‘Tears of the surviving spouses’ fall on the Burlington County Memorial Day Ceremony

Despite the heavy downpour on Tuesday, May 30, Burlington County residents gathered at Veterans Memorial Park in Burlington Township to pay tribute to those who paid the ultimate sacrifice for freedom.

The VA #899 Bordentown Honor Guard stands at attention during the Memorial Day Ceremony at Veteran’s Memorial Park in Burlington Township on Tuesday, May 30. From left: John Lesko, Ron Hathaway (holding American Flag), Louie Kocsis (holding POW flag) and Don Mohr.

As the ninth annual Burlington County Memorial Day Ceremony got underway on Tuesday, May 30, rain engulfed the men and women gathered to pay homage to those who lost their lives in service to their country. For Master Sgt. Sonya Bulluck of the U.S. Air Force, who laid the wreaths at Veterans Memorial Park in Burlington Township in the midst of the tempest, the rain symbolized the meaning of Memorial Day.

“The rain — those were the tears of the surviving spouses and the veterans who have passed through — just to give homage, to say thanks,” Bulluck said.

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Walt Tafe, Burlington County Veterans Service officer and retired U.S. Air Force master sergeant, said the county began holding the ceremony on Memorial Day, May 30, nine years ago as a reminder that it isn’t just a holiday weekend but a sacred day of remembrance.

Those in attendance at the Tuesday morning ceremony huddled under tents to try to stay dry as the rain and wind surged. The ceremony, sponsored by the Board of Chosen Freeholders and the County Veterans Service Office, included a rifle salute from the Vietnam Veterans of America Chapter 899 Bordentown Honor Guard, a presentation of wreaths from representatives of towns and veterans’ associations through the county and remarks from several county freeholders.

Freeholder Director Bruce Garganio said Memorial Day serves as a solemn opportunity to come together as a community to honor the women and men who sacrifice their lives in service to the United States.

“I know I speak for the entire freeholder board and all of you when I say that we are so fortunate that Burlington County is home to so many brave men and women who have proudly worn the uniform of our nation’s military branches and have fought for our freedom and democracy,” Garganio said.

During his keynote address, Freeholder and Naval Lt. Cmdr. Ryan Peters said Memorial Day is one of three major military holidays. He said Armed Forces Day recognizes those currently serving, Veterans Day recognizes those who have served, and Memorial Day honors those who have paid the ultimate sacrifice.

“All three of those groups have one thing in common: At some point, we signed a check payable to the United States government in the amount up to and including our life, and on Memorial Day, we recognize those who had that check cashed in full,” Peters said.

Following his address, Peters shielded wreath presenters from the rain, escorting each group to Bulluck under his umbrella. Bulluck braved the rain undeterred and without cover as she saluted representatives from throughout Burlington County before carefully placing their wreaths around Memorial Park.

Palmyra Mayor Michelle Arnold presented a wreath on behalf of the borough. She said she felt it was her responsibility to attend the county ceremony on behalf of the borough, and for her, the ceremony underscored the true meaning of Memorial Day.

“You just kind of take a moment to reflect on all of the things we take for granted almost every day and the price people paid for those freedoms,” Arnold said.

Arnold said she was amazed by the number of people in attendance who were there despite the weather.

Mayor of Palmyra Michelle Arnold presents a wreath on behalf of the borough of Palmyra at the 9th Annual Burlington County Memorial Day Ceremony at Veterans Memorial Park in Burlington Township on Tuesday, May 30. Arnold (in red) was accompanied by Keynote speaker Lieutenant Commander Ryan Peters, a Burlington County Freeholder and Navy Seal.

Bobbi Horowitz-Rigg, county commander of the American Legion of Burlington County, said the men and women who fought for freedom did so in the rain and elements, and she thought so many people came to the ceremony even in the rain because they knew that.

“We come out for Memorial Day to show our brothers and sisters that we still remember, and we will always remember,” Horowitz-Rigg said. “And, they will always be part of us.”

Burlington Township Mayor Brian Carlin said in the years he’s served in government, having Burlington Township host the county Memorial Day ceremony is something he’s come to treasure.

“It’s the one time of the year that we take the time on the real Memorial Day to come out and recognize those people who’ve served and paid the ultimate sacrifice,” Carlin said.

Bulluck said for her, participating in the county Memorial Day ceremony hits home. She said to her, the ceremony is for her father who served three tours in Vietnam, her cousin who died in Vietnam and all the veterans who have come into the Burlington County Veterans Service Office.

“It’s just an honor,” Bulluck said with a tearful smile in her soaked Air Force blues.

Master Sergeant Sonya Bulluck of the United States Air Force stands resolute after placing the wreaths honoring the deceased men and women who died serving their country. Bulluck placed the wreaths at Burlington Township’s Veterans Memorial Park despite the heavy downpour on Tuesday, May 30.
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