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A Historical Record of The Hackensack Public Schools By George M. Scudder
How It Began
Researched
Veterans
Revolutionary War
Civil War
Spanish-American War
World War I
World War II

Korean War

Vietnam War
Desert Storm Gulf War
Afghan-Iraq
War
Between Major
Conflicts
Medals
Did You Know?





HOW IT BEGAN

Introduction

Below is the story of how it all began, starting from a simple misplaced Memorial Wall Unit, to a project dedicated to honor, as well as respect, our communities' veterans. I need to mention that my keen interest in history was created by my mother, Elaine Meli, who always made learning about history fun. She also thought it very important to share the information you discovered about history with others. The Wall Unit Story is the sharing of the information I have discovered about the veterans of Hackensack High School and their history.

Written by
Bob Meli
May 25, 2009

Click here to view and print the Veterans Form to gather information for the Veterans web site.

WALL UNIT STORY

WRTTEN JUNE 19, 2007

Well, here is the story of how the wall unit was put up at Hackensack High School in 2004 and moved forward in May of 2005. Unfortunately, I cannot say completed because I don't know if it will ever be completed. I hope and pray that after my passing someone else with a heart to understand these men's sacrifice will continue to research and display their stories. Above all, I pray and hope along with the names on this wall that this growing list of names will stop.

To say that war is good, or that there are not better ways to solve problems in the world, would be foolish to believe. Just as foolish would be to believe that nations need never to react to a reality of, unrestrained aggression, – Two irreconcilable truths. So we the living, are left to recognize those who have stood in harms way to preserve freedom humbly thanking them for their sacrifice to be called upon to do the unthinkable.

It was this awareness which struck me when my sons were in school in 1997-1998, when I realized after reading my father's Hackensack High School yearbook dedication page for those killed in action, KIA, during World War II, that the names of the streets in New Milford were named after young men my sons age, who had been K.I.A., I began to remember the men from Hackensack who would be mentioned when discussions of service would come up. I always wanted to know what they did or where they had been, but it seemed no one talked about it.

The years went by and then 9-11-01 occurred, which brought a heightened awareness to my sons being drafted and a greater sense of memory of those from Hackensack High School who I knew little about their service; yet they were my coaches and teachers, etc. So by 2003, I came up with the idea for a Veterans Wall Unit.

In the fall of 2003, I got the ball rolling. I spoke to Principal Joe DeFalco about the idea of having veterans and family members donate money and their name would go on the wall. I thought it would be a good fundraiser for the Hackensack Blue and Gold Scholarship fund and a way to learn about the veterans. Joe thought it was a great idea but did not like the idea of raising money off the veterans. He also said they had a Wall Unit stored away and we didn't need to make one. I told him I would not ask for money to put up their names, but only request for a donation so we could get the money to put up the Wall Unit. Joe said “Okay, but Bob we have a Wall Unit.” I then brought the idea to the Blue and Gold scholarship fund committee. I explained the idea about the donations being voluntary and a veterans name would go on the Wall whether they gave money or not. I explained that a portion of the money raised would go towards the building of the Wall Unit as phases were completed and the balance would go toward the scholarship fund. After some discussion, everyone was excited about the project. I had not seen the Wall Unit that Joe DeFalco was talking about, so I was going forth with the plan as if we were building the Wall Unit from scratch. I estimated the cost to build the Wall Unit to be about $4,000 if I, being a Union Carpenter from Hackensack's local 15 for 32 years, built it donating the labor. I came back to the next Blue and Gold scholarship fund meeting with the fliers explaining the Wall Unit and cost, and the Blue and Gold committee agreed to it.

I went back to Joe and told him about the Blue and Gold meeting and how they approved the idea and he said “Great, let me show you the Wall Unit we already have.” We were at a football game and Joe said after the game he would show me the Wall Unit. We went across the street to the Music Department and Drivers Education area where there is a storage room with duct work etc. Leaning up against the wall in a corner were three sections of the Wall Unit. I went to get it and Joe said "Be careful, I can't help you". I realized then how much he was struggling to get around because of his diabetes. I got the main section and we looked at it together. There was 3 inch by 1 inch pieces of wood with names on them attached to plywood with decorative molding along the outside. 1,084 names were on the wall; all the names were from World War II, except one from the Korean War, named
Frederick N. Larivee, who was killed in action. Joe looked at me and said “Could you believe they were going to throw this away. I had to stop them. It has been sitting in here since the 1960s, and I stopped them from throwing it out when I became principal 8 years ago or so." After looking at it, I put it back and Joe said “You worry about raising money and I'll worry about putting up the Wall Unit.” I said "OK", and Joe also asked me to show him the final copies of the fliers before I had them printed and mailed any out. He told me he wanted to make it a project graduation for 2004 and most of the Vietnam War names were gathered by the students that year.

