For information on how you can help support our veterans and active-duty servicemen and women, please see our local American Legion Lenape Post 211.
WWII Monument under Construction
A Brief History of the Two Monuments
Images of both monuments decorated for their dedications during the welcome home celebrations of WWI and WWII respectively
"I didn’t enlist. They were after me. I could have got a deferment, I was almost foreman at the time. I told them I didn’t want a deferment, I want to go in the Army.
I was out on the farm in the afternoon, about 7 o’clock at night it come over the radio that they had bombed Pearl Harbor. My brother Bill was down there [Pearl Harbor], he was on a ship, he happened to be in town. So the ship he was on was sunk, the Helena. He was lucky. The whole family was lucky, actually.
I went to Dix, stayed there for 6 weeks; and went to Fort Knox, Kentucky, seventeen weeks of basic training. From there they sent us to Camp Chafee, Arkansas. They was forming a new division, taking basic training over. So we went to see the captain, the seven of us, and told him if we have to take basic training over, I’m going AWOL. So he says, “So what do you want to do?” We said, “Send us to Europe.” That’s what they did. We had maneuvers in Tennessee. Went on maneuvers for four months. After four months we turned ourselves in, got on a train went out to Fort Miles Standish in Boston. A week later we were on the ship.
We got off at 2 o’clock in the morning off the ship at Liverpool. After Liverpool they put us on a train and took us to Bristol. We stayed in Bristol. We ran a depot over there. We had about 10,000 vehicles in the Depot. After that we had 160 Ducks, amphibious trucks. We took them over D-Day over to Normandy. And they sunk half of them on the way over. [Grimaces] The guy got me out, then he shot that one, got the one next to me. They missed me. Ah, what are you going to do?
We went to Marseille, France to come home. I was in the First Army the Third army, the Seventh Army. It took me a year to get used to civilian life. I can see what happens to these fellows today, coming out of the army. It’s a problem. You get used to drinking. I could drink a quart of whiskey at a time at that time like nothing. Over there the smell was so bad because all these bombed houses, rats, dead horses. You had to be half drunk to survive. I remember the Welcome Home. They had one in Milltown, too; they give us all the beer we wanted, we all got loaded. I was riding the motorcycle at the time, couldn’t find the damn cycle."
"Let me tell you what I did when I came home. I came back and when I came back I got off the train in New Brunswick and I went down to the bus stop at 6:00 in the morning and the guy that used to drive the bus that was still driving the bus said, “I’ll give you a free ride home because you just came home from the service.” I knocked on the door, and my mother got mad as hell because I didn’t call for her to come and get me in New Brunswick. There I was home. I was home.
While I wasn’t busy fighting I was busy shooting crap and since I had $5,000 bucks I used that to buy the lots in back of my mother and father’s house which I always wanted and then the question became, where do we go from here? By that time I decided I wanted to go to college and then I had to pick what college to go to. I was accepted at Princeton and Rutgers and I picked Rutgers. I wish that I had taken Princeton, but that’s beside the point. Because I wanted to go to law school, I used the GI bill to pay for law school. I saved the GI bill for law school but I lived at home, commuted to Rutgers. I did the four years at Rutgers in two and a half years, alright. I commuted back and forth and I always had a job in between because my mother and father didn’t have any money and we had to pay our way through Rutgers, piece it together to get through Rutgers. We did that. In the meanwhile, while I was at Rutgers I met Barbara Washburn and married Barbara Washburn and had children with Barbara Washburn and went to law school."
"My father was very patriotic. My God! When he came from Poland, he came here in 1916 and the first thing he did was he joined the army, WWI. He was so proud to be here. He was proud and he kinda made us all proud to be Americans. So, he always had a flag. He made a big high flagpole. He and Mr. Mazur, who was the local barber, they both played violins.
At night, my father after leaving the Borough Hall, he would go behind the barbershop, and they would play all kinds of tunes, practice their songs. You could hear them in the summertime, with the window open, you could hear them playing the violins.
My father made a promise that when the war ended he would march up Main St. playing his violin. “Even if I had to do it alone,” he said. Mr. Mazur said, “John, you don’t have to do it alone, I’ll go with you.” So WWII ended March 8th. Truman announced it was over. My father rushes home from work to get his violin. He meets Mr. Mazur, he had his barber shop there where the florist shop is on Main Street, and they marched up Main Street. And I was standing in the yard and I thought, that is a little embarrassing. Next thing, Mr. Modzelewski next door said, “John, what are you doing?” He grabbed the American flag from his yard, which he always had there, and joined them. That’s how he came to be the third person in the group.
They marched up Main Street. They went all the way down to the bridge, and when they came back there was a whole big pile of people behind them. They went to the Borough Hall and they continued playing. Mr. Modzelewski raised his flag, and my father with his fiddle and so Mr. Mazur. And people were singing. That was a very memorable thing. So, a promise that was made then, was carried out when the war ended.
