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Category: Opinion & Reader Forum

WE’VE GOT MAIL

‘KUDOS TO MSGR. GILCHRIST’

To the editor:

I wish to thank and applaud The Observer for publishing the remembrances of Msgr. John J. Gilchrist of November 22, 1963 when he recalled ministering the last rites to an elderly man likely forgotten to history at the same time an assassin’s bullet brought to an untimely end the life of President John F. Kennedy. More importantly, the story told by Msgr. Gilchrist teaches us that everyone’s life has value, from the President of the United States to the least among us.

As a former parishoner of Holy Cross Church during the years that Msgr. Gilchrist was its pastor, I can attest that he was the living embodiment of this lesson. Monsignor treated every person as if they were president and would have treated the president no better or worse than any other person.

I believe that since that terrible day in November 50 years ago, Msgr Gilchrist has been more important to the spiritual health and welfare of the West Hudson and South Bergen community than any elected official, and I thank God for the opportunity to have known this good man.

Tom Zammatore

North Arlington

TREASURING MEMORIES OF JFK

To the editor:

Your Nov. 20, 2013 edition remembering John F. Kennedy was wonderful. Any American will remember with shock and sorrow those days that followed for the rest of their lives. Thank you so much for the fantastic report of other Americans and how they felt and Mgrs Gilchrist ’s wonderful and very human memories.

Regina Smith

Thoughts & Views: Infamous days that will live in memory

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There are certain times or dates that resonate in each of us because they affect us viscerally, even to the center of our soul.

On Sunday, Dec. 7, 1941, I was listening to the radio. It was a broadcast of a football game. It was a game between the New York Giants and the Brooklyn Dodgers. (Yes, in those days, there was a Brooklyn football team called the Dodgers.)

Suddenly, a voice broke in. The voice was telling us that the Japanese had bombed Pearl Harbor. I, at 11 years of age, was filled with excitement. I ran into the kitchen where my mother was washing dishes.

“Mom,” I cried, “The Japs have bombed Pearl Harbor. We are at war.”

My mother’s response was instant. Her eyes filled with tears. I was surprised. “Just think of all those boys who are going to die,” she said. She was heartbroken. I found my excitement turning into more somber thoughts of war and death.

Another date that is stamped into my consciousness is Friday, Nov. 22, 1963. I was stationed at St. Cecilia’s in Kearny. In those days, we priests had the responsibility of servicing West Hudson Hospital. I was on duty when the phone rang. As usual, the female voice at the other end uttered just two words, “Emergency, Father.” I jumped into the car and was at the hospital within five minutes.

The situation that greeted me was not unusual. An elderly gentleman had suffered a heart attack. He had gone to God.

As I entered the hospital, the receptionist at the desk said, “Room 305, Father.”

When I entered the room and took out the Holy Oils to anoint the man, the television was still playing. I heard the words, “President John F. Kennedy has died.” Then came the details of his assassination.

It was like a knife in my heart. I found myself praying over the deceased gentleman, and at the same time weeping for our first Catholic President, our beautiful John Kennedy.

Then I stopped in the middle of my prayers. “What a contradiction! Here I pray, mechanically anointing a man who is meeting his Creator – yet crying for a man I had never known personally.”

“What a fool I am,” I thought. “I am performing a sacred function for the soul of a person. My fingers are touching his body. Yet my mind is in Dallas.”

I meditated on that dichotomy for many days. From that day on, I never ever just “gave the last rites.” I have looked at each human being who was dead or in danger of death as a unique and special being – a child of God – at the most important time of his or her existence, that moment when the soul meets God.

If the priesthood should become just a function, then it is no longer the ministry of Jesus. Every soul is precious to the living God. We must love and pray for them all, the way that Jesus did.

– Msgr. John J. Gilchrist

(Msgr. Gilchrist is in residence at the Catholic Youth Center in Kearny. He is a former columnist for the Catholic Advocate newspaper.)

Thoughts & Views: Don’t ‘space out’ on finding new worlds

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When I was a kid in grade school in the late ‘50s, I remember reading about the bright prospect of electric cars on the horizon.

Now, despite the best efforts of Detroit to kill them, we’re seeing some results, thanks to Tesla Motors. (If they find a way to stop car batteries from catching fire….) As for Detroit, well, GM is turning out the Chevy Volt to compete with Tesla. As Mel Allen might have said: How about that….

We also used to read about space exploration and how any day, we’d be catching up to the Soviet Union’s Sputnik launch. And we did.

