PARSIPPANY — The Morris County Freeholders presented Morris County Distinguished Military Service Medals to nine veterans from across the county, honoring these men during Veterans’ Day week for their service to our country and their communities during and after their days in the military.
Honored at a special ceremony held during the county governing board meeting in Morristown were: James L. Festa, U.S. Navy, Parsippany; Pastor David G. Boone, U.S. Army, Parsippany; Andrew Lachawiec, U.S. Army, Morristown; Yucel Yilmaz, U.S. Army, Butler; Loretta T. Falconer, U.S. Army, Mt. Olive; Kenneth L. Diehl, U.S. Army, Dover; Joseph M. Takacs, U.S. Army, Washington Twp.; Joseph Bonanno, U.S. Air Force, Montville; and Morris County Veterans’ Services Officer, Kenneth Brenzel, U.S. Navy.
“We recognize that all veterans have given something of themselves to this nation, and some have given everything, laying down their lives to defend the freedoms we hold so dear,’’ said Freeholder Director Doug Cabana. “To all of our veterans, especially to you who are here this evening, we have a simple and heartfelt message: Thank you, all of you, for your service.’’
Also attending the veterans’ event were state Sen. and former Gov. Richard Codey, state Sens. Anthony R. Bucco and Joe Pennacchio, state Assemblyman Anthony M. Bucco., and Morris County Sheriff James M. Gannon.
Each of the ten veterans at the event received the Morris County Distinguished Military Service Medal from the board of freeholders. The unique medal was designed by a special committee of county veterans, with some variations in medals and ribbons for various conflicts and military eras.
The following is a snapshot of the military service of each recipient:
- Pastor David G. Boone, Parsippany: Served in the U.S. Army from 1989 to 1993. He was assigned to the 3rd Battalion, 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment (Airborne) at Hunter Army Airfield in Georgia, and served in the Gulf War, which included Operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm.
He received the Kuwait Liberation Medal, Saudi Arabia Medal, National Defense Service Medal, Southeast Asia Service Medal, Good Conduct Medal, Army Achievement Medal, Army Commendation Medal with Oak Leaf Cluster and a Meritorious Service Medal for service to the Special Operations Command.
He served for 21 years with the Fair Lawn Police Dept., is Commander of VFW Post 281 in Fair Lawn, and has been a pastor for 33 years.
- James L. Festa, Parsippany: Served in the U.S. Navy during the Cold War from 1956-60. He was stationed as an electrician on the USS Ranger CVA-61, based in California, and traveled extensively around the world.
He was on board in 1958 during the intense struggle between mainland China and Taiwan, and was part of the crew that assisted Taiwanese refugees with food, medicine, clothing, and other items. He is a member of the Taiwan Veterans Badge of Honor Association, or the 823 Badge of Honor Association USA.
He comes from a military family: His father, Louis Festa was a Merchant Marine in World War II; his step-daughter, Morris County Sheriff’s Officer Rosemary Brown, recently served in the U.S. Army in Iraq; and her husband, Jeremy Brown, also served in Iraq but did not make it home.
- Andrew Lachawiec, Morristown: Joined the Army in July 2008, and served as an intelligence specialist. He served in Haiti on a humanitarian deployment after a catastrophic earthquake struck in 2010.
He subsequently deployed to Afghanistan in 2010 and 2011. He attained the rank of Sergeant (E-5) during his service and was awarded the Army Commendation Medal, Army Achievement Medal (2 awards), the NATO Medal, Army Superior Unit Award, Army Good Conduct Medal, National Defense Service Medal, and Afghanistan Campaign Medal with 2 Campaign Stars.
- Yucel Yilmaz, Butler: Born and raised in Trabzon Turkey, he emigrated to the U.S. in 1999. He is a service-connected disabled Veteran who served as a combat engineer in the U.S. Army during the Operation Enduring Freedom period, from January 2008 to May 2009, when he was honorably discharged.
He was awarded the National Defense Service Medal, Global War on Terrorism Service Medal, and the Army Service Ribbon
- Loretta T. Falconer, Mount Olive: Enlisted in the N.J. Army National Guard at age 18. During 30 years in the military, she served in many capacities: Heavy Wheeled Vehicle Driver, Howitzer Gunner, Ammunition Section Chief, among others.
In 2004, she received Military Police training for deployment to Germany, in support of Operation Enduring Freedom. Her second deployment was to Baghdad in 2008 in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom, as NCO for the Anti-Terrorism and Force Protection in the International Zone.
Awards include the Defense Meritorious Service Medal; Army Commendation, Achievement, Good Conduct, and Reserve Components Achievement Medals; Iraq Campaign Medal with 1 campaign star, Overseas Service Ribbons, and the Honorable Order of St. Barbara, to name a few.
- Joseph M. Takacs, Washington Township: Served in the U.S. Army from June 1970 to January 1972 and in the Army National Guard from 1988-2003. He deployed to Vietnam in 1970-72, serving as an engineer in the Central Highlands with the 815th Engineering Construction Battalion.
He was a carpenter and masonry specialist, and also an M60A3 Gunner and an M-1 Abrams Gunner. He was awarded the National Defense Service Medal, Vietnam Service Medal with 2 stars, Vietnam Campaign Medal with 60 device, and the Good Conduct Medal.
- Joseph Bonanno, Montville: Grew up in Belleville during the Great Depression with his parents, Rose and Frank. He joined the Air Force Reserves in the late 1940s, and when the Korean War began in 1950, his unit activated.
He served as a radar technician and electronics engineer, stationed at Keesler Air Force Base in Mississippi, until 1952 when he was honorably discharged. He soon started his own business, Air Spec, and has been an industrial developer for more than 50 years.
He is past commander, current treasurer and scholarship committee chair for the Columbian Foundation.
- Kenneth Brenzel, Hardyston Township: Served in the U.S. Navy from 1979-1984 as machinist mate 2nd class, operating and maintaining all non-nuclear mechanical systems aboard a sturgeon-class, nuclear-powered attack submarine, the USS Whale. He received his submarine qualification insignia –the Silver Dolphins – in 1981.
In his post-military career, he was a police officer in Haworth, Bergen County, and then in Hardyston Township, Sussex County. He began working for Morris County in 2014 as a Fraud Investigator in the Office of Temporary Assistance, and transferred to the Office of Veterans Services in 2016.
Since becoming the Morris County Veterans’ Service Officer last year, he already has assisted more than 1,200 Veterans to obtain VA benefits, among numerous other duties.