Ground broken on veterans cemetery

Vernon resident initiated quest for project in Sparta


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  • Photo by Chris Wyman Second from left, Vernon Township Vietnam War veteran John Harrigan is shown breaking ground at the new veteran’s cemetery on Route 94 in Sparta. At the far left is Vernon resident Vernoy Paolini, the President of the Northern New Jersey Veterans Memorial Cemetery.




  • Photo by Chris Wyman At right, Vernon Township Vietnam War veteran John Harrigan is shown during the groundbreaking ceremonies at the new veteranís cemetery on Route 94 in Sparta.




  • Photo by Chris Wyman Vernon resident Jennifer Behnke sings the Star Spangled Banner at the beginning of the groundbreaking ceremonies.




  • Photo by Chris Wyman Freeholder Director Rich Vohden speaks of Vernon Township Vietnam War veteran John Harriganís dedication to the establishment of the veteranís cemetery. Harrigan is seated at the far right.



If a veteran mentions to Vernon Township resident John Harrigan they're having a hard time paying for medical care or prescriptions, they made a friend. The Vietnam War veteran won't hesitate to tell a fellow vet where he lives and to call for a lift to the V.A. medical facility in Port Jervis, N.Y., when they are ready to register for help.

But Harrigan’s caring concern for veterans in distress extends far beyond the living to those who no longer have a need to visit a doctor, or dentist, or pharmacy. His nearly six years of unrelenting efforts to find suitable resting places for his brothers in arms culminated in the groundbreaking of the Northern New Jersey Veterans Memorial Cemetery last Saturday.

As cars and trucks continued to buzz by on busy Route 94, about 200 veterans and cemetery supporters shared what was both a solemn and joyous event that began with the Pledge of Alliance and the singing of the nation anthem by Vernon resident and soprano Jennifer Behnke.

With only about one in five members of Congress having served in the military, Vietnam War veteran U.S. Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen praised Harrigan for what the Congressman described as a “huge effort.”

Other speakers included another Vietnam veteran, Freeholder Director Rich Vohden and County Clerk Jeff Parrott, who served on the freeholder board when Harrigan first approached the county seeking support for the idea of a local cemetery for those who served their country.

The real estate transfer for the 66-acre Sussex County-owned parcel occurred earlier in the week. If construction goes smoothly from this point forward, officials expect the new cemetery should to accept its first veterans in the fall. The cemetery is located on North Church Road (Route 94), south of the county vocational and technical high school on the corner of White Lake Road in Sparta. The project was approved by the New Jersey Cemetery Board in January. When opened, the veterans’ cemetery will be the first in the state to be operated as a nonprofit.

Gov. Chris Christie recently signed into law bipartisan legislation, sponsored by state Sens. Steven Oroho and Paul Sarlo to allow charitable contributions for the development of northern New Jersey's first veteran's cemetery.

The measure gives taxpayers the option on their tax return to contribute a portion of their tax refund to support the development and operation of the Northern New Jersey Veterans Memorial Cemetery. The planned 66-acre parcel in Sussex County would be the first cemetery dedicated to veterans in the northern part of the state.

New Jersey’s only state-run cemetery for veterans is the Brigadier General William C. Doyle Cemetery in Burlington County, a more than two-hour drive from some northern parts of the state. There are approximately 100,000 veterans living in the state’s northernmost counties, according to the latest data from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.


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