in all of new jersey, there may be no other patch of earth that has been home to veterans of more American wars than the 26 green and placid acres alongside the railroad tracks a few blocks north of downtown Vineland. Since 1899, it has been the site
of the various incarnations of a state facility familiarly known as the Old Soldiers
Home. When it opened, it had 46 residents, most of them veterans of the Civil War.
Today, it has 296 residents, most of whom served during World War II, but others in
Korea, Vietnam and Desert Storm.
The original soldiers home is long gone. The five-story, 150-room Italianate structure, which had a sandstone facade, and was encrusted with porticoes and balconies
and crowned by a cupola, was first a Methodist seminary and then a Catholic college.
Most of the subsequent buildings are gone, too, replaced more than a decade ago by
the current Vineland Veterans Memorial Home, a series of three-story brick residential structures connected to a central administration and recreation building. A
portion of the original sandstone wall still stands in the foyer of the central building,
adjacent to a more recent addition: the Final Roll Call, a wall hung with plaques bearing the names of each resident who has died since 2011.
“We’re going to continue right around the corner,” says Lisa Williams, supervisor of recreation and volunteer coodinator, pointing to where the names will turn
and march, as if in formation, along the central corridor. The wall is amended each
Memorial Day, when families gather to toss flower wreaths into a pond in the picnic
grove out back as the names are read: 85 in 2016, 81 the year before. “This place is a
living history book, and we do everything we can to preserve as much history as we
can of our soldiers,” Williams says. Here are the stories of four of those men.
AT THE VETERANS HOME IN VINELAND, OLD
SOLDIERS ENJOY COMPANIONSHIP AND SHARED
MEMORIES, SOME PAINFUL, SOME SWEET.
By KEVIN COYNE ● Photographs by DAVE MOSER
Bombardier Saw “Hell from Heaven”
in his room in the Independence Hall unit, Leonard
Streitfeld keeps photos of his late wife, Mary, whom he
met in 1943 at a USO dance on the Boardwalk in Atlantic
City; his three children, one of whom practiced optometry with him in Hammonton; and his grandchildren
and great-grandchildren. And hanging on the wall is a
picture that recalls another momentous chapter in his
94 years: a B- 17 bomber like the one in which he flew 31
missions over occupied Europe in World War II.
“Sitting right there in the nose of the ship,” he says,
pointing to the Plexiglas bubble through which he sighted
his targets as a bombardier and watched the air war un-
fold, “I could see all the stuff ahead of me, and some of it
was really unbelievable; even to this day I think about it.
You have to go toward the target and you see all this flak
around you before you hit the target; hundreds of shells
would come up at us and explode, and pieces of the flak
would hit the plane.”
The day after Pearl Harbor was attacked in 1941,
86 NOVEMBER 2016 NJMONTHLY.COM
OF THEIR LIVES