Memorial Day evokes different feelings in all of us. For many, it is the unofficial beginning of summer. For others, it is a day for barbecues, picnics and parades. For all, it should be a day to honor those Americans who gave their lives for our country. For me, Memorial Day holds a memory I have shared in this column before and I feel the need to share yet again.
Larry Virgilio was my friend. He lived down the street in the Fairview section of Camden where I grew up. Even though he was older than me and most of my other friends, he always seemed to find time for us. He was usually the “steady quarterback” in our football games on the Yorkship Schoolyard.
I was only eight years old. My mind was focused on playing ball, riding bikes and watching cartoons. The Vietnam War was not a concept I could comprehend. When Larry left to fight for our country in Vietnam, I assumed he would be home soon.
In the summer of 1967, like all other summers growing up, my family rented a home for a week in Wildwood. Some of my most vivid childhood memories occurred in Wildwood, most of them fond. But one vacation morning, I walked into the kitchen to find my Mom and Dad sitting at the table, tears falling from my Mother’s eyes with a newspaper in her hand. She told me that my friend, Larry, had been killed in Vietnam at the tender age of 25.
Suddenly, the concept of war took on a whole new meaning.
In 1988, I made my first visit to the National Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C. Seeing “The Wall” for the first time was quite an emotional experience. Some visitors knelt in prayer, some left tokens of remembrance, while others sketched the names of their loved ones onto a piece of paper. I walked slowly along the Memorial and, on Panel 23E Line 117, the name “Lawrence J. Virgilio” was etched into the black granite. Though only .53 inches in height, the letters spoke volumes.
I sketched my friend’s name on a small piece of paper and mailed it to his family. I included a note assuring them that Larry was still in my thoughts and that I was honored to be the friend of a true hero.
Larry’s late brother, Nick Virgilio, was a world-renowned Haiku poet. Following Larry’s death, Nick dedicated much of his poetry to the memory of Larry and other fallen heroes:
the shadow of the bugler slips into the grave”
“my gold star mother
and father hold each other and the folded flag”
Honor our fallen heroes by enjoying the barbecues, parades and picnics. Honor them by embracing your family. Honor them by cherishing your freedom. They would have wanted it that way.
**Steered Straight founder Michael DeLeon will be presenting a parent and child program at the Voorhees Middle School on Wed., May 23, from 6:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. The event is focused on educating parents and their children on making good choices and understanding the consequences of negative choices including marijuana, vaping and drug abuse.
**The Annual Kirkwood Memorial Day Parade will begin at 11 a.m. at the Carriage House Restaurant and end at the war memorial on Burnt Mill Road adjacent to the Kirkwood Fire Station. There will be a memorial ceremony at 11:30 a.m. with refreshments following. Special thanks to Terri and Vaughn Vandegrift for their help in organizing and sponsoring this community tradition. Join us in honoring those who gave the ultimate sacrifice for our freedom.
**On Saturday, June 3, the Voorhees Arts Council is presenting its quarterly youth program, “Wild Animals and Photography.” The event will educate children about photographing wild animals (and pets) with phones and cameras while learning how to protect wild animals with photography. Local nature photographer Marianne Leone will share photos of lemurs from Madagascar and wolves in Yellowstone, along with animals from the Philadelphia Zoo. The event is free to Voorhees residents with a suggested $5 donation for others. This youth event is from 10 a.m. to noon in the rear of the Voorhees Town Center food court.
** The Camden County Board of Elections controls voting locations in Voorhees Township and throughout the county. Several polling places will be changing beginning in the upcoming Primary Election on June 5. The voting locations that will be in effect can be viewed at the Voorhees Township website www.voorheesnj.com. If you have any questions about your polling place or voter registration information, contact our Municipal Clerk at 856-429-7757 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.