Hess honors those who served with Soldiers Mural, Veterans Wall

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HAMILTON TOWNSHIP – As a tribute to the service of the men and women of the U.S. military, the faculty at the George L. Hess Educational Complex has designed and constructed a special area for veterans to be remembered and for students to learn.

The Soldiers Mural and Veterans Wall is an idea by Anthony Poretto, faculty member and retired U.S. Army ranger who has worked as a network specialist in the district for 12 years.  It was privately unveiled to the staff on Wednesday.

On Thursday, Nov. 11 the wall and mural, located in the main lobby, were revealed to the public and dedicated to the Hess School and Superintendent Michelle Cappelluti by Principal Jennifer Baldwin.

Poretto and Vice Principal David Neff decided to put together the special ceremony, which included the awarding of service medals to local veterans in honor of Veterans  Day.

“Once again, we wanted to do something different and special,” Neff explained.

While they had earned these honors years earlier, eight local veterans finally received awards for time spent serving their country during the Veterans Day ceremony at the Hess School. The veterans and their families were invited to school to talk about the importance of service and good character.

Neff said he was careful to not include violent history in the assembly or on the wall, which is meant to be educational to the elementary students. The lesson he wanted to promote was citizenship. Neff said Poretto had come to him with the idea of handing out the military honors to veterans that were never publicly awarded their medals.

“Anthony told me basically that there were people that were due military honors that never received the honors,” Neff said. “He got connected with a division of the military up in Trenton and they did a search for us. They found 10 people.”

Through the Department of Defense, Poretto and Neff were able to contact the Atlantic County veterans and invite them to the ceremony.

“It’s the first time we ever tried anything like this,” Neff said.

Last week, they traveled to Lawrenceville to pick up the certificates and medals for the presentation.

The presentations are usually done through the state government, but sometimes are not completed due to the state’s other responsibilities, Neff said.

“They have so many other things going on they tend to not do it,” he explained.

The awards were presented by retired Maj. Bill Schmitz of the U.S. Air Force.

Schmitz presented the Silver Star and the Bronze Star medals to Army Sgt. 1st Class Richard N. Wellington of Manahawkin.

Schmitz also received a Distinguished Service Medal.

U.S. Army Sgt. William J. Baron of Egg Harbor Township received the Korean Service Medal for his service during the Korean War; Sgt. Kenneth L. Cox of Salem received the Distinguished Service Medal for his time in Somalia; Spc. Daniel T. Fritz of Atlantic City received a Distinguished Service Medal and a Vietnam Service Medal for his service during the Vietnam War; Senior Airman Stephen W. Klotz Jr. of Mays Landing received the Distinguished Service Medal for his service in Operation Enduring Freedom; Col. Michael T. McBride of Egg Harbor Township received the Distinguished Service Medal and the Silver Oak Leaf Cluster for his service during Operation Iraqi Freedom; Master Sgt. Nicholas A. Raben of Mays Landing received the Distinguished Service Medal and Silver Oak Leaf Cluster for his service during Operation Iraqi Freedom; Airman 1st Class Ronald J. Welcer of Somers Point received the Meritorious Service Medal and Vietnam Service Medal for his service during the Vietnam War; and Petty Officer 3rd Class James J. Wherty Jr. of Ventnor received the Meritorious Service Medal and Vietnam Service Medal for his service during the Vietnam War.

Petty Officer 3rd Class James R. Lobue of Egg Harbor Township, who could not attend, will  receive the Distinguished Service Medal and Vietnam Service Medal for his service during the Vietnam War.

District employees also received special recognition at a ceremony later in the day for their military service. Included were Ken Morrison, Army; Bill Schmitz, Air Force; Anthony Poretto, Army; Michael Muldoon, Marines; Martha Jamison, Air Force; Joseph Rovanni, Army (posthumous); Jack Ingersoll III, Navy; and Jim Ryan, Coast Guard.

The mural, a life-size historical artwork created by local artist Marcos Monteiro, includes everything from women in the military to machines to battles, and is depicted in mostly black and white.

“That is a historical timeline of what this country’s done in regards to the military,” Neff said.

The mural also contains the portraits of various Mays Landing veterans. The history depicted on the wall is linked to a nearby HP TouchSmart computer donated by Poretto and his family.

“Hopefully the teachers would use this as part of their history lessons,” Neff said.

Poretto and Neff first discussed the mural about three years ago, but plans didn’t come to fruition until this year when Poretto connected with Cliff Melder, community education director for the Hamilton Township School District.

“Between him (Poretto), Cliff and Marcos, they fine-tuned it,” Neff said.

Monteiro has been working on the Soldiers Mural for about a month. It measures roughly 9 feet long by 7 feet wide.

Adjacent to the mural is the Veterans Wall featuring 3-by-5-inch plaques of veterans related to district staff members. Of the more than 140 staff members, Neff and Poretto were able to compile between 50 and 75 portraits and stories for the wall.

“We were kind of shocked to find out there were so many,” Neff said.

This exhibit also features a digital connection to the same computer where, by clicking on pictures of the veterans, biographies will appear.

“We started with the photos in September,” Neff explained. “That was all done through me and my office. A carpenter, a staff members’ husband, made the wood plaques. An art teacher painted the U.S. emblem. Everybody sort of pitched in that had an interest in doing so.

“So many people are involved that you don’t even realize until you do a project like this,” Neff said.

According to Neff, Baldwin was able to secure funding for the project through a mixture of donations and district money. All the electrical wiring and mounting was done in-house.

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