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    Solemn Ceremony Marks Memorial Day in New Brunswick, Highland Park

    By Chuck O'Donnell,

    26 days ago

    Monday's annual Memorial Day event concluded with Mayor Elsie Foster and Air Force chaplain Lt. Colonel Louis A. Mattina laying a wreath at the base of the Doughboy Statue.

    Credits: Chuck O'Donnell

    NEW BRUNSWICK and HIGHLAND PARK – The sick, the homesick and the lovesick – they and others have often sought the help of Air Force chaplain Lt. Colonel Louis A. Mattina.

    The men and women of Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst, and those he has counseled during one of his many oversea deployments, come to Mattina because they know they are entering a safe haven in which they can share their problems and sometimes shed their pain.


    “In general, those who seek the counseling of a chaplain, it’s to help them stay in the fight,” he said. “To keep them emotionally fit, spiritually fit, physically fit, mentally, psychologically fit. So, we just provide guidance on any number of issues.

    “Life happens. People get sick, parents die, the hot water heater blows up, a child is in some sort of traffic accident – whatever it may be. That weighs on the members and you try to help them manage it,” added Mattina, who was ordained a Roman Catholic priest in 1995 by the Diocese of Metuchen.

    Mattina served as grand marshal as the city and the borough commemorated Memorial Day on Monday with their annual solemn ceremonies and parade.

    The event began with a rendition of the national anthem as performed by the New Brunswick High School chorus before moving across the Albany Street Bridge and into Highland Park.


    Mayors Jim Cahill and Elsie Foster, Rep. Frank Pallone Jr. (D-17), Middlesex County Commissioner Claribel Azcona-Barber and others walked the parade route while townspeople waved American flags and cheered on the New Brunswick High School ROTC. Because of the threat of rain, the New Brunswick High School Marching Band played out the windows of a school bus that crept along the route.

    Mattina’s presence was a reminder that although Memorial Day is set aside to honor those who made the ultimate sacrifice for their country, many other soldiers and sailors who sacrificed their mental and psychological health paid a heavy toll.

    According to the United States Department of Veterans Affairs, more than 1.7 million veterans received treatment in a veterans affairs mental health specialty program in 2018.

    According to a 2023 report from the Veterans Affairs Office of Mental Health and Suicide Prevention, 6,392 veterans died by suicide – 114 more than in 2020.

    Caring about and for those who have literally fought for our liberty is at the essence of Monday’s ceremony, Cahill said.

    “Each fallen member of our military forces was a beloved individual, mourned by family and friends, and their loss felt deeply within their communities and across our nation,” Cahill said.

    The legacy of service for chaplains such as Mattina, who are on the front line of military mental health, stretches back generations.

    Mattina recalled the story of the Four Chaplains who died rescuing civilian and military personnel as the American troop ship SS Dorchester sank after being torpedoed by a German U-boat on Feb. 3, 1943.

    Chaos ensued when the Greenland-bound ship lost electrical power, but Methodist minister the Reverend George L. Fox, Reform Rabbi Alexander D. Goode, Catholic priest Father John P. Washington and Reformed Church in America minister the Reverend Clark V. Poling organized the boarding of lifeboats.

    They also removed their own life vests and handed them to others.

    “The chaplains joined arms, said prayers, sang hymns as they went down with the ship,” Mattina said.

    The annual Memorial Day event in New Brunswick was organized through the Department of Human and Community Services in collaboration with the New Veterans Alliance of Raritan Valley.

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