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The span of memories

Photo by Karen Zautyk; inset courtesy Montes De Oca family

Photo by Karen Zautyk; inset courtesy Montes De Oca family

 

By Karen Zautyk

Observer Correspondent

NORTH ARLINGTON –

In the middle of the day on July 4, in the middle of the span that was known on the western side of the Passaic River as the Rutgers St. Bridge and on the eastern side as the Belleville Pike Bridge, there was a ceremony to mark its official renaming. Henceforth, it shall be called the Cpl. Osbrany Montes De Oca Memorial Bridge.

Undoubtedly, people will shorten that to just “the Montes De Oca Bridge,” or even “the De Oca Bridge,” which would be colloquially acceptable. But in no instance, should it revert to its old names.

Despite official renamings, no one (except certain traffic reporters) calls the 59th St. Bridge in Manhattan the Ed Koch Queensboro Bridge, and no one calls the Brooklyn-Battery Tunnel the Hugh L. Carey Tunnel.

The Lance Cpl. Osbrany Montes De Oca Memorial Bridge, however, is different. Just as it rises above the river, it rises above politics. It memorializes a local man, a local patriot, a local hero, a 20-yearold Marine from North Arlington who was killed February 2012 on a combat mission in Helmand Province, Afghanistan.

The thousands who cross the span every day should remind themselves at each crossing of the Marine’s supreme sacrifice.

Those who live in the surrounding towns — Belleville, North Arlington, Kearny, Lyndhurst, Nutley — should try to forget the bridge ever had another name.

Children should be taught to use the new name.

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Photos by Karen Zautyk Osmany Montes De Oca, who is Osbrany’s twin; Maria Samaniego, Osbrany’s girlfriend; and the Marine’s mother, Miriam Montes De Oca (l. to r.) at ceremony, which featured Marine Corps Color Guard

Photos by Karen Zautyk
Osmany Montes De Oca, who is Osbrany’s twin; Maria Samaniego, Osbrany’s girlfriend; and the Marine’s mother, Miriam Montes De Oca (l. to r.) at ceremony, which featured Marine Corps Color Guard

 

The Montes De Oca Bridge is a tribute to every American serving in uniform, serving in the name of liberty. And to the families who love them. The crowd that gathered at noon July 4 in the scorching sunlight and blistering heat was there to honor the corporal and all his military compatriots. Patriotism is not necessarily comfortable.

The ceremony included rousing music, and the plaintive sounds of a lone bagpipe; there were heartfelt prayers; and there were brief speeches, some by the local, state and national elected officials who had helped gain government approval for the renaming.

Among the speakers was North Arlington Mayor Peter Massa, who had earlier stated: “Cpl. Osbrany Montes De Oca gave his life for this country on a battlefield halfway across the world. It is a fitting tribute to have the bridge renamed in his honor and to stand as an everlasting monument to the sacrifice he made for the United States of America.”

A memorial wreath was cast into the waters. And the new bridge signs were unveiled.

But at the heart of it all were the active-duty Marines serving in the color guard, the VFW, American Legion and West Hudson Marine Corps League, who cooperated in organizing the event, and the veterans from various branches of the military and various wars (there was a significant Vietnam veterans’ contingent) who were there to pay tribute to a fallen brother.

Also at the heart of it were all the ordinary people who had come out to witness the dedication. And the extraordinary people, the members of the corporal’s family, including his mother, Miriam Montes De Oca, a woman whose fragile beauty belies her incredible inner strength.

Miriam Montes De Oca, whose home is on the Belleville Pike, has lost one son to combat. She also has two others serving in the Marine Corps: Osbrany’s twin, Osmany, and their older brother, Sandro. A fourth son, Franklin, the youngest, reportedly also harbors a desire to join the Corps.

Last year, following Osbrany’s hometown funeral, with full military honors, and his burial at Holy Cross Cemetery, the mourning mother was kind enough to sit down with Observer correspondent Jeff Bahr to share some memories of her son.

“Osbrany and Osmany were determined to become U.S. Marines,” she told Bahr. “Since they were 11, they dreamed about being Marines. They said when they were 18 they wanted to sign up and were going to do it no matter what I said. Osbrany even told me that he would one day win the Purple Heart.”

She recalled Osbrany telling her, “Mom, I know what I’m getting myself into. If I’m going to die, I’m going to die a Marine.” Bahr wrote: “It was a haunting comment that she could never quite shake.”

He also described a velvet box on a table in the family’s home, a box containing Osbrany’s Purple Heart.

We spoke to Miriam before the ceremony began, only briefly because it appeared she was going to be besieged by television reporters. The bridge renaming was “something really important,” she told us. “Every time I am over here,” she explained, “I will feel like my son is here, too.”

We are certain he was there on the Fourth of July. As the ceremony was beginning, there was a brief, but telling, moment, that some in the crowd might have not even seen.

The Marine Corps Color Guard, having marched in with the American flag and the U.S. Marine flag, set the banners onto pedestals on the bridge walkway at center span. Just then, a gust of wind swept in, and the Stars & Stripes began to topple.

As some onlookers gasped, one of the Vietnam veterans acted–sprinting forward with lightning speed and grasping Old Glory before it could touch the ground.

We had a feeling that Lance Cpl. Osbrany Montes De Oca was looking down, and saluting. Semper Fi.

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