Samuel Brummer fled Poland with members of his family in 1939 to escape growing Nazi terror.
A few years later, the former refugee returned to Europe as a warrior, a soldier in the United States Army who landed at Omaha Beach in France during the D-Day invasion and witnessed firsthand an English Channel soaked red with the blood of his comrades.
“I’m no hero. I was trained to do a job, just like every other soldier,” said Brummer, who lost hearing in one ear from the blasts of the howitzer he manned. “The honors really belong to those who never made if off the beaches of Normandy and out of the hedgerows of France.”
Brummer, who opened -- and still works at -- Newark’s landmark Hobby’s Delicatessen and Restaurant 50 years ago, was the keynote speaker during Essex County’s third annual Veterans Day ceremony Wednesday in Newark, where fighting men and women from Fairfield to Montclair to Belleville were honored for their service.
Speaking at Essex County Veterans Memorial Park shortly before a wreath-laying ceremony, Brummer recounted three times he sailed past the Statue of Liberty -- the first as a newcomer who knew no English, the second as a soldier who got “an all-expenses-paid trip” back to Europe on the Queen Mary, and then another voyage home after the Allied victory.
“The symbol of hope and freedom I’d always read about, seeing her standing there tall and proud, gave this immigrant teenager the confidence to go on,” said Brummer, his voice breaking with emotion.
In addition to Brummer’s address, an honor guard from the Essex County Sheriff’s Office presented the colors and a piper played a medley of military anthems honoring every branch of the service, with veterans of that branch standing when the appropriate tune was played. The invocation was read by the county’s health officer, Michael Festa, who is also chaplain of the American Legion post in Caldwell.
Speakers also touted the ways the administration of Essex County Executive Joseph DiVincenzo has worked in the last decade to commemorate the service of the county’s military personnel. The new courthouse in Newark was named in honor of veterans, the park where Wednesday’s ceremony was held was completed in 2009, and a memorial at Glendale Cemetery in Bloomfield was finished last month.
“I remember a US Army veteran telling me, before he returned home from the Vietnam War, about how he was briefed to be prepared to be spit on when he got back,” said Clarence Jackson, a member of Disabled American Veterans Chapter 3 in Newark. “What a difference a day makes.”
“Your leadership, sacrifice, on behalf of this great nation, on behalf of the world, can never be repaid,” said Essex County Sheriff Armando Fontoura, a peacetime veteran of the US Army, who was addressing the combat veterans in the crowd Wednesday. “I can tell you nothing feels as good as when you’re marching and people applaud. But they weren’t applauding me. They were applauding you.”
Another speaker, Joseph Fornarotto, a World War II veteran and commander of the Belleville-Nutley Disabled American Veterans post, joined others in commending DiVincenzo and the county Board of Freeholders for their commitment to veterans.
And he also took the opportunity to call on the county to do a bit more, asking that a veterans hospital be built at a disused medical facility in Belleville to serve some of nation’s 11 million former military personnel, who often have to wait six months or more for a bed at a VA hospital, Fornarotto said.
“Joe’s been doing this with me for 25 years,” DiVincenzo said. “He’s persistent.”