This year’s Memorial Day Tribute at Delaware Valley High School in Frenchtown, N.J., was literally monumental, thanks to the work of Eagle Scout candidate Liam Kephart.
His monument honoring the military service of all Delaware Valley High School alumni was dedicated on May 23, with scores of local veterans attending. Situated at the main driveway onto campus, it consists of five flag poles and flags – one for each branch of the military service, sheet-steel silhouettes of a soldier carrying a wounded comrade and a soldier’s grave marker of a rifle and helmet, and a boulder with a plaque, all set off by white gravel, shrubs and lights.
Kephart is a sophomore from Holland Township, N.J., who hopes to attend West Point.
The school’s early observance of Memorial Day began with breakfast in the cafeteria to which all local veterans were invited. Next came speeches in the auditorium. The keynote speaker was Chris Kelk, Del Val Class of 2005. He outlined his service in the Marine Corps, much of which was spent protecting the president at the White House and on trips abroad.
He reminded the students and faculty in the audience that Memorial Day “is an extremely somber day for veterans, as they reflect on losing their brother- or sister-in-arms. Although I have lost many military friends, most to combat and some to veteran suicide, the one that hit hardest for me was Corp. Derek Wyatt.”
Wyatt and Kelk served together in Washington. After Wyatt was sent to Afghanistan, he was killed by a sniper’s bullet the day before his son was born.
When Kephart got his turn at the microphone, he explained that he got the idea for the monument while in the Hutch Gym. That’s where Del Val’s top athletes are given well-deserved recognition on the walls. So he resolved to find a way to salute the Del Val alumni who put their lives on the line for our country by serving in the armed forces.
Sentiments appropriate to the occasion were also offered by Superintendent Daria Wasserbach, Principal Adrienne Olcott, Assemblyman Erik Peterson, state Sen. Michael Doherty and Freeholders Suzanne Lagay and Susan Soloway. T.J. Hayden’s musicians played patriotic music, including a medley of songs for the various branches of service, with veterans invited to stand when their tune was played.
For security reasons, most of the students remained in the auditorium to watch the rest of the ceremony live-streamed on the screen. As veterans left the building, Jim Kluska’s history students lined the front walk, thanking them for their service.
Led by a color guard and members of the Milford VFW and the Frenchtown American Legion, veterans and dignitaries went to Liam’s installation, where he unwrapped the steel cutouts, explaining their significance.
The service flags were raised by veterans and the Del Val students who are soon to begin military service. They are Colin Pursell, Air Force; Kyle Soper, Air National Guard in Texas; Paul Riegel, Army; Alex St. Clair, Samantha Hansen and Dylan Raike, Navy; Cricket Borrero, Massachusetts National Guard; Gianna Cascio, and U.S. Coast Guard Academy. Student James Heid played Taps, and a state police helicopter flew over.
Photographs by Rick Epstein