The New Jersey Chamber of Commerce's Liberty Gala Oct. 26 commemorated the 100th anniversary of Fort Dix, and celebrated military heroes of New Jersey dating back to the nation's birth.
Among those honored were Vietnam War veteran Col. (Ret.) Jack Jacobs, a Medal of Honor recipient, one of the most decorated soldiers of his generation and currently a military affairs analyst for NBC.
Also attending was Sgt. Archie Fagan, a World War II veteran who fought in the Battle of the Bulge, helped liberate Dachau concentration camp and attended the Nuremberg Trials.
The N.J. Chamber presented honorees with crystal sculptures. "I accept this award on behalf of the men and women of the military defending us, as we speak, and who are out there so we can enjoy freedom," said Jacobs, who grew up in Woodbridge and now lives in Far Hills.
Fagan, who served throughout the European theater in World War II and who at age 92, works at ShopRite of Flemington as a greeter, was the first honoree and summed up the evening: "I thank you very much for having me, but again I say, I love my country. I'm just a survivor that was lucky enough to be here tonight to meet all these wonderful people. And I can only say God bless America and may it be here forever and ever." That garnered the first of the many standing ovations of the evening.
Overall, more than 400 packed the Park Chateau Estate in East Brunswick for the Liberty Gala to recognize New Jersey's military heroes past and present - from enlisted personnel to some of the nation's most celebrated commanders. In fact, according to a long-time worker at the Joint Base, the Gala generated the largest turnout of in-uniform military personnel he had ever seen.
George Cleveland, the great grandson of President Grover Cleveland, the only New Jersey native (born in Caldwell) to serve as President and Commander in Chief, was on hand to accept an award on behalf of his grandfather.
Kim Van Note, the niece of John Basilone, the World War II gunnery sergeant, was on hand to accept the award on behalf of her uncle. Basilone, who grew up in Raritan was awarded the Medal of Honor for having served valiantly in the battle of Guadalcanal. He was killed on Iwo Jima during his second tour of duty, after he insisted on rejoining his combat unit.
Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst's Economic Impact on New Jersey
The Gala recognized the crucial role that Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst plays in protecting our national interests, supporting humanitarian relief efforts and serving as an economic engine for New Jersey.
Joint Base MDL, forged in 2009 when three bases merged (the Air Force's McGuire Air Base, the Army's Fort Dix, and the Navy's Lakehurst Naval Air Base), is the second largest employer in New Jersey, annually pumping about $7 billion into our state economy - equivalent to a Fortune 500 company.
"We need to remember these facts each time we hear that Washington D.C. is pondering another round of military base closures or consolidations," said N.J. Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Tom Bracken. "We need to be ready to stand up for the Joint Base and the men and women who serve there."
Fort Dix's Centennial
Fort Dix, which turns 100 this year, is one of the most iconic military installations in the nation, having served as the embarkation point for millions of soldiers heading to war and their gateway back home.
It opened as Camp Dix in 1917, a training and staging ground for soldiers headed to Europe to fight in World War I. The camp officially became "Fort Dix" in 1939.
Thank you to our premier sponsors Prudential and PSEG.
For photos from the event, click on an image below: