Town Topics — Princeton's Weekly Community Newspaper Since 1946.
Vol. LXI, No. 46
Wednesday, November 14, 2007
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Veterans’ Day Ceremony Reveals the Spirit of Princeton Community

Matthew Hersh

As World War II veteran Nickolai Stevenson spoke of the constant presence of war in modern time Monday, a large crowd watched, absorbing Mr. Stevenson’s notion that Veterans’ Day a “day of memory,” is, in fact, a “shared day of memory.

“It varies for all of us here. For the younger ones, it evokes images of the War, or a war, and for others, it recalls stories told by relatives or friends who have served, and for others, it’s far more personal: perhaps a sense of loss.”

Whatever emotion was kindled on a seasonably cold, overcast day, at the All Wars Monument in downtown Princeton, Mr. Stevenson, a lieutenant who was in the first wave of the invasion force in the Guadalcanal campaign, spoke in the context of his experience: a hard-fought battle that ended with American victory in February 1943. At the time, Mr. Stevenson said, being American was about being involved in the war.

“Right now, most of us expect that peace is a normality of our society’s experience, but looking back over the centuries, a war erupts, and how that war ends is really unforeseen. War is always a presence.”

Mr. Stevenson pointed to the current war in Iraq, contrasting the underlying “impersonal” element in it with the “intense, personal” element that marked World War II.

The presentation was one of four annual events hosted by the Spirit of Princeton, a non-partisan community group sponsoring civic events like the Veterans’ Day ceremony, July 4 fireworks, the Memorial Day parade, and the Flag Day ceremony. The Veterans’ Day event, which was attended in part by a contingent of Princeton High School students, is particularly important for reconnecting with history, said Princeton Regional Schools Superintendent Judith Wilson. In fact, Spirit of Princeton had contacted the school district in an attempt to get more students involved.

“To me, this is incredibly important,” Ms. Wilson said. “It’s important that students know tradition and values and to know that this is not just another day.”

Ms. Wilson said that while some families have strong historical ties, others benefit from events like the Veterans’ Day ceremony to become acquainted with history.

The American Legion used to sponsor the host of civic events, but waning interest and lack of funding hampered the annual sponsorship process. In the early 1990s, Borough Council members Ray Wadsworth and Mark Freda started raising private money, recruiting other people to join. “It was much better for a private group to handle it than it was for the municipality,” said Marvin Reed, who was the Borough mayor at the time.

But now the Spirit of Princeton is alive and well, and with fewer and fewer World War II veterans available to tell their stories, the experience, for Superintendent Wilson, is all the more important:

“Unless a family has a very strong oral tradition, a lot of students are getting their information from just books and movies, and here it’s so important for them to see the colors and to look in the faces of people who have represented our nation so well.”

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