Cherry Hill Public Library unveils its Veterans Wall of Honor

Photo memorial honors locals who served America proudly in armed forces

Cherry Hill Township councilwoman and Gold Star mother Melinda Kane, Col. Nelson L. Mellitz, USAF Retired, and Cherry Hill Public Library Adult Services Librarian Claire Schmieder stand in front of the Veterans Wall of Honor on Nov. 18.

By BOB HERPEN

The Sun

On Sunday, Nov. 18, one week following the traditional Veterans Day celebration and the 100th anniversary of the armistice that ended World War I, Cherry Hill Public Library officially unveiled its Veterans Wall of Honor. The display is a photo memorial that honors all veterans from Cherry Hill (or Delaware) Township, living and deceased, for their service to America.

In late July, the library posted a call for submissions to create a veterans memorial. Veterans, active members and family and friends of military members — alive or passed — were asked to submit 5-by-7 photos and information about their branch, rank and other details describing their military service.

According to adult services librarian Claire Schmieder, who took on the bulk of responsibility in organizing and compiling information related to the veterans, “I expected about 125 submissions at the start, and as of now, I’ve gotten over 250.”

Eligibility for inclusion to be placed on the wall was limited to any Cherry Hill (previously Delaware Township) veteran past or present, those who were on current or prior active duty, as well as those who served in the Reserves or National Guard of any state.

All of the photos placed on the honor wall have been arranged in chronological order, from top to bottom, ending with photos of more recent or present military members.

The wall will be a temporary focal point at the library, and available for public viewing for six months — approximately the same amount of time between Veterans Day and Memorial Day.

“After the six months, we’re going to take the photos off the wall, and then the intake forms people sent actually had a lot more information than we could fit on the name tags on the photos. So we’re going to take all that, along with the photos, and put it into a book, have it bound and it will become part of the (library’s) collection.”

Schmieder expected the book to be out late next summer, not in time for Memorial Day services but well ahead of both Labor Day and Veterans Day.

During opening remarks by Cherry Hill Mayor Chuck Cahn and Col. Nelson L. Mellitz, USAF retired, veterans from as far back as World War II up to the current military actions in Iraq and Afghanistan were asked to stand and be counted among a crowd that was estimated to be well over 500 people.

While the project to fill the wall with enough pictures of servicemen and women from the township was the primary goal, there was an acknowledgement from all who attended that preserving the memories of World War II veterans was at the forefront. Members of the “Greatest Generation” are passing away in greater numbers due to age and will likely disappear completely within the next 10 years, like those who served in World War I.

Richard Bell, a local photographer who had work from his book, “The Last Veteran,” displayed in a gallery adjacent to the wall, added, “I was impressed in the 1950s as a young boy, seeing pictures of Civil War veterans, and it stuck in my mind. It was hard to believe, some of these guys lived to be 100 years old.”

As for Mellitz, the impact of the six-year, world-wide conflict that came to define the 20th century didn’t really hit home until he decided to serve his country, beginning in 1970.

“World War II was when my father served. I had six uncles and one aunt who served in the military, and one uncle was killed at the Battle of the Bulge. I really didn’t understand what that meant until I went to enlist in the Air Force, and then my father would tell me about how he missed his brother,” said Mellitz, who is also member of Jewish War Veterans Post 126.

“I walked in here, and saw all the people looking for photos of their relatives, and it made me really emotional, because they are not forgotten. What other time of the year do you actually look for a veteran or military member? These pictures are inspirational.”

For Cherry Hill Township Councilwoman Melinda Kane, whose husband served as an Army doctor in peacetime and whose son served in the Middle East with the Marines, the wall’s unveiling brought back a flood of memories.

“(My father) always talked about his being a bartender at the officers club, but he never talked about being a Marine in the Pacific. And when he talked about signing his discharge papers, it showed all the battles he was in, but he never spoke of it. I think about all these pictures, about all the conversations that have gone on at the kitchen table now. There are pictures and stories to go with the faces. Their legacy continues,” she said.

Kane’s son, Lance Cpl. Jeremy Kane, was killed in Afghanistan in 2010, after only a couple months of being deployed, and a park dedicated to his memory is located at the corner of Queen Anne Road and Brian Drive. She proudly wore both her husband’s and son’s dog tags to remind her of their sacrifice and the unbroken bonds of family.

“The veterans were incredibly responsive to this, but more so their families. The applications continue to come in, so we know it was well received. As you heard today, they would like it to continue, they would like it to become permanent. We were just so happy to embrace them,” added public relations and marketing coordinator for the library, Suzanne Fox.