PARSIPPANY — On Memorial Day, Parsippany held a solemn observance to honor and pay tribute to those who have served in the military. The event commemorated the sacrifices of brave men and women who have defended our country. It allowed the community to unite, remember the fallen, and express gratitude for their service and dedication.
Parsippany-Troy Hills Mayor James Barberio addressed the audience. “I welcome you here this Memorial Day as we remember and honor the men and women who valiantly sacrificed their lives for the cause of freedom for our great nation. Our nation is as strong as it is because of the heroes that paid the ultimate price for their service to their country. Valiantly facing fear, these men and women did not back down even when they knew the odds were not in their favor. They were not fearless; they knew the risks but chose to fight bravely. That is pure and simple courage, which we pay tribute to today. There are no words that can adequately thank them or their families. The best we can do is remember them today and always. It does not seem like enough, but it is the only way to pay our respects, acknowledge their heroism, and continue to thank them for their service and sacrifice. Our nation is a better place because of these service men and women. Today as we look upon our nation’s flag, I ask you to remember your freedoms and blessings. I also ask that you remember living here in the great United States of America is a privilege.”
The keynote speaker, Siobhan Fuller McConnell, said, “Ten years ago, on March 18, 2013, my son’s fiancee called me and gave me the worst news I have ever received. All I could do was sit at the top of the stairs and scream. My 23-year-old son, Sgt Derek McConnell, died of complications from wounds received in Afghanistan on July 23, 2011. While on patrol in the Zhari District, he encountered two IEDS that left him catastrophically injured. He lost both legs and the use of his right hand. He sustained fractures to his skull, jaw, and pelvis. He also endured a TBI and numerous infections that almost took him from us several times. He fought hard for 20 months but eventually climbed to eternal glory, shocking everyone who knew him.”
“I am a Gold Star Mother. My son and the 2.8 million others who have died for this country since the birth of this nation are why we have a three-day weekend this weekend. They are the ones who gave all, who selflessly signed on the bottom line and agreed to sacrifice their lives for us so that we could continue to live in a free country. No matter where their battlefield was, whether it was the beaches of Normandy, the islands of the Pacific, the deserts of Iraq or Syria, the mountains of Afghanistan, the skies over Europe, the jungles of Vietnam, or elsewhere-the stories of the fallen matter and need to be told, their sacrifices can never be forgotten. We owe them a debt of gratitude and undying respect and admiration. We can pay tribute to their memories and sacrifices by visiting their gravesites, placing flags or wreaths, or simply speaking their names. To truly honor their lives, we must share their stories with others and ensure their memories live on even though they are gone,” she continued.
“My son, Sgt Derek McConnell, paid that price. A few others from New Jersey whose names I will never forget and whose stories I have been told are SSG Timothy McGill, 30, lLT Dennis Zilinski II, 23, Spec. Ryan Doltz, 26. I’ve met their families, and I know their pain. We also have the 13 who died on August 26, 2021, at the Abbey Gate in Afghanistan, whose families I have also met and whose stories I will never forget. Among them is Staff Sgt. Darin T. Hoover, 31; Lance Corporal Rylee J. Mccollum, 20; Staff Sgt. Ryan C. Knauss, 23) Lance Cpl. David L. Espinoza, 20.”
“By sharing their stories, we keep their memories alive and give others a glimpse of the heroes they were. Derek was a true joy. He was a pain in the butt and drove us crazy, but ultimately, he was the one you wanted in your corner. He made us laugh. He made us want to kill him. There is a hole in our hearts that will never be full again. I could stand here for hours and regale you with stories of Derek that would make you laugh and cry. He is missed, and he will never be forgotten. I believe that those who have left us are always around us. They whisper to us like a light breeze across our ears, reminding us that we must cherish the gift of life. They smile at our sleeping children, the nieces and nephews they will never know. If we are still and open our minds and hearts, we can catch glimpses of them, whether it be in the dying rays of a sunset, the waves of the ocean as they crash against the shore, a butterfly or dragonfly that gently lands on a flower, or a song on the radio. If you listen closely, you can hear them whisper, “I am here. I am at peace. Carry on and never forget. Until we meet again.”
She continued, “It is up to us to use the gifts secured by those who made the ultimate sacrifice, to do as much good as possible and honor a debt that can never be repaid. On Memorial Day, we reflect and share the experiences of our fallen loved ones, but tomorrow and in the days that follow, we must act. Let’s carry their sacrifice with us in our hearts and strive to honor their memory by being good and faithful, hopeful and strong, and committed to building a brighter future for all. As a nation, we must remind ourselves of the future they fought for and do our best to live up to those values in the days ahead.”
Freedom is not free, and today we thank those who paid the price.