By Mr Eric Kowal (RDECOM)June 1, 2011
More than a dozen service members from the state of New Jersey will be honored here June 11 at a private ceremony dedicated to their service to their country.
However, these 14 brave men will not be present to witness this recognition. Like the 135 New Jerseyans recognized here before them, all gave their lives while serving in harm’s way.
Each year since 2007, Picatinny Arsenal has recognized service members of all branches of the armed forces with ties to the state and who died in uniform.
Here at Picatinny, these men and women are memorialized by the New Jersey state tree, the Red Oak, and a large stone that bears their name, rank, branch of service, hometown and
the date of their death.
The memorial began under the direction of then-Commanding General Maj. Gen. Paul Izzo. The trees, then saplings, have since taken the shape of strong blooming trees that symbolize the life of a son, daughter, brother, sister, father, or mother.
Military leadership has changed hands both on the commanding general and garrison level, but the purpose behind the memorial has remained the same.
“These trees serve as a constant reminder of the harsh realities of war,” said Izzo’s successor and former Commanding General, Lt. Gen. William Phillips, at the dedication ceremony in 2009.
“One of the most important things we can do as individuals and Americans is to remember those we honor today. This memorial will perpetuate their memory,” Phillips said.
Mothers in particular honor cherished memories. The month of May ushers in Mother’s Day and the official start of the summer months with the recognition of Memorial Day. For most people, those holidays are generally times of relative happiness. But for two Picatinny employees, the occasions are more somber.
Charlene Bowie-Cosgrove and Shawn Wroblewski each lost a son who was serving in Iraq.
Gone are the mid-morning Mother’s Day phone calls. On April 6, 2004, Marine Corps 2nd
Lt. John T. Wroblewski died from injuries received from hostile fire in Al Anbar Province, Iraq.
He was assigned to 2nd Battalion, 4th Marines, 1st Marine Division, I Marine Expeditionary Force, Camp Pendleton, Calif.
His friends and comrades often called him “J.T.” or “Ski” for short. He was a Rutgers University graduate and joined the Marine Corps after the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001.
Wroblewski married his wife, Joanna, less than a year before his death. More than 1,000 people attended his funeral, a testament to his character.
In September of 2010, a new pyrotechnics facility here at Picatinny was dedicated in Wroblewski’s name.
"This young Marine made the ultimate sacrifice to protect and defend our country,” said Picatinny’s Commanding General, Brig. Gen. Jonathan Maddux, at the ceremony.
“The Picatinny community and the nation are forever grateful for his service."
His mother Shawn said that it could not have been more appropriate to have both a tree and a building dedicated to her son here on the arsenal.
“Many years ago when the boys were young,we used to go as a family to Armed Forces Day at Picatinny,” she said.
“John and his brothers loved going on the helicopter, the tanks,and loved being around the military.”
OTHERS VISIT TREE
Shawn began working at the arsenal around the same time as the building dedication. She works as an administrative assistant in the Child Development Center here.
“John is buried at Arlington National Cemetery and we don't get down there too often, maybe three times a year,” she said.
“I go by John's tree sometimes during lunchtime and say some prayers and just talk to him and reflect. I have noticed that others visit his tree and leave Marine Corps flags there. I am so glad to see that others visit the trees.”
Coincidentally, Shawn gave her resume to another gold star mother, Charlene Cosgrove-Bowie, which is how she got the call to become part of the Picatinny family.
Through various programs that reach out to families that have lost a loved one while serving in the Armed Forces, Shawn and Charlene were able to share a connection and kindle a friendship.
Charlene became employed by the Picatinny Arsenal Family, Morale, Welfare and Recreation Directorate after becoming involved with various committees and planning boards throughout
“In all the events I attended here at Picatinny, I had hoped that I would one day work here or at least volunteer here,” Cosgrove-Bowie said.
She lost her son, Lance Cpl. Christopher Cosgrove III on Oct. 1, 2006. He was killed in action while conducting combat operations against enemy forces in Al Anbar Province, Iraq.
Charlene said her son got engaged in October 2005 just before departing the states. He and his fiancée were to be married on Aug. 10, 2007.
“Chris was only days away from coming home in October 2006,” his mother said.
“He had volunteered that Sunday morning, October 1, to work the entry control check point into Fallujah. He had volunteered to stay behind to help train the new unit coming in rather than leave right away with the rest of his unit."
“He actually switched with someone else that morning to work the check point rather than be on watch at another location,” she said.
DUTY AT PICATINNY
He was 23 years old when he died. Later this year, the current Marine Corps Reserve building here will be renovated and dedicated in his honor.
“Picatinny is where my son reported for duty once a month, so I knew it would feel good to be working here in some capacity,” she said.
“It brings a smile to my face to see our Soldiers, Marines and all our military members walking down the halls or passing by them in the parking lots.”
The Explosives Ordnance Disposal Directorate has its building named after Sgt. 1st Class Scott Smith. Smith was married to Gari-Lynn Smith who now works with Project Manager Maneuver
Trees have also been planted in honor of the other 146 service members who have died since Sept. 11, 2001.