II before being killed in action in January, 1945. He had received the Distinguished Service Cross with 3 devices, two Silver Stars, six Distinguished Flying Crosses, three Purple Hearts and 15 Air Medals – all before he was 25. He was awarded the Medal of Honor posthumously.

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Memorial to Burlington County’s Unknown Soldiers of the Revolutionary War

A project of one man – Al Stephens of Monmouth Road, Springfield Township, it was erected in September, 1987 in the Upper Springfield Friends Burial Ground, behind the old Upper Springfield Quaker Meeting House at the end of Meeting House Road, not too far from the entrance to Ft. Dix off Route 68. The memorial reads: 1776-1783: Erected to the Memory of Revolutionary War Militiamen who gave their lives in local skirmishes with the British and Hessian forces and were placed in unmarked graves each known only to God.”

High School Memorials

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Of special interest to me are the recently erected memorials at each of our four Lenape Regional High Schools: Lenape, Shawnee, Cherokee and Seneca. Each day, over 7,000 young people in our local communities are reminded of the sacrifices of men and women – some who fought alongside many of you gathered here today -- as they pass the monuments at the main entrances to their schools. The inscription is inspiring” “When you go home, tell them of us and say: for your tomorrow, we gave our today”. Many of you gathered here today are responsible for this commendable project – both the idea and the raising of the funds to complete it and the ceremonial dedications which installed the monuments. The idea has caught on, as other schools in Burlington County are now taking up the idea and installing similar monuments. Our young people are the beneficiaries of this outstanding and thoughtful initiative.

I’ve always been fascinated by that inscription: “When you go home, tell them of us and say, for your tomorrow we gave life today” (or “our today”).

It is called the Kohima Epitaph – Kohima is the capital of Nagaland – and it was there that Allied Infantrymen repulsed the Japanese 15 th Army which had invaded India in March, 1944. The words are attributed to John Maxwell Edmonds (1875-1858), an English Classicist, who had put them together among a collection of 12 epitaphs for World War One in 1916. But it goes back even further than that. It is thought to have been inspired by the Greek lyric poet Simonides of Ceos (556-468 BC) who wrote after the Battle of Thermopylane in 480 BC: “Go tell the Spartans, thou that passest by, That faithful to their precepts here we lie.”

It is the opinion of many that the lines of that epitaph are some of the most moving lines ever written about veterans. They state very succinctly what it is that each veteran gave to his fellow citizens – namely, all of their tomorrows.

I would be remiss if I failed to mention a monument that will soon be visiting our area. I refer to THE MOVING WALL - a half-size replica of the Vietnam War Memorial which will be at Freedom Park, 86 Union Street, Medford from June 14 th through 19 th. It contains all 58,228 names – the same as the Wall in Washington, DC. It stirs the same emotions, as people come to identify names known to them. The Moving Wall will be open 24 hours per day. As I did when I visited the monument in Washington, I will touch the names of 4 individuals I taught at Canevin High School in Pittsburgh in the mid 1960s.

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In addition to all the major monuments I mentioned, each of the 40 communities in Burlington County has its own memorials to veterans and to those who gave their lives to preserve our freedom. Yesterday in Vincentown, we traveled to 4 specific places, as residents have done for 126 years in this community. And you have your memorial here – America truly remembers and it is up to us to make sure they continue remembering.

. . . Joe in Normandy 1984

I had the privilege of traveling to Normandy on two occasions – in 1984 during the 40 th Anniversary of D-Day, and in 1994, during the 50 th Anniversary. There is no way to describe the feeling of standing on the beaches – the beaches that some of you gathered here today fought on 62 years ago next week -- and walking the rows of Crosses and Stars of David in the American Cemetery overlooking Omaha Beach.

. . . . Joe at one of the markers on the "Road to Freedom"

In the town of Caen, as I walked through the U.S. Armed Forces Memorial Garden, I was touched by the inscription: “From the heart of our land flows the blood of our youth, given to you in the name of freedom”. I had the additional privilege 5 years ago in 2001 of following the “ Road to Freedom” from St. Mere Eglise to Bastogne – following the stone markers placed at each kilometer for a total of 1446 Kilometers along the route of the 3 rd Army by the grateful French people, and on through the Battle of the Bulge and ultimately to VE Day in May, 1945. And then last year, I finally made my way to Hawaii and the monument at Pearl Harbor. With all of those trips, I finally got to see for myself the places that define the “ greatest generation”.

. . . .2005: Joe & Penny at USS Arizona Memorial, Pearl Harbor

Do we remember? Will we remember? I return to the “commission” I received as County Historian: 4 words: Remembrance, Preservation, Memorialization, Celebration. Today we remember; we preserve our memories by creating museums that capture the memories of the past; the monuments we erect will help future generations remember; and at events like this, we celebrate the bravery, the sacrifices, the lives of those who gave so much that we might live in freedom.

Last Sunday in my church, as the recessional hymn we sang four verses of “ America the Beautiful” – the third verse struck me – and seems to me an appropriate way to close today:

O beautiful for heroes proved

In liberating strife.

Who more than self their country loved
And mercy more than life!. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

America! America! May God thy gold refine, Till all success be nobleness And every gain divine!

Thank you, veterans. And God Bless America

Speech delivered on Tuesday, May 30, 2006 at the Veteran's Memorial Day Ceremony in Laurel Hall, LeisureTowne, Southampton, NJ by Joseph M. Laufer.


© 2005 Burlington County Historian. All rights reserved.