Okay. Memorial Day is over. We’re finished with honoring those who protect our freedom. Now, for most of us, it’s off to the beach. The next time we think about our heroes won’t be until next year this time. But not all of us. Not everybody will forget about the military men and women who died, or those who returned from duty only to struggle with homelessness, disabilities, and poverty. Last week Jack Murphy of North Wildwood was honored for his work with the Elks – year-round, every year – to help those who served in the past, those who serve today, and their families with whatever they need. (If you don’t know, the Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks, so called because “the elk is a peaceful animal, but will rise in defense of its own in the face of a threat,” is a 138-year-old fraternal organization that does charitable works and champions veterans’ causes.) At a ceremony at the Wildwoods Convention Center, John F. Murphy, Jr. accepted the Veterans Volunteer Award 2006 in the form of a plaque, a commemorative watch, and a desk flag. The plaque indicates that Murphy received this honor for “unselfishly working with and for our national veterans, helping them realize their sacrifices for our country were not in vain, and that the United States of America is a world leader because of their patriotism and valor, but most importantly, for being a good will ambassador to all veterans.” It was the Elks National Veterans Service Commission who chose Murphy as New Jersey’s male recipient this year. An excellent choice. Murphy is the driving force behind the Greater Wildwood Elks Lodge’s many efforts on behalf of our vets. On Memorial Day 2006, he led volunteers in placing 3,780 flags on graves at the Cape May County Veterans Cemetery in Crest Haven before a ceremony in which a wreath was placed by 86-year-old Lou Bishop, a World War II veteran of the 44th Infantry who fought in the Battle of the Bulge. Every year on Nov. 10, the Elks host a luncheon for the vets of the New Jersey Veterans Memorial Home in Vineland. Murphy makes sure they have not only a wonderful home-cooked meal, but gifts as well. A legion of caring cooks takes on the huge task of preparing that meal (one of whom happens to be Mrs. Pat Murphy). Under Jack’s direction, our local Elks have also sent aid to Philadelphia to help homeless vets by training them, securing jobs for them, and ensuring they receive the benefits they so deserve. Murphy says their goal is to “bring them back into society.” They help the Disabled American Veterans get what they need in terms of benefits, housing, and education. Even more than the effort it takes to accomplish all this is the difficulty in finding out who need assistance. Murphy said, “It’s tough. We look around, we seek them out, and then we see what their needs are.” One vet who came to their attention is a 27-year-old Marine in Redbank, a career cop who was activated and sent to Iraq, where he was wounded in an explosion. He lost half his skull. The financial problems of rehab, on top of ordinary living expenses, as you can imagine, is daunting. The Elks, under Murphy’s direction, are helping lighten those burdens. Murphy also cares about those who serve today. That’s why he arranges the yearly Thanksgiving dinner for at least 60 Coasties from Cape May’s Coast Guard Base. Last year, Murphy headed up the Elks’ latest project, involving the 5/117 Cavalry Armored Company of Vineland/Millville, which was deployed to Iraq in April. They are, as Murphy puts it, “boots on the ground,” that is, in the thick of the fight. The Elks are supporting their Family Readiness Group, helping their families financially and enlisting help from other lodges as well. Murphy is making sure “their needs are being met.” It’s not surprising when you talk to someone who’s so selfless, to hear him say, “It’s the Lodge’s award. I’m just there to see the money gets out there.” I know that many hands make these beautiful things happen. But nothing happens unless a dedicated leader shows them the way. Congratulations and thank you, Jack, for showing the way.
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