I had the fliers made up in January 2004, and went to Hackensack Hospital to show Joe, who was suffering from diabetes and was having tests done. I went into the room. Vicki was there and Joe was sitting up. He was glad to see me and I showed him the final drafts of the fliers. The nurse came in and said something and when she left Joe looked at Vicki and said they may have to cutoff my toe. It got uncomfortably quiet and I said "Joe, I am doing this so you and I can grow old together learning about these guys”. Joe and Vicki just looked at each other and smiled and we resumed our conversation.

Joe began to renovate the Wall Unit. He had it taken out of storage and put up in the hall outside the guidance and nurses' office. Joe had the Art Department paint the American flag on the wall behind it and they also repainted the outer frame of the Wall Unit. Joe planned to leave the original names that were hand written in pen on the small strips of wood and add names to the two side sections that had space. The only thing that distinguished a name was if they were KIA and then they had a gold star stuck to it. The kind you would find on your paper when you were in elementary school. Many of the stars had fallen off and some of the names were smudged, but it was truly unique. To think that the students during World War II cared enough to honor their fellow graduates is quite moving. All was fine till he talked to some teachers and the art department. They decided to copy the names down and then paint over the names and put them back up with name plates. When I came in and saw this during the end of school in 2004, I knew this changed everything because now we had to get these names back on the wall and that would cost some money. He refused to use any of the money raised because he wanted it to go towards the Scholarship fund. Joe also felt he could get the money out of the budget somewhere to honor the veterans. He said he would get the money, but there was little progress during 2004.

The end of the year came and Joe could not find the money in the budget yet. I met with Joe before the end of the school year in June and he said “Bob, sometimes things around here take a few years but don't worry, I will get the names back up.” He gave me that patented Joe smile when telling me. I knew what that meant; we may wait, but he would get it done. He refused again any money saying, "It is the schools Wall Unit and I will get the money through the school.”

I officiate wrestling and during the summer, July 29, 2004, I was coming home from a wrestling tournament and a young man ran a stop sign and T boned my truck. The truck started to rotate on two wheels and my window was open, so to stay in the truck, I reached up and pushed myself in. I wasn't able to get my hand in as my truck came down and crushed my hand. While in the hospital and when I first came home, I knew I was no longer going to raise money for the Wall Unit. I wanted to learn about their stories and I didn't want to be asking veterans or their families for money to do it. I realized Joe was right. I was not able to work from the accident from July 29, 2004 till May 2005. During this time, I worked on rehabilitating my hand and on learning about the veterans. I would look at micro film at the library and call guys for information. This was time I would not have normally had but because of my injury I was able to do this. The more I learned, the more I was moved by the people who were named on the Wall and the more I wanted to know.

I met with Joe at the beginning of school in September 2004, and he continued to assure me he would get the names back on the Wall. I knew he would because Joe DeFalco really loved this project. He wanted to do it right and in the right way. Joe enjoyed the study of history and had a genuine respect for men who served. In February 2005, Joe set up a meeting with a company and had finally set in motion getting the names back up. It was to the point of just finalizing the purchase order, and then on my 50th birthday, May 10, 2005 Joe DeFalco passed away.

After his funeral, only a few days later, I knew I had to get the names on the Wall. I went to Joe's office at the High School and got the list of names which were sitting right on top of his desk. I was worried someone might throw them away not knowing what they were. I planned on paying for it myself. I took the list to Crown Trophy in River Edge and I had them start making the names up. I called my dad, Tom Meli, and told him about having to get the names on the Wall. He laughed and said “Bob you have to get those names back up no matter what it takes; there is nobody else to do it.” I had raised $3,110 which all went into the Blue and Gold Scholarship fund. I know that if I had asked for money to put the names on the Wall, the Blue and Gold committee would have gladly given it to me, but I could not do that to Joe DeFalco. It was the High Schools' Wall Unit that he had put back up and the Art Department had worked on it, and the students had gotten involved with it through project Graduation in 2004, and now I just had to get the names on the Wall. A few days later, I was at the school adding more wood strips for the added names when Mike Wojcik who worked in the Guidance Office came out and said, "How much do you need to finish the project?" I was really taken back because at that point I didn't think anyone cared. I told him about $3,000 to do it right. He said that this project meant a lot to Joe and he would get the money through the faculty. I was so grateful I didn't know what to say. Mike Wojcik got the faculty to donate money to finish the project just as Joe always wanted. I was truly impressed by the faculty's willingness to step up and finish the project for Joe DeFalco.

