By MADDY VITALE
Air Force Tech. Sgt. Josef Ward looked around at the crowd of veterans, his family, and others who respect and appreciate him for his service.
“This is more than I ever could have imagined,” Ward said.
Ward, his wife, Nicole, and their children, 2-year-old Lucie, Jude, 5, and 7-year-old Josiah, were honored by American Legion Post 524’s Rest & Relaxation Program on Sunday.
Ward is a member of the Commander’s Action Group, 621st Contingency Response Wing at Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst. He joined the Air Force in 2008 and has been deployed to Kyrgyzstan, Iraq, Senegal, Cameroon, Qatar and Germany, according to a Post 524 news release.
The family was led into Ocean City on Sunday by a motorcade of Fire Department personnel, escorted by the Legion Riders motorcycle brigade.
“The Veterans Rest & Relaxation Program began eight years ago as a way to pay tribute to service men and women for sacrifices made during their time in the military,” explained Jerry Bonner, chairman of the R&R Committee.
Bonner continued, “Whenever military personnel are deployed, their families also share in that deployment and we support their efforts as well.”
As part of the R&R program, the Ward family was given the use of a free condominium in Ocean City for the week, as well as a multitude of gifts donated by local businesses as a way to say, “Thank you for their service and sacrifice.”
The family will also receive a ceremonial key to the city from Ocean City Mayor Jay Gillian.
In addition to Bonner and other members of the post, Cape May County Commissioner E. Marie Hayes said a few words and presented the family with passes to the Cape May County Park & Zoo.
“You will have so many things to do. We are very honored to have you,” Hayes said.
Post Commander Bob Marzulli told the family that he hopes they have a great vacation.
“I hope you will enjoy all that Ocean City has to offer. Please enjoy your visit,” Marzulli said.
Post member Steve Cole presented the Ward children with medals of appreciation.
Nicole was given roses for all that she does as a military wife and a mom, post members said.
Throughout the ceremony, Nicole wiped away tears of joy and smiled at her husband and the attendees.
South Jersey Quilts of Valor Foundation presented Tech Sgt. Ward with a personalized, handmade quilt.
While Ward’s service to his country, bravery and commitment to the Air Force are all reasons enough to provide a weeklong vacation for the family in the resort town, there was another reason why the post felt it was so important to provide a fun outlet for the family, post members emphasized.
The Ward family has been through a lot.
In 2020, Post 524 learned of the Ward family because of the post’s involvement with COTA (Children’s Organ Transplant Association.) That is because Jude and Lucie both had liver transplants shortly after they were born.
When Post 524 learned of the expenses, the veterans at the post, the Auxiliary and the Sons of the American Legion donated $12,500 to COTA on behalf of the Ward family.
Post Auxiliary President Anne Maikner spoke of the donation: “We found a wonderful family,” she said.
In addition to honoring the Ward family, the post also celebrated the “Parachute Bride” in a short ceremony.
War bride Elizabeth (Burton) Deaner, of Ocean City, wore a wedding gown made out of a parachute for her World War II nuptials in England on Oct. 21, 1944.
She wed the late WWII paratrooper Pvt. Charles Deaner of the 82nd Airborne Division. The gown is displayed at the 82nd Airborne Division War Memorial Museum in Fort Bragg, North Carolina.
Although Deaner, 97, was unable to attend the ceremony, some of her family members came, including her son David and daughter-in-law Colleen Deaner, of Egg Harbor Township.
A news article about Deaner’s gown will be displayed at the post, Bonner said.
“This picture will be forever on our walls,” Bonner said of the framed article.
In addition to the Deaners, there was a very special attendee who sat beside them during the ceremony. It was retired Marine Doris “Doie” Barnes, of Ocean City, who was honored for her service and celebrated for her upcoming birthday on July 30, when she turns 100.
A special event for Barnes will be held at the Ocean City Music Pier during the morning flag raising ceremony on her birthday.
Bonner noted that the post included the Parachute Bride and Barnes’ birthday announcement specifically with the purpose of honoring past, present and future military men and women.
He added that the post never wants those who have served the country to not be honored, as was the case for many Vietnam veterans when they returned home from the war.
“We can never forget,” he said.
For more information call American Legion Post 524 at 609-398-1751 or visit www.legion524ocnj.org.