Although thousands of students have come to visit the veterans’ museum at the Joyce-Herbert Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 226 on West Ninth Street since it opened its doors in 2007, it is still a struggle to keep the doors open. Energy and other costs are rising all the time, and there is a general lack of knowledge in the public what a treasure Bayonne has.
Two local Girl Scouts from Troop 2806 decided to do something about that. They created an informative brochure about the museum and its important and interesting artifacts and staff.
Margaret Doria and Julianne Spiniello were so inspired by what they saw and felt at the museum when they came with their classes that they decided to help make other people aware of it.
Artifacts from Bayonne veterans dating back to the American Civil War decorate every wall of one very large room and have, as the collection expands, spread out into the hallways.
Each Tuesday, the veterans’ post throws open its doors for visitors to come see the collection of military items donated to the museum by Bayonne veterans.
Although Post Commander Glenn Flora was instrumental in promoting the idea of a military museum, he credits fellow VFW member Joseph Kennedy with pulling many of the pieces together in order to make it work.
The museum has more than a dozen basic displays, covering the various wars or places of historic significance, such as the display dedicated to Elco BoatWorks where Patrol Torpedo boats were constructed for use in World War II, including the most famous PT 109 commanded by John F. Kennedy.
Nearly everything is authentic, including some parts of the Civil War uniform. There are even a few items representing civil defense and the personal history of veterans.
Commander Glen J. Flora said the two Girl Scouts worked on the project for almost a year.
“They did a great job,” he said. “They came here on weekends to interview vets. They found out what we did here and put together this program.”
The document the girls put together will be sent out to schools and other places to let people know what the museum is about.
Not originally a Girl Scout project
Although this project has since become something the two Girl Scouts can use to earn their silver level, it didn’t start out that way, said scout leader Veronica Cox.
Girl Scout rankings differ from Boy Scouts in that there are three levels: Bronze, Silver and Gold. But to attain the highest rank, Girl Scouts often have to do more overall than to attain Eagle Scouts in the Boy Scout system, Cox said.
Spiniello, who is looking ahead toward a career as a teacher, said she and Doria realized when they came to visit the museum that a brochure was needed.
They started working on it back in February 2012 and completed it early in January this year.
“We came to the museum, asking about and interviewing veterans for information to put into the brochure,” she said.
Spiniello said among the things that surprised her about this research was how the museum got its name from the first and last person from Bayonne who died in World War I.
“I thought it was the name of one person,” she said.
Doria said she was surprised by how much material the museum had brought together before people started donating items that were largely just sitting around.
The names on each plaque read like a who’s who of Bayonne families, from former Mayor Dennis Collins to the late Medal of Honor recipient Stephen Gregg.
Among one of Spiniello’s favorite things is the uniform of Herman Shanker, who both girls got to interview and learn about his experiences before his death last year.
“A lot of people’s family members had to go to war, and not all of these are people still living in Bayonne.” – Margaret Doria
Herman Shanker has two uniforms on display from his military service as a pilot of a B-24 bomber. He was shot down twice in the South Pacific during WWII.
Shanker appeared at the museum prior to his death to talk to students about his experiences during World War II.
While Doria may have several favorite things in the museum, she said she liked the display of weapons as well as the picture of her father, former Bayonne Mayor Joseph Doria.
She said it was tough deciding what to put in or leave out with some much material to choose from.
“We had a lot of information and all of it was important,” said Spiniello. “But we wanted people to come to the museum so we didn’t put in too much.”
A secret no longer
Thanks to gifts from veterans, local and far away, as well as family members of veterans, Bayonne has a very comprehensive museum of military artifacts covering every war from the American Civil War to the two contemporary wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
“We get more all the time,” Flora said, disliking the fact that people see the museum as Bayonne’s best kept secret.
“This shouldn’t be a secret. People should know about it, and come here,” he said.
In a strange way, the project became something larger and more significant to both girls, giving them a sense of belonging to the history of Bayonne and a deeper understanding of what it meant to go to war, the sacrifices men and women made, as well as the progression of events that made up a big part of history itself.
“A lot of people’s family members had to go to war, and not all of these people are still living in Bayonne. Some don’t understand the struggle they went through, losing their best friend or family members, and it’s important for people to understand what sacrifices they made.” Doria said. She hopes to pursue a career as a forensic archeologist.
Spiniello said through the project they hoped to draw people’s attention to the post and the museum.
“This is the gem of Bayonne,” she said.
She said that before she came here with the school, she was unaware of things like this being done, but since sees a united community around something like this museum.
Doria said she didn’t about the museