Long overdue honors for N.J. servicemen

MOORESTOWN, N.J. - January 16, 2011

They came from every branch of the service and served in World War II, Korea, Vietnam and Iraq.

During a special ceremony at the Moorestown Mall, two dozen combat veterans from southern New Jersey received the New Jersey Distinguished Service Medal, the state's highest military award. One of the recipients, a former Marine, is now a Mount Laurel cop.

Omar Valentin of Marlton told Action News, "Getting this award makes you feel like people appreciate you and everything you've done."

There were tears, too, from some of the Vietnam vets who years ago returned to the states facing anti-war protesters and scorn. For them, this ceremony was the welcome home and thank you they never got.

"To have something like this, it was very emotional," said Paul Gary of Willingboro, New Jersey. "You finally settled everything, you've finally come home and everything is great. So it was very, very good for me."

The medal ceremony coincides with the veterans outreach program called "One Mall a Month" where the state sets up a kiosk at malls all over New Jersey to offer advice and information to veterans.

New Jersey has almost 500,000 veterans living here. It's estimated as many as 10,000 of them are not taking advantage of the health, education, mortgage, pension and tax benefits available because they don't know about them.

"They've earned it, absolutely earned it," said Raymond Zawacki, the Deputy Commissioner of Veterans Affairs. "They're entitled to it and they should have it and we're here to help them get it."

If you have questions about whether you qualify for benefits you can call 1-888-8NJ-VETS, (1-888-865-8387).

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