Military welcomed at Shore

Military welcomed at Shore: Towns offer discounts to GIs and volunteers


Written by
Erik Larsen | Staff Writer

More beach towns along the Shore are waiving the cost of beach badges for members of the military, their families and civilians who are willing to volunteer their time as firefighters and first-aiders.

Last month, Gov. Chris Christie signed a new law that allows oceanfront municipalities to offer free or discounted beach badges to active duty military personnel and their dependents. The legislation sought to legitimatize what many towns have been doing for years while the state looked the other way.

While each oceanfront town is empowered to set beach-badge fees, only the state can authorize which groups are exempt from paying.

Nevertheless, Belmar was among the first to waive the cost of beach badges for active-duty military, following the 1991 Gulf War. Earlier this year, the Borough Council passed a resolution extending that courtesy to its volunteer firefighters and first-aiders.

Belmar Mayor Matthew J. Doherty, a Democrat, who took office in January, said he wanted to honor all aspects of community service.

“If you’re a volunteer in Belmar, your family still has to pay — it’s not as generous as the benefit for the military —but it’s still a benefit to you as a volunteer,” Doherty said.

Might the state object? Doherty said the interest of the state is to prevent discrimination along class lines, not to prevent communities from rewarding different forms of public service. The governor himself demonstrated that fact when he signed the military beach badges bill on June 21.

That bill, which was sponsored by state Sen. Christopher J. Connors, Assemblyman Brian E. Rumpf and Assemblywoman DiAnne C. Gove, all R-Ocean, began as a high school project two years ago for Casey Loundy, 19, of Point Pleasant Beach.

As part of a report, Loundy researched the history of her grandfather, Sidney Loundy, who served in the Army during World War II and was captured as a prisoner of war in the Battle of the Bulge. He died in 1975.

Now a student at the University of Miami, Loundy said she learned that her grandfather, who became a successful entrepreneur after the war, never spoke much about his experiences as a POW. But whatever happened to him had a profound impact on how he treated others in uniform.

“When he came home to Seaside Heights, he would let military members stay with their families at his boarding house for free, and he would feed them at his restaurant for no charge at all,” she said.

The stories of her grandfather inspired Loundy to begin lobbying beach towns like Seaside Heights to get the state government to endorse what towns like Belmar had been doing for years.

Loundy even convinced the business community in Seaside Heights to offer discounts to the military. Today, one needs only to look throughout town for the red, white and blue “Military Discount Available” signs in storefront doors and windows to see the legacy of that effort.

Steve Whalen, the owner of Lucky Leo’s Amusements on the Boardwalk, has not only the sign, but gives out $5 bills to both active duty military and veterans when they come to his arcade.

“If you’ve served your country, it’s good enough for us,” Whalen said. “If you’ve got a military ID, and there’s a lot of them out there … Just come in, go have fun.”

On Saturday in Belmar, Doherty and his staff hosted the borough’s first military appreciation day in the form of a cookout on the Boardwalk. There was donated food, music, entertainment and a special area of the beach reserved for military families.

Doherty said he wants service members stationed at New Jersey’s armories, forts and bases to know they are part of the community and always welcome in Belmar.

Borough Municipal Court Judge Dennis Lavender, who has a daughter in the Air Force, volunteered for cleanup duty Saturday.

“They don’t make anything, I can tell you that,” Lavender said of military salaries. “They’re thrilled by something like this, it makes them feel as if people do care about what they do.”

Naval Petty Officer 3rd Class Aja Tatiana, a native of Colombia, who served in Afghanistan and has been stationed at Naval Weapons Station Earle since 2009, said she felt a feeling of real mutual admiration.

“This is the first time we have been out to the Shore and it’s really nice. It makes you feel appreciated and it’s an opportunity for me to spend time with my family,” Tatiana said.

Captain David “Fuzz’’ Harrison, commanding officer at Earle, asked Doherty if he had heard correctly that this was to become an annual event in Belmar.

“Absolutely it will be an annual event,” Doherty replied.