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Memorial service erected for Pvt. Joseph E. Lauer

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     On November 12th, aligned to commemorate Veterans Day, over 150 people, including Joseph Lauer’s classmates, family members, Board of Education members, students, administration, and political officials gathered outside of the newly-erected Joseph E. Lauer Memorial to honor his selfless sacrifice and dedication to the United States.

  “Jay” Lauer of Gibbsboro died in Vietnam, just shy of a month of his deployment. He is the only known Eastern alumni to have died while in combat.

  Seats that rest in front of the stone pavers that lead to Joseph Lauer’s remembrance stone begin to fill and the clouds ever so slowly clear from the sky. Underneath the towering flagpole, veterans and high school classmates shake the hands of their peers whom they haven’t seen in years.

Special guest Arline Lauer, one of the last remaining family members of Joe Lauer, adjusted from the warm Florida temperatures and to the colder, unfamiliar temperatures of New Jersey. The project that John Masso and

Jack Gangluff, along with members of the community, worked so diligently to make a reality was being formally recognized.

  By the commencement at 10:00 A.M., silence had suddenly overcome the entire crowd. They understood the magnitude and significance of the service.

    “As if the world knew of the historic moment, silence had overtaken the courtyard. All at once, over 100 voices faded away as the students and teachers approached the memorial,” said sophomore Sasha Tuddenham.

    Members of the ceremony rose by direction of Lauren Casole, Vice President of the History Honor Society, to salute the flag during the Pledge of Allegiance. The patriotic crowd stood dignified with their hands over their hearts as they recited the Pledge.    

   To the left of the 30 aligned chairs, the choir, dressed in their finest black attire, gracefully sang the National Anthem on risers as the crowd remained standing. History Honor Society President, Alexa Grabelle, then proceeded the ceremony with a personal speech dedicated to Joseph.

   “This beautiful memorial demonstrates the tremendous impact Lauer has left upon our school community. Although he graduated 51 years ago in 1967, Eastern’s first ever graduating class, the impact of his character is evident throughout Eastern,” said Grabelle.

   History teacher Mr. McSweeney believes the inclusion of students added a nice aspect to the event. “I think the speeches by Lauren and Alexa were excellent,” he said. “They struck the chords of appreciation. I thought that their speeches did a good job of making it an honorable ceremony.”

   Several other speakers took to the podium, making the event quite sentimental. Guest speaker and organizer of the project, John Masso explained his journey in erecting this memorial in his friend’s memory. Dressed in a fitted blue suit jacket, neat grey pants, and shiny black dress shoes, John recalled his memories with Lauer. His voice cracked as he recalled Jay  as one of many thousands to die in Vietnam.

   “I hope that this [monument] will be here for a very long time. Semper Fi guys,” said Masso.

   Sean Huber, nephew of Joseph Lauer, moved the entire crowd with his few, but powerful words. Though he had never met his uncle, all recounts of Joseph that Sean had ever heard were positive ones.   

Shortly after he began his speech, Sean was overcome with emotion when recalling Lauer’s selfless act of commitment to our country and had to step down from the podium. “He’s a much better man then I’d ever be,” he said as his eyes filled with tears and his voice cracked. “I wish I had the chance to meet him.”

   Joseph’s sister, Arline made her way up to speak, arms locked with Lauer’s old high school sweetheart, Susan Kent. Having traveled all the way up from Florida for the ceremony, she bundled up in a heavy red jacket with a warm winter scarf.

   “It [the memorial] was breathtaking. Eastern has been with us from the beginning,” she said.

   Arline stated the few memories the Lauer family had of Joey, as he passed so young. One thing Arline couldn’t forget though was his motivation.

   “In his heart he had to serve. I carry Joey in my heart always,” Arline said.

   As the only two family members left, Arline and her sister Mary, continue their lives, Arline knows her parents are still looking down on them.

   “Mom and Dad would be– are, so proud. I want to thank all of you. I love all of our servicemen,” Arline said.

   This ceremony touched the hearts of the active and retired servicemen that attended. Member of the Army National Guard, history teacher, and History Honor Society advisor, Mr. Colton reflected on the time he’s served. “I had occasion during the ceremony to think about my 19 years in the military and how lucky I’ve been. Jay was killed on his 23rd day in Vietnam. The people who made it home have been given a gift,” he said.

  Another friend of Lauer’s and organizer of the project, Jack Gangluff followed Arline at the podium, recognizing the service of veterans on Veterans Day and spoke righteously and graciously of Private Lauer.

    “For those of you have served, thank you. Today is a very special day, in that it coincides with Veterans Day and the class of 69,” he said.