More recently, though, we began going backwards by partially dismantling NASA. No more trips to the moon. Don’t even think about astronauts going to Mars, no matter if there are forms of life there.

But hold on a minute, you federal sorry-eyed staracrats! You can’t tell me to take that galaxy and shove it. Not after what the New York Times reported last week.

First, on Tuesday, Nov. 5, Times reporter Dennis Overbye let us know that based on data collected by NASA’s Kepler-spacecraft, astronomers are learning that there could be “as many as 40 billion habitable Earthsize planets in the galaxy. And “the nearest such planet might be only 12 light-years away,” which, one scientist affirmed, “would be visible to the naked eye.”

Doesn’t that news make you want to climb into the nearest spacesuit and activate the launch code?

Then on Thursday, Nov. 7, Times reporter Kenneth Chang revealed two ominous developments happening in the “final frontier.”

First, the European Space Agency’s Gravity Field and Steady-State Ocean Circulation Explorer (GOCE) satellite, which was launched in March 2009 to map Earth’s gravitational field while flying in an orbit between 160 and 140 miles above the planet, was expected to drop out of orbit within days for an uncontrolled re-entry and, ultimately, fragment in our atmosphere and crash somewhere. Scientists were hoping to track it in time to predict where it will come down.

Secondly, scientists are predicting that we could be in for an increasing number of asteroid strikes, like the one that exploded, shattering windows and injuring more than 1,000 people, in Chelyabinski in Russia in February. While the next incident may not happen for another 10 years or more, scientists are pressing for the development of an asteroid detection system as a precaution.

Thus are we presented with the image of space as a double-edged sword – like the constellation of Orion beckoning but also threatening would-be space voyagers. To ignore the possibility of new worlds awaiting our discovery is wrongheaded. Who knows how long our planet will last, given the rate at which we’re running out of natural resources by choking our air, polluting and drying up our waterways, felling our forests, despoiling the land, over-consuming.

One day, perhaps, as our Earth is threatened with extinction, we will be seeing droves of people fleeing – in privately manufactured spacecrafts – to those distant ecto-planets as a last refuge.

And, when they arrive, as a final irony, will they be locked up – or turned away – as illegal immigrants?

Let us hope that our distant “neighbors” will be more enlightened beings than our poor lot here on Planet Earth.

– Ron Leir

And in the morning, silence

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Next Monday, Nov. 11, is Veterans Day, the day dedicated to honoring all American veterans, living and dead. There will be ceremonies in The Observer towns, sponsored by various organizations and with varying programs.

But they should all have one thing in common: a moment of silence at 11 a.m.

Veterans Day used to be called Armistice Day, and it marked the exact moment the guns of World War I fell silent: 11 a.m., Nov. 11, 1918. The 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month.

Perhaps it is for that reason that I, personally, although honoring all our living U.S. vets — as they should be honored — have always felt a closer bond that day to the fallen. Especially the fallen of the Great War.

Next year will bring the 100th anniversary of the start of that conflict, and I daresay today’s younger generations live in ignorance of the 1914-18 slaughter.

Is it even still taught in schools? Perhaps in the U.K. it is, but I have my doubts about U.S. education. Hell, in the U.K., they’re still writing songs about it. (Search YouTube for “The Road to Passchendaele.”) In the U.K., people will be wearing poppies this week. When was the last time you saw a poppy here? How many people even know what the flower signifies?

In any case, to me, Nov. 11 will always be inextricably bound to World War I, with which I have a, some might say “morbid,” fascination. It can’t be other than morbid, considering the sheer number of dead.

Some perspective: In the last 12 years, some 6,760 American troops have been killed in Iraq and Afghanistan.

According to one source, on the first day — repeat, day — of the Battle of the Somme, July 1, 1916, the British overall casualty toll was about 60,000, “of whom 21,000 had been killed, most in the first hour of the attack, perhaps the first minutes.” (John Keegan, “The Face of Battle.”)

Can you comprehend that? Nearly 21,000 slain? In one hour? Or less?

Entire libraries have been written analyzing the reasons for the terrible butchery of World War I, so I am not about to try to do that here. I merely want to acknowledge the horrific loss of life. Of lives. Of individuals who had their whole lives ahead of them and who were doomed to became part of a lost generation.

The United States, which did not enter the war until April 1917, sent more than 4 million troops to the Western Front, of whom 110,000 died before cessation of hostilities in November 1918. Of that total, an estimated 43,000 were felled, not in battle, but by the Spanish Flu epidemic that was sweeping the globe. They still died as heroes in the service of their country.

So, on Monday, I shall attend a Veterans Day ceremony, and keep the moment of silence, and remember both the living and the dead.

For the living, I can shake their hands and say a sincere, “Thank you for your service.” As I hope you do, too.

For the dead, I can only pray. As I hope you do, too.

–Karen Zautyk

WE’VE GOT MAIL

The Veteran

Let us never forget their sacrifices.

It is the veteran, not the preacher, who has given us freedom of religion.

It is the veteran, not the reporter, who has given us freedom of the press.

It is the veteran, not the poet, who has given us freedom of speech.

It is the veteran, not the campus organizer, who has given us freedom to assemble.

It is the veteran, not the lawyer, who has given us the right to a fair trial.

It is the veteran, not the politician, who has given us the right to vote.

It is the veteran, who salutes the flag, who serves under the flag.

Oh Lord, grant eternal rest to them and let the perpetual light shine upon them.

Submitted by North Arlington Elks Lodge #1992

Thoughts & Views: Let the children live

They’re all nuts. They should be lined up against the wall and shot. With bullets.

Because neither the government nor the insurgents in the awful, prolonged Syrian conflict wants to cooperate with global health authorities to get innocent children vaccinated against an outbreak of the polio virus that, according to international news reports, has reportedly reared its ugly head in the Middle East.

On Sunday, Oct. 27, the British publication, The Independent, reported in its online version that the World Health Organization was investigating 22 cases of suspected polio in children who live in Deir Al-Zour, an eastern province of Syria where combatants are actively engaged.

How the polio virus made its way into Syria isn’t yet clear but if left unchecked, it can spread among those yet to be immunized and, ultimately, the disease can cause irreversible paralysis, The Independent noted.

Members of the Taliban are alleged to have prevented health aides from undertaking a vaccination programs in Pakistan’s Waziristan region in 2012, resulting in more than 200,000 children being left unprotected, according to reports.

 

If all these reports are valid, it is simply unfathomable how these adults can allow children – who have espoused no political or religious dogmas, who have harmed no one – to be sacrificed as political pawns in a game certainly not of their choosing.

The adults found to be responsible for such outrage should be hunted down, apprehended and tried as war criminals before an international tribunal.

Before their executions, they should be confronted with visual evidence of their crimes – images of the children left forever crippled thanks to their willful, wanton behavior.

So in that part of the world, we see how children are likely to be maimed or killed through grown-up indifference and we, sitting here in the “enlightened” USA, wonder how such things can play out.

But we shouldn’t be so smug. The Children’s Defense Fund reminds us that here in America, “A child is killed or injured by a gun every 30 minutes…. More children die every three days in America than died in the Newtown massacre.”

Last week, a 13-year-old boy in Santa Rosa, Calif., was shot and killed by sheriff’s deputies after he was spotted carrying what appeared to be an AK-47 but which, the deputies later learned, was a plastic toy. A parent of the dead boy told the cops his son got the toy from a friend. The boy was described as a trumpeter in his middle school band, smart and popular with his peers.

Mind-boggling all around.

But it reminded me of a striking photo published in last Saturday’s New York Times which showed what was described as a group of Chinese kindergarteners dressed in kid-size versions of Chinese Army uniforms and carrying toy weapons as an adult accompanied them on a stroll through a park in Dongyang.

Some cultures figure it’s never too early to start the process of military education. In our country, we have ROTC.

Are guns inherently evil? Should we try to outright ban them? No to both questions. Just consider what Texas would do: Gun enthusiasts recently staged a rally at The Alamo in San Antonio, with special dispensation from local authorities. If we took away their toys, the Lone Star State would, I dare say, be sorely tempted to secede.

But serious thought needs to be given to how we can control the flow of guns – particularly those unregistered, defaced, etc. – into the country, between states, etc., for criminal use. Seems to me we need some type of federal controls to deal with that.

And if guns are going to remain part of American culture – which, given the popularity of electronic war games among teens, they’re likely to be – we need to find a better way to train kids, early on, in their proper use.

And maybe get them interested in, say, fishing or hiking as a healthy outdoor alternative.

A postscript: How can our government manage to cybersnoop so well on our enemies and allies, alike, yet when it comes to setting up a software system to facilitate getting health insurance to those without, it turns into glitch city? So much for domestic priorities.

– Ron Leir

CORRECTION!

A story in last week’s Observer reported incorrectly that the Kearny Recreation Commission voted 4-3 not to rescind a written warning to coach John Leadbeater. The vote was unanimous. The commission voted 4-3 not to rescind a warning to the Little League executive board that it had failed to respond appropriately to parents’ complaint about the coach.

