Msgr. James Innocenzi, diocesan judicial vicar, blesses a wreath honoring veterans. Rich Hundley photo
Msgr. James Innocenzi, diocesan judicial vicar, blesses a wreath honoring veterans. Rich Hundley photo

Knights of Columbus member Don Povia believes those in the Armed Forces should be honored for many reasons, especially their willingness to put aside their family lives and put their country first.

“They should always be remembered for how they served and why they served,” Povia said during a Veterans Day service Nov. 11 in Hamilton.

Members of the Bishop Griffin and Bishop Ahr Assemblies of the Knights of Columbus participate in several events throughout the year in which they support and remember the men and women of the Armed Forces. A Flag Day ceremony that’s held June 14 in Veterans Park in Hamilton and visiting the residents living in the NJ Veterans Memorial Home in Menlo Park are two such events.

Photo Gallery: KOC Veterans Day Service

So when the idea was posed for the Knights to recognize Veterans Day this year, the members – encouraged by Msgr. James Innocenzi, diocesan judicial vicar and faithful friar of the Bishop Griffin Assembly – decided to hold a first-ever ceremony on the grounds of St. Mary Cemetery and Mausoleum in Hamilton.

“These are people who were willing to die for what this country believes in,” said Povia, a 10-year member of the Trenton Council.

Due to rain, the Nov. 11 ceremony was held indoors in Building A of St. Mary Mausoleum and included an opening greeting by Jeff Bourne, Bishop Griffin Assembly’s past faithful navigator; a prayer led by Msgr. Innocenzi; the recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance and a moving reading on the “True Meaning of Veterans Day” by Tom Ponting, New Jersey State Veterans chairman for the Knights of Columbus and member of the Lawrence Council in Lawrenceville. In his reading, Ponting gave a brief historical overview on the establishment of what was once known as Armistice Day  in 1919; how it had been declared as an official holiday in 1938 and when it changed from Armistice Day to Veterans Day in 1954.

After Msgr. Innocenzi blessed a floral wreath that was bedecked with a red, white and blue ribbon, the ceremony briefly moved outdoors, where the wreath was placed near a flagpole as bugler Dennis Ionata played “Taps.” The gathering then joined in singing “God Bless America.”

Though John Flanagan of the Ewing Council never served in the Armed Forces, it was important for him to attend the ceremony out of respect for family members, including his brother and uncles, who did.

“Today is an opportunity for me to honor them,” he said.

Ben Gioe, a Knight in the Trenton Council since 1974, served in the Air Force during the Vietnam War. For him, the ceremony was also a time to remember his family members who fought in World War II.

Gioe said he is saddened that sometimes “not enough attention” is given to veterans, then followed with a gentle reminder that “we wouldn’t be here today” if it weren’t for those who previously served and even sacrificed their lives.

Vito Pulito, current faithful navigator of the Bishop Griffin Assembly, was grateful that the first Veterans Day ceremony was a success, and he hopes it will be “one of many more to come.”

While Pulito does not have a military background, he is pleased that the Knights of Columbus recognize those who “protect our freedom, serve our country tirelessly and fight for our sense of security and freedom.”

As he looked around the mausoleum, Msgr. Innocenzi noted the appropriate setting it provided for holding the Veterans Day ceremony. The Catholic site is sponsored by the Diocese of Trenton, and it sufficiently accommodated those in attendance and allowed space for social distancing due to the pandemic.

For Msgr. Innocenzi, the ceremony also personally brought to mind a distant relative, Paul Innocenzi, a Marine who was killed in Beirut on Oct. 23, 1983. Paul, who was born Nov. 11, 1955, was 28 when he died, and his memorial is at the Hamilton site. “Today would have been his 65th birthday,” Msgr. Innocenzi said.

Video taken by freelance photographer Rich Hundley contributed to this report.