Meet the group behind the Freedom Park memorial, recent recipients of the Pine Barrens Volunteer Awards

Burlington County War Monument Committee was honored for this year’s Pine Barrens Festival Volunteer Service Awards for Medford Township.  

 

(From left to right) Mayor Charles Watson, Councilwoman Lauren Kochan, Committee Chairman Michael Panarella, Randy Maute, Richard Bucko, Cliff Toye, Sean Holland and Ed Holland pose for a picture after receiving the festival’s award.

The Burlington County War Monument Committee was honored at this year’s Pine Barrens Festival Volunteer Service Awards for Medford Township.  

Every year, the festival honors an individual or group from each of the Pinelands’ five towns; Medford, Southampton, Woodland, Shamong and Tabernacle. 

The committee was honored for its fundraising, purchase, and installation of four war monuments and the Battlefield Cross at Freedom Park. 

“The existing monuments, along with these new ones and the reconfigured area that included relocating the existing flags and adding flags of the five branches of the military, make this an amazing place to reflect and be thankful for those that made the ultimate sacrifice,” said Mayor Charles Watson.

The Burlington County War Memorial Committee has worked with the township for two years to expand the war memorials in Freedom Park. On Veterans Day in 2018, the town dedicated a World War I monument, and on the most recent Memorial Day, the town dedicated monuments for World War II, the Korean War and a Battlefield Cross. 

When Medford Council discussed whom it would honor for the award, there was no question the committee deserved the honor and was unanimously chosen, according to Watson.

The World War II memorial, which is dedicated to residents from Burlington County who served in the war, features an image of a helmet in the sand and was selected because it is symbolic of the beachheads that were stormed by U.S. troops in both Europe and the Pacific, according to Burlington County War Memorial Committee member Mike Panarella. 

When Panarella was in Washington, D.C., several years ago, he had a talk with a mother from Burlington County who lost her son in the 1983 Beirut barracks bombing. She talked with Panarella about how there weren’t any county memorials dedicated to soldiers after the Vietnam War. 

That sparked the committee’s first fundraiser to put the names of soldiers killed after the Vietnam War on the wall in Freedom Park. 

Since then, a few memorials and dedications later, the committee raised $25,000 for the most recent Korean War, World War II and the Battlefield Cross memorials at Freedom Park. 

In May, the committee added the names of Medford Lakes soldier Nicholas P. DiMona III, 20, who died in a training accident, and his father Nicholas P. DiMona II, who died in a helicopter crash during military training, to the memorial wall. 

“There are so many people that put in all these hours for no personal gain, just for the satisfaction of doing the work. It is just an honor to be part of it all,” said Panarella. 

For more information on the group, visit the Burlington County War Monument Committee Facebook page.