During that summer of 2005 after work I would go to the high school and put up the names. It took me all summer, and in August 2005, I was finishing the names when the new principal, Mark Porto, came by and thanked me for all the work I had done. I asked him if he would mind if I became a sort of curator for the Wall Unit and put stories up about the men on the Wall. He said he would be honored if I did and thanked me.

When Mark said yes, all I could think of was Joe and the time I said in the hospital the year before he passed that we could grow old together learning about these guys. I know Joe would have enjoyed the stories so much and my only regret is that I cannot share them with him. I feel it is a great gift Joe DeFalco left to us to share these stories with all who are interested.

Getting stories has not always been easy. At the top of the Wall Unit, I have a quote which may shed some light on that subject from a September 17, 1945 issue of LIFE Magazine only 15 days from the end of World War II which says, {The unforgettable battlefields of Italy will seem as unfamiliar to the GI's who won them as to Artist Laning who was wounded near Minturno. “I don't believe anyone ever goes back to a battleground except in memory,” explains Laning, “War creates a kind of vacuum. The outer world ceases to exist. There are only intense feelings, chiefly fear. When it is over the world rushes into the gap again, filling it completely.”}

The Wall Unit today has names from every war since Hackensack High School started in 1896, starting with the Spanish American War. There are 4 names under the Spanish American War, 55 names under World War I, 1187 names under World War II, and 9 names under women of World War II, 49 names under the Korean War, 63 names under the Vietnam War, 45 names under Between Major Conflicts, 3 names under Desert Storm, and 6 names under Afghanistan and Iraq Wars, making the total number of names 1,421. The list continues to grow as we learn of the rich history of those Hackensack High School students who served their country. If you know of anyone who served, or you served yourself, please give us that information we would be honored to add your name to the Wall Unit, and learn your story before or after service, if you would like to share it. When the Wall Unit is filled, your name will be recorded in a book. This Wall Unit is here to thank the men and women who served and to always remember the Veterans' sacrifice.

Wall Unit Web Site 

In September of 2008 when school first opened, Principal Mark Porto asked me (Bob Meli) to meet with him and discuss the research material I had on the Veterans of Hackensack High School. At the meeting was Principal Mark Porto, Frank Bernardo, Felice Tatgenhorst, Web Design II teacher, and myself. We planned out the basic ground work for putting the information I was gathering on the veterans onto creating a web site. The teacher had thirteen students in this class and my expectations were cautious at best on what I thought we would present on each veteran. These students were so exceptional in their computer skills ability, that they far exceeded anything I thought possible at the beginning of the year. The students had a commitment to task and their willingness to change, redesign, and correct material, without complaint, was a quality that I greatly admired. I could not have imagined a more cooperative and talented group of students with which to work. They were simply the best! Mrs. Felice Tatgenhorst and these students have set a high bar with their accomplishments for future work on this project. The people of Hackensack should be very proud of the
Hackensack High School staff and these exceptional students for setting this project in motion and recording the
history of the veterans of Hackensack High School for future generations to view, to learn, and to admire.

Written by
Bob Meli
May 25, 2009

It must be noted that this web site project is a work in progress. It has been designed by Web Design II students at Hackensack High School. Each Veteran has a different display and a different style of presenting the material because each is created by a different student. It is a constantly growing and changing project with new material being discovered, changed, and corrected all the time. This website is a continuous project and a learning experience for the students and staff at Hackensack High School to learn about history and also how to present meaningful material for others to view and learn from in their own creative way. If there are any inconsistencies in our information, or if you have a comment or suggestion about the website, please email us at: veterans@hackensackschools.org
Understand too that this is a learning experience for all and changes which are taking place in the classroom may not appear until the following school year.
Thank you for visiting our site.

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