Thoughts & Views: Oh deer, oh deer

Since Halloween is fast approaching, I believe the topic for today’s column is completely acceptable. If you disagree, stop reading now.

The topic for today’s column is: Headless deer.

By this I don’t mean deer unfortunately born without a head (if that ever happens), but rather deer that are beheaded by weirdos after they (the deer, not the weirdos) are hit by cars.

According to news reports, there have been numerous roadkill-deer beheadings in Bergen County in recent weeks. The decapitated carcasses are being found along streets and highways, traumatizing passersby, and the supposition is that the heads are being taken as trophies.

Channel 12 News even interviewed the owner of a taxidermy shop who said, “I think it’s a fascination with antlers.” Okay. T

he sight of a headless deer would traumatize me, but what scares me even more is the thought that there are people driving around carrying in their cars the means (axe? machete? broadsword?) to behead a deer carcass. Can you imagine getting into a road-rage incident with one of these individuals?

And what do they do with the head once they get home? “Hey, kids! Look what Daddy brought you!”

Since it’s illegal (there actually is a law; $500 fine for a first offense) to behead a dead deer in New Jersey, I doubt the headhunters are taking them to professional taxidermists. And amateur taxidermy can stink. Literally.

This is deer-mating season, so the bucks and the does are on the move, seeking true love. Blinded by romance, they tend to wander into the roads, especially at night. Keep your eyes open.

While deer are not a common sight in Observer towns, they have visited. There was one running around Kearny awhile back, at midday, eluding all efforts to catch it and finally disappearing down the old railroad cut off Beech St.

I have seen dead deer on Rt. 21, and a couple of months back, there was a very large deer carcass on Main St. in Belleville, where the power lines are. I have been told that the deer come down the power- line cut from the northern Jersey woods, probably seeking new territory since their habitat is rapidly disappearing. Poor things don’t realize that Belleville, Kearny and surrounding communities are not conducive to any wildlife larger than a groundhog. And that’s pushing it.

Now, although it is against the law to behead a dead deer in Jersey, I have learned it is legal to “harvest” the entire corpse for personal consumption.

According to the N.J. Division of Fish & Wildlife: “Deer accidentally killed by motor vehicles [only deer; no other roadkill] may be possessed only for private consumption by obtaining a free permit from the local police department or from a Fish & Wildlife regional law enforcement office. The permit authorizes only possession of the meat for consumption and is valid only for 90 days. The possession of all other parts such as antlers, under terms of this permit, are expressly prohibited. Wrapped venison packages must be labeled with the permit number.’’

Regarding that permit from local police, I’d suggest calling them first. Such permits may be common in the hinterlands, but when I asked a couple of local law enforcement types about this, they laughed at me.

I’d also suggest trying to find out how to determine if a roadkill deer is still edible. Unless you saw the actual fatal encounter between deer and car, you’ll have no idea how long the thing has been lying there. Not a very appetizing thought.

If you find all this distasteful (I warned you) note the following from wikiHow.com, which states that “for a growing number of freegans, foragers, back-to-nature lifestylers, and for those with budgetary constraints, eating roadkill can be a great source of nourishment . . . .”

I’d prefer the old Kraft Road Kill Gummies, but the company had to stop producing them after animal-rights groups protested. (I am not making this up.) Road Kill Gummies are again available, online, but they all appear to be made in China, and I refuse to consume anything made in China.

As someone (was it Stephen Colbert?) said, “Everything in China is made of lead. Except their lead, which is made of cardboard.”

– Karen Zautyk

Thoughts & Views: Tea Party: How to keep faith with America

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Since Congress put in motion the partial government shutdown, many federal civil servants have been furloughed but that hasn’t stopped federal park rangers from volunteering for trail maintenance in Hillsborough, N.C.

That gave me an idea for how members of Congress – who are still drawing their salaries – and particularly Tea Party advocates – can redeem themselves in the eyes of their constituents.

To earn their pay – and to honor the virtues of patriotism – some of our more agile GOP federal lawmakers, say folks like Eric Cantor of Virginia or Marco Rubio of Florida, for example, could venture out to South Dakota and check in at the Mt. Rushmore National Memorial.

The memorial – under an agreement between the federal government and South Dakota – remains open to visitors so don’t worry Congress folks, you won’t be breaking your laws by going there.

There, of course, are the images of four of the nation’s greatest (depending on your point of view) presidents – Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln and Teddy Roosevelt – sculpted into the cliff face.

