‘Real heroes’

Bridge at Cherry Hill honors group of veterans during special ceremony

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“The sun is shining,” Frank Castellone began as he stepped to the podium inside The Bridge at Cherry Hill’s salon Monday morning. “We are here today to honor our veterans.”

But Castellone – who is also known as Frank Castle, and is one of Rhode Island’s top entertainers – did much, much more than simply give thanks to 18 veterans for their “great service to our country.”

Castellone and members of the 107th Signal Corps – a former National Guard Unit that was only one of eight throughout the country to be activated for duty in the Vietnam War – made Veterans Day 2014 special for the appreciative group, which included a retired U.S. Air Force lieutenant colonel and a U.S. Army soldier who was awarded the prestigious Purple Heart.

While the 107th Signal Corps veterans – who were dressed in specially designed black hats, shirts and jackets – put on a ceremony that people like The Bridge’s Maryann Grace and Debra Demar described as extraordinary, the morning’s keynote address was delivered by Johnston Mayor Joseph Polisena.

“The people in this room are the real heroes of our country,” Polisena said. “The professional football, basketball and baseball players … they’re not heroes. My dad was a Korean War veteran. He never talked about what he and his company did. Yet, like you, they protected our freedom, and we thank you for your great service to our country.”

Castellone led the 107th Signal Corps in a music-filled “Salute to Our Veterans” that included an opening and closing prayer and people singing the national anthem.

It was a vintage stars-and-stripes celebration that began with the Pledge of Allegiance and wound up with Castellone – in his best baritone vice – proclaiming “God Bless America.”

For inside of an hour, the 107th Signal Corps put an unmatched display of pomp and circumstance for the 18 veterans, who each received an American flag and special citation of appreciation created and printed especially for Monday’s ceremony by Corps member Joe Errico.

Perhaps the most emotional part of Monday’s ceremony came when Demar, the sales and marketing director at The Bridge at Cherry Hill, read the names of each and every veteran amid the music Castellone played on his keyboard.

To enhance Demar’s introductions, members of the 107th Signal Corps took a citation and flag and walked it to where each of the 18 veterans was sitting. They made the presentation, saluted each vet and said, “Thank you for your service to our country.”

The veterans who were honored Monday were Stanley Balkum, Mel Pescarino, Tom Belcher, Larry Calo, Mary Carello, Gordon Dutra, Vincent Mastrostefano, Ralph Riccio, Richard Todisco, Nick Capezza, Joseph DiLucido, Eugene Famiglietti, John Gambuto, Charles Games, John Mourine, Louis Saccoccio, Domenic Vavala and Henry Paolino.

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