PICATINNY ARSENAL, N.J. - Picatinny opened its hearts and gates to honor the nation's service members during an Armed Forces Day open house that drew thousands of guests from surrounding communities here May 9.

The popular event that recognizes America's sons and daughters heralded the opening of Picatinny's gates to the public for only the third time since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

*Remembering the fallen

Before the official opening to the public, Brig. Gen. Larry Wyche, commander of the Joint Munition and Lethality Life Cycle Management Command, hosted a tree-memorial dedication ceremony recognizing New Jersey service members who lost their lives during 2008. The ceremony was attended by numerous freeholders and mayors as well as other military and civilian officials.

Honored guests were some family members and friends of the 10 service members who lost their lives during 2008, as well as loved ones of the 119 New Jersey warfighters who lost their lives since the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

During the ceremony, Army Materiel Command Deputy Commander Lt. Gen. James H. Pillsbury thanked the families for the sacrifice of their loved ones and assured them those who paid the ultimate sacrifice would not be forgotten.

Gene F. Feyl, director of the Morris County Board of Chosen Freeholders, echoed Pillsbury's sentiment and added that Americans live freely today because of sacrifices like the ones displayed by those the group gathered to honor.

Those who made the ultimate sacrifice, he said, were not eager to leave their families. But they did so for duty, God and country.

Feyl also recognized that these brave heroes went to war with the full knowledge they might never see their loved ones again. "Their nation called and they answered," he declared.
Closing the ceremony was the Picatinny Chorus singing "Unsung Heroes" followed by the Morris County Police Pipes and Drums performance of Amazing Grace.

After the brief ceremony, guests moved to the "Trail of Heroes," a nature trail surrounded by red oak saplings planted in memory of each of the fallen heroes.

The concept of the Trail of Heroes is that it allows New Jersey families who may have loved ones buried elsewhere, to have a personal, more accessible memorial they can visit.

*Open house

The rest of the day followed with organized activities, beginning with one of the mainstays of the celebration, the Armed Forces Day Parade.

The parade, which ran along Ramsey Avenue in front of the crowds and before the reviewing stands holding family members, included many vehicles - some were from Picatinny's current military projects, while others were vintage autos or from community organizations. Placed between the vehicles, troops, marching bands and people from service organization, including local veteran and scout groups, marched along Ramsey Avenue.

While the overcast skies called off any hope of an aircraft flyover to mark the beginning of the parade, it did not dampen the spirits or enthusiasm of the participants or of the people gathered to watch the event.

Once the parade concluded, the crowd dispersed to attend traditional Picatinny Armed Forces Day activities such activities as Revolutionary War and Civil War re-enactments, the very popular tank-crushing-car event, concerts and kiddie events, as well as static displays and exhibits of military equipment and Picatinny programs.