   Jack recalls their tiny graduating class of 149 students at the time, highlighting the bonds formed between them. The graduating class all vividly remember Lauer’s active involvement in school activities.

   “No one had more names than Joey Lauer,” said Jack, laughing. The crowd emerged in laughter with Jack as he began listing Jay’s nicknames, as if hearing them sparked sweet memories that were long tucked away.

  “At first we looked like two schmos trying to reminisce about something that happened years ago. I need to make this clear- if it wasn’t for John Masso’s commitment, this monument would never have been built,” he said.

“This weekend was the anniversary for the 100th armistice and the 50th anniversary for Lauer. It’s been some time. Thanks must go out to the Board of Education of Eastern High School and the administration for allowing this memorial,” Jack said.

  Quickly, his speech shifted to a serious tone.

   “If you ask a veteran who served in Vietnam-ask them if what they think of it being called a conflict, then step back. It was a war,” said Gangluff.

    Jack clarified that the purpose of this monument was not to memorialize the Vietnam War, but rather to honor his friend’s service and sacrifice. Grabelle,continued the serious, heartfelt moment with a moment of silence in honor of Lauer.

   John Stanz, director of Eastern’s Marching Band and Wind Ensemble, headed the music portion of the dedication ceremony. He conducted the Wind Ensemble as they played their instruments to the four main service songs; “Anchors Aweigh for the Navy,” “The Caissons Go Rolling Along for the Army,” “The Wind Blue Yonder for the Air Force,” and the “Marines’ Hymn”.

   Mr. Stanz is no stranger to these ceremonies. As a former Marine, he has “performed and conducted hundreds of these types of ceremonies around the world”.

   “Each year, the Marching Vikings take part in the Memorial Day Parades in Voorhees and Gibbsboro. One of the ceremonies each year takes place at the Lauer Memorial in Gibbsboro. The veterans that come out and support these events is awesome to see,” he said. “I feel lucky to take part each year and try to instill an understanding of why these ceremonies are important to the students who are part of the Marching Vikings.”

   The students in the back of the ceremony may not have understood what each of the service songs were, but these songs represent a family, and memories of fallen brothers and sisters. Once the veterans and active service members stood as they heard their song, the weight of the moment was transferred to the students.

   Jack, as well as every guest and person who took part in constructing and dedicating this memorial, hope that the impact of Joseph Lauer’s sacrifice will be felt for years to come.

   “It is my hope that the faculty will utilize this monument as a teaching moment for current and future students of eastern high school,” said Gangluff.

   Senior Harry Jelesiewicz concluded the dedication ceremony playing his trumpet to the tune of  “Taps”.

    “As the ceremony concluded with a trumpet’s blast,” senior Jon Costa said, “the memory of Joseph Lauer and his sacrifice was forever engraved in the hearts of those present.”

   Arline Lauer was accompanied by John Masso and others to lay a wreath with the United States Marines emblem on a stand by Lauer’s dedication stone. Witnessing each of them salute his stone left the crowd painfully aware of what our soldiers fight for and what the country stands for.

  Speakers and crowd members were brought to tears hearing all of the stories and recounts given in honor of Lauer during this ceremony. Many students and teachers attended this ceremony unsure of what to expect, but left overwhelmed by how formal and righteous the ceremony was.

   “I thought it was great that local community leaders worked in conjunction with school admin and the honor society to put together an event worthy of the sacrifice of Lauer,” said Mr. McSweeney.

   As for Lauer’s story and sacrifice, he will live down in Eastern history and in the hearts of many.

“Hopefully it will be a lasting legacy, and I’m hoping this becomes part of the culture of the school that we recognize the service of Jay to the country on an annual basis,” said Mr. Smart.

  Students who didn’t get to see the event can watch it on Comcast channel 19, ETV news, and the Eastern website. Bringing awareness to Lauer and all other veterans helps to dignify their honor.

  Superintendent Dr. Melleby thinks it was important to know the story of Joseph Lauer.

  “Many people associated with Eastern are well aware of graduates who have gone on to be extremely successful in their careers in areas such as athletics and media,” he said. “Everyone should also know about Joseph Lauer and feel proud that he attended Eastern.”

1 Comment

One Response to “Memorial service erected for Pvt. Joseph E. Lauer”

  1. Joseph lauer on December 19th, 2018 8:01 AM

    I found this article while trying to search lauer family history. I was very touched by effort that was put forward to honor Joseph lauer I recently lost a brother that served in Vietnam to the affects from agent orange exposure. we owe a huge dept to all our vets s for the service to our nation it gratifying to see them honored in this way

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Memorial service erected for Pvt. Joseph E. Lauer