Wouldn’t they be doing the country a great service – and, in the process, saving ‘face’ – if Eric, Marco and company were to rappel down the mountain to give our nation’s former leaders a thorough dusting?

I ask you: What could be more fitting to honor America?

Now I grant you there may be some quibbling over a somewhat muddled party line among the four ex-chiefs: There are only two clear Republicans in the mix – Lincoln and Roosevelt. As a Federalist, Washington clearly favored a strong role for the federal government but the maverick Jefferson – with James Madison – formed the Democratic-Republican Party in 1792 as a sort of early states’ rights advocate.

So, three out of four should be sweet enough for the Tea Party brain trust. Just don’t think about defacing George, OK? Hey, he was the guy who set up the mechanism so you could have a job in the first place.

Now when you’re done with this chore – which should keep you busy for some time – and, thankfully, away from Congress – you should think about visiting Detroit which, you may remember, is broke. GM couldn’t save it. Federal bailout? We know the answer to that one.

So here’s my proposition. Again in the interest of public service – let us recall George H. W. Bush’s “Thousand Points of Light” – why not pitch in and help do those many chores that you guys feel government has no business doing.

You know, stuff like picking up the trash, cleaning the streets, fixing broken street lights, getting kids to school, taking care of the sick and infirm.

Or, do we just write them off as a lost cause? Maybe Sarah Palin has a thought on this? Can she look out her window and see Mt. Rushmore? I hope so.

– Ron Leir

Thoughts & Views: ‘Indomitable courage and unswerving devotion’

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Last Friday evening, a 96-year-old man passed away at Englewood Hospital. Everyone in his immediate family had predeceased him. But he was not alone when he died.

Veterans and active-duty service members from around the country had traveled to New Jersey specifically to ensure someone was with him. There were some two dozen standing watch on Friday. Others had been there every day since he had entered the hospital earlier in the week. And none of them knew him personally.

The gentleman who inspired such devotion from complete strangers was Nicholas Oresko of Cresskill, America’s oldest Medal of Honor recipient.

When Oresko was admitted for an operation to repair a broken leg (he died of complications from the surgery), one friend sent emails to inform others of his condition. They posted notices on social media sites, the word soon spread to other veterans and to U.S. Army bases around the world, and the visitors started arriving in Englewood.

“The kids held his hand and prayed with him,” a friend told reporters. Because of something that happened decades before they were born.

On Jan. 23, 1945, near Tettingen, Germany, during the Battle of the Bulge, Oresko — armed with only his rifle and grenades and despite being seriously wounded — singlehandedly took out two enemy machine-gun nests, saving his platoon.

The official commendation for Oresko’s Medal of Honor, the nation’s highest award for valor, reads:

“Master Sgt. Oresko was a platoon leader with Company C [302nd Infantry Regiment, 94th Infantry Division] in an attack against strong enemy positions. Deadly automatic fire from the flanks pinned down his unit. Realizing that a machine gun in a nearby bunker must be eliminated, he swiftly worked ahead alone, braving bullets which struck about him, until close enough to throw a grenade into the German position.

“He rushed the bunker and, with point-blank rifle fire, killed all the hostile occupants who [had] survived the grenade blast. Another machine gun opened up on him, knocking him down and seriously wounding him in the hip.

“Refusing to withdraw from the battle, he placed himself at the head of his platoon to continue the assault. As withering machine-gun and rifle fire swept the area, he struck out alone in advance of his men to a second bunker.

“With a grenade, he crippled the dug-in machine gun defending this position and then wiped out the troops manning it with his rifle, completing his second self-imposed, one-man attack.

“Although weak from loss of blood, he refused to be evacuated until assured the mission was successfully accomplished.

“Through quick thinking, indomitable courage and unswerving devotion to the attack in the face of bitter resistance and while wounded, M/Sgt. Oresko killed 12 Germans, prevented a delay in the assault, and made it possible for Company C to obtain its objective with minimum casualties.”

Jan. 23, 1945, was just five days after the Bayonne native’s 28th birthday.

In a 2012 interview published in The Record, Oresko recalled that before launching his solo attack, “I looked up to heaven and I said: ‘Lord, I know I am going to die. Make it fast, please’.”

And of his actions 67 years before, he said, “I think about that incident every day. It never leaves you. When you kill somebody, even though it’s combat, you remember it, or it remembers you.”

A funeral service for the man whom American troops and veterans never forgot is scheduled Thursday at 1 p.m. at Bergen County Community College in Paramus. Interment will be at George Washington Memorial Park, Paramus.

– Karen Zautyk