Sayreville had a huge parade of all veterans. So the Mayor asked them to head the parade. Everybody was so patriotic. All the soldiers were marching that were home, and some from Fort Dix were marching. It was like a three day holiday really. I wasn’t in the parade, but I just watched. It was such a huge event and it was right in my front yard.
I was very happy for them, cause I wrote to a lot of them: my brother was in, my cousins were in. I wrote to them just to give them support. I used to get about 5 or 6 letters a day sometimes, ‘cause they would answer and I had a lot of classmates. I graduated in 43 and most of those fellows went into the service in those days. People had the stars in their windows. The whole town was patriotic. They more or less participated with their sons in the service. And then the women went to work in the industries, because the men left. So women started to get jobs in the plants, in Hercules and DuPont’s. They were asking for replacements and in those days women didn’t do much labor like that. But they went into industries and they were happy to have them to replace the men: about 1450 servicemen from Sayreville and in WWI had 350. Look at the difference! 1919 had 350 and 1945 had 1450.
I’ll tell you, Sayreville in ’45 was such a close knit community that you almost felt for each other. If something happened to a son then you were there for support. I don’t know about the other parts of town, because I more or less concentrated on here. There were 50 lost in WWI. Quite a few died in WWII, 48. The first one especially, I think it was Delikat, he was from President Park and then Ciecko right from my area. It was very sad, when you heard of someone losing a serviceman, we all felt it, ‘cause we were all like part of it. It impacted on everybody at that time. Now it’s different. You got 40,000 people who don’t care about their neighbor, you know what I mean?
The monuments by the Borough Hall were designed by the Pastor of Our Lady of Victories Church in 1919, he was a Monsignor. When they wanted to build the second monument in 1946, they looked all over for the plans, they wanted to duplicate it, and they found them in the desk of a supervisor at Sayre & Fisher in the attic. I think that was very fortunate really to find them. Fisher stopped producing those bricks but they found 10,000 in a warehouse and Fisher donated them to the Borough.
Phil [Mayor] McCutcheon, he put the first brick on that monument and the last one. That second monument was all built by all Sayreville help: masons and brick layers, anybody who could do anything. Even the politicians wheeled a wheelbarrow.
They [Sayreville] appreciated veterans, because they acquired 40 acres of land for the park and they named it after the veterans. The Borough Hall was on those 40 acres. The land was acquired from Sayre & Fisher. MacArthur Avenue was the first street in the country to be named after General MacArthur. They [Sayreville] thought that this monument was the first [WWII] monument in the country. That [park] was vacant land ‘cause Sayre & Fisher owned everything in that part, starting from here going back towards the river."
“I remember I was walking down the street and one lady hollered to me something that there was a war going on, that they bombed Pearl Harbor or something that time. But I was still young at that time yet too. And then later on my brother had to go to service. Eddie went and Walter went. They all went. Frank never came back. My brother Walter was injured. I don’t think Eddie went overseas. I think he was in Hawaii if I’m not mistaken. He was the only one that didn’t have to go overseas. The others were. I even got the darn telegrams that my mother got when my brother was killed. I still have them. I kept them all these years.
It was awful not having them home. It was terrible, because by that time already Walter was married. Eddie was still pretty young yet too. He wasn’t married at that time. Frank of course, never was married and he was only 25 when he lost his life over there.
And he got killed just before the war ended. The war ended I think what February or March and he got killed in February.
There were a lot of boys who went. I even had a little scrapbook that I have pictures of some of the soldiers. I still have that book. A lot of pictures are gone. I don’t know, somebody must have taken them. The letters, the write-ups about them; I got those telegrams. They were mixed up too. Some of them said he was killed March something. Another telegram would say he was killed in February. Nothing was ever the right date. I never got any kind of personal - like a dog tag. I got nothing of his! I called. I checked. Oh, I inquired so many places and never got anything.
According to one of the letters we got, my brother was supposed to have been buried someplace in Luxemburg. Then they brought his remains over here. They had a big funeral over here. That was sad too. There had such a big turnout. I had pictures of all the veterans and everybody showed up. It was really nice but very sad.”
Plan for Sayreville's War Memorial Park
WWI & WWII Uniforms on Display in the Sayreville Historical Society Museum
Designed by the Reverend William A. Gilfillan, a pastor from Our Lady of Victories R.C. Church, Sayreville’s monument to its veterans of the Great War was one of the first erected in America. Built between 1919 and 1920, its bricks were donated by the Sayre and Fisher Brick Company. Local men volunteered their skill and labor to ensure the speedy completion of the unique monument, which stands at the south side of the (then yet to be built) Borough Hall.
In 1946, Sayre and Fisher again donated bricks for the construction of a war monument. The World War II monument was built on a grassy knoll on the north side of Borough Hall, in a mirrored design that complimented the WWI Monument. Both structures stand today to honor the memory of the World Wars and of those who served.
Bronze plaques list the names of all the residents of Sayreville who served. Stars are cast in the bronze beside the names of those who gave their lives in the conflicts.