2014 VETERAN’S DAY REMARKS
BY J. MARK MUTTER
We’re here to remember not the greatest generation, but the greatest generations – not just the World War Two greatest generation, which we’ll recognize first, but later generations, too - those who fought in Korea, Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan.
Of the World War Two generation – what was Toms River like back then? Who were the men from here who went off and fought?
Some of them are here with us today - men like Mr. Hirshblond who served in the Navy, in the Atlantic on a destroyer.
TOMS RIVER & WORLD WAR TWO
Toms River was a small, bustling village. The 1940 Census on the eve of our entry into the war was just over 5,000 people (today it is 91,000).
The war changed the world; it changed Toms River, too.
Right across the street from here was the Toms River Service Center - a USO-type facility run by area churches, the Jewish Farmers Association and the local Masonic Lodge. It provided rest and comfort to thousands of GI’s and Navy personnel on leave, many of them from down the road
stationed at Lakehurst.
The Center located in the “Professional Building” on Washington Street, gave out candy, cigarettes, fruit and soda pop. There were books and newspapers, and Christmas and post cards, and writing materials were given out free of charge. There was a pool table, a shuffle board and a new electric “music box”. There were dances, socials and holiday events. And there were rules – strict rules. According to the “House Rules”: No gambling. No profanity. No liquor. And No girls admitted without an escort.
Two blocks away, Toms River High School – now South – formed a War Stamp Club and before the war was over, 7 separate War Loan drives had been organized, raising thousands of dollars for the war effort.
Next door, the then Bishop Library, our Township Library – now part of the County Library – was headquarters of our local war rationing effort. It was the drop off spot for much needed war materials – tires, cans and metals.
TOMS RIVER’S LOCAL HEROES
These are of things and places here in Toms River. But what of our people? The local men - some of them just teenagers – who in Lincoln’s words, gave the “ultimate sacrifice”. They are long gone, but they are still here with us, today.
Simple, white monuments across the street from here, dot the Court House lawn and mark their sacrifice.
There was Edward Butow, Toms River High School Class of 1943, U.S. Army, killed in action just two years later by a mortar shell in house–to-house fighting in Germany.
Gene Denniger, Class of ’24, killed in North Africa, in 1943.
Ed Godfrey, Class of ’39, U.S. Navy, was killed when his submarine, the USS S-44, was destroyed in 1943.
Calvin Johnson, Class of ’43 -killed in Germany–several weeks before V-E Day in 1945.
Arnold Marsh, Class of ’40, who lived on Walton Street, was killed on Iwo Jima in 1944.
Harry Pomeroy, U.S. Army, was killed in the Philippines in 1945. Mortally wounded, he kept to his machine gun on a landing craft on Biri Island, against Japanese mortar fire.
As the war went on, August, 1945 saw the last boy from Ocean County to die during the war. William Ziemer was a 1938 graduate from Toms River High School and enlisted in the Navy Reserve Air Corps in 1941. He served as a fighter pilot aboard the carrier USS Intrepid and was shot down in the Pacific in 1944. After eluding capture, he was eventually found by an enemy patrol and was sent to a Japanese prisoner-of-war camp where he spent six months in solitary confinement. He was subjected to regular beatings and received no medical treatment.
Bill Ziemer died in captivity on August 2, 1945, just one month before the Japanese surrender on the USS Missouri, the last boy in Ocean County to die in uniform during the Second World War. While men and women were far away defending our way of life, the Service Center remained busy at home.
Private organizations made pledges of $3 or $5 or $10 per month-whatever they could afford-in support of the war effort. As their records reveal, it was only an afterthought to approach the then Dover Township Committee for a donation of public monies as well.
A FIVE YEAR OLD GIRL
The story of one little Toms River girl and her donation tells the whole story of the Service Center. Her name was Sheila Browne, a five year old girl, who gave her birthday candy to the servicemen at the Center as her contribution to the war effort. In a thank you letter to Sheila, the Center’s secretary wrote: “It is a very nice way to show that you, even though just a little miss, think of others…It is not always the size of the gift, but the motive back of the giver that counts.” The letter is dated August 23, 1943 - the height of the group’s activities.
THE TRUE SPIRIT OF TOMS RIVER
Whoever would understand in his heart the true spirit of our town will see it in the Service Center, The War Stamp Club, the library as a war rationing headquarters --and in the lives of heroes like Bill Ziemer and his fellow Toms River graduates who died for us, and in a little girl named Sheila Browne, who lived for us.
It is a story of a town that is hopeful, big hearted, idealistic. It is daring decent and fair.
It is the Toms River story in the middle of a war story. It is our story.