Barnegat Township Seeking Input for Vietnam Memorial

Jul 17, 2017
Courtesy of: Thy and Jimmy Cavagnaro

Barnegat Township officials are seeking input from the local American Legion and VFW posts on a Vietnam memorial proposed at the gazebo park on Route 9 and Bay Avenue.

Mayor Albert Bille proposed the move at the July 11 township committee meeting.

“I think the memorial is a great idea, but I don’t think it would hurt to reach out to the veterans groups,” he said. “It’s only right that we hear from them.”

Barnegat resident Thy (pronounced Tee) Cavagnaro, who along with her family fled Saigon as the South Vietnam capital fell to North Vietnamese forces in 1975, approached the township committee in April about erecting the memorial. Cavagnaro (birth name Nguyen) and her husband, Jimmy Cavagnaro, have lived in Barnegat Township the past 13 years and told the committee the memorial for Barnegat Vietnam veterans would be built at their own expense.

“I am thankful for the collective action to help me and my family to find a safe haven in America and to prosper afterwards,” Thy Cavagnaro said.

She said the black granite monument would have images of the American flag, POW-MIA and South Vietnamese flags at the top. Underneath in large lettering, it would say, “Welcome Home Vietnam Veterans.”

Then in smaller letters would be inscribed “In memory and honor of all those who served, died or remain missing in the Vietnam war. Presented in gratitude by the Vietnamese community of New Jersey.”

Bille said a memorial exists in the gazebo park, although it is not exclusively for Vietnam veterans. Erected in 1991, the memorial says, “Dedicated to honor all members of the armed services who served in war and peace from this community” in World War I, World War II, Korea and Vietnam, as well as more-recent conflicts such as Grenada, Panama and Desert Storm.

“I think we can still be in favor of a special Vietnam memorial,” said Bille, who indicated it would be discussed at the next committee meeting, on July 11. “The committee will eventually make a decision, but I think it is only fair that we reach out to our local veterans organizations to hear what they have to say.”

Cavagnaro said she had asked for feedback from five different Vietnam veterans on the design to ensure that the wording chosen did not offend anyone in any way.

“They (the township) said I could have the monument at the flagpole along with the existing monuments, so we chose a spot facing the street, so that people walking by would be able to see it well and be drawn in to come to the park,” she said. “We’ve been told that the location seems fine, so long as there are no obstructions underground like sprinklers or electrical lines. I do hope the committee is able to approve it so that we can get to the next step of searching for the right monument company to help us build it. Our goal is to be able to have all this done for Veterans Day of this year.”

Cavagnaro said she was 1½ when the family escaped Saigon via her uncle’s naval warship, on which he served as captain.

“All extended family members were able to escape on this boat, as well,” she said.

Cavagnaro said from there, they went to the Philippines, then Guam, then flew to one of the three refugee camps set up at Indiantown Gap, Pa. Eventually, they were taken in by a family in East Brunswick.

“These veterans were heroes and were not given their due thanks when they initially came back,” she said. “Barnegat seems like the type of community that would support this, and this is my way of saying thanks for what you did.”

— Eric Englund

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