By Maddy Vitale
Marine Corps Lance Corporal Bobby Raditz looked around the Ocean City American Legion Post 524 on Sunday afternoon. Fellow veterans, dignitaries and other well-wishers looked back at him.
He smiled shyly, clutched his daughter Emma, and with his wife Erika by his side, he said, “I have no words. It is just incredible. I didn’t expect all of this.”
Raditz, 34, of Mays Landing, was in the Marines for four years, beginning in 2004. He was in Iraq.
“I retired on medical,” Raditz, a member of the Wounded Warrior Project said, but added nothing more.
His mother, Ann Marie Sheldon, gave her son a hug, called him brave, smart and someone who could do anything he set his mind to.
Raditz and his family were welcomed to the post for a week’s vacation, courtesy of the organization’s Rest & Relaxation Program, which is in its fifth consecutive year. Post 524 offers the vacation to about two military families each year.
In addition to the use of a free condominium for the week, the families receive gifts from Ocean City businesses as a way to say, “Thank you for your service and sacrifice.”
Gift baskets filled with gift cards and other gifts were displayed on the table for the Raditz family to take with them and enjoy. Ocean City resident Gina Secrest donated her condominium to be used for the family’s vacation. Secrest opens her home to military families every year. She has family who served in the military.
Chairman of the R&R Committee Jerry Bonner started the ceremony off by thanking Raditz for serving.
Throughout the event at the American Legion Post at 46th Street and West Avenue, Raditz and his wife held their daughter close. Bonner’s wife Phyllis made a little cake with the colors of the flag for Emma, who turns 1 year old on Monday.
Cape May County Freeholder E. Marie Hayes said a few words.
“Cape May County loves you,” she said to the Raditz family.
On behalf of the county, Hayes invited them for a special tour of the Cape May County Park and Zoo whenever they wish. She also became teary-eyed when she told Raditz how people in her family served, thanked him for his sacrifice and gave him a hug.
One of the gifts held significance for the family. It was the Quilt of Valor, presented to Raditz by Kathy Tweed, of South Jersey Quilts of Valor. The handmade quilts are to provide comfort for veterans.
Raditz wrapped it around he and his family and smiled.
At the end of the ceremony, Bonner reminded the crowd what the day means to the post and to the community.
“This post is not just a post. We are a service club,” he noted.
He said positive energy spreads from the service men and women to the service clubs and to the community.
“I think everyone feels good,” he said.
The event would not be possible without the hard work of the volunteers and, most importantly, the service men and women, Bonner said.
Rob Cozen, a Post 524 member, summed up what the R&R program is all about: “This R&R program is one of the most special things we do,” he said. “There is nothing more special than when we welcome a soldier home.”
If you know anyone who may be a good candidate for the American Legion Post 524 Veterans R&R Program, visit www.legion524ocnj.org.