Honoring the Families of Fallen Soldiers—It’s About Time! (Dec. '10 Constituent Newsletter)

By Senator Jim Beach

Last month I participated in an event that broke my heart. On a beautiful Sunday afternoon, I stood alongside Assemblywoman Pam Lampitt, Cherry Hill Mayor Bernie Platt and several County officials as we dedicated – in memoriam – Jeremy Kane Park.

The park, situated across the street from Cherry Hill’s Bret Harte Elementary School, is always bustling. On any given day, at any given time, you will find children of all ages, parents, grandparents and even the occasional puppy swinging, climbing and sliding with joy. But on this particular afternoon, the mood was far more somber as we remembered one particular young man who grew up playing in that park: Lance Cpl. Jeremy Kane, a 2006 graduate of Cherry Hill High School-East, killed last January by a suicide bomb attack in Afghanistan at the age of 22.

As I listened to Jeremy’s mother, Melinda, reflect on her son’s enthusiasm and love for life, I was humbled. It is impossible to understand her pain, or the pain that Jeremy’s two younger brothers now feel. All we can do is honor them. Just as Jeremy sacrificed for his country, so too has his family. Just as he exhibited bravery, so have they.

No one understands that better than Judi Tapper, President of the New Jersey Gold Star Mothers, who also joined us that day. For years, Judi has fought to add New Jersey among the list of states that recognize the families of our fallen heroes with a Gold Star Family licensed plate.

Each legislative session, a variety of “Special Cause” licenses plates such as the Gold Star Family plate are introduced, but because the costs attached are so prohibitive to the State, they have historically languished in committee.

This year, Assemblyman Jack Conners and I came up with a solution. We submitted legislation to authorize a special Gold Star Family motor vehicle license plate for specific family members – parents, siblings, spouses and children – of military personnel who died while on active duty; however, our bill creates a far less expensive flat digital plate, rather than the raised license plate that the State has historically issued.

Our bill has earned not only widespread bi-partisan support, but also the support of the New Jersey Motor Vehicle Commission, which has traditionally opposed any legislation that would establish a new special license plate program. Recognizing the advanced license plate technology that we have proposed and the cost savings associated with that technology, the Commission agrees that it is time for New Jersey to honor those whose loved ones have made the ultimate sacrifice in defending our country.

It has been my great honor to see our bill sail through both houses of the legislature without opposition. Now it awaits the Governor’s signature.

While nothing that we do will fully heal a family who has experienced first-hand the horrific price of war, we can honor them and their sacrifice in this small but meaningful way. It is simply the right thing to do…and it’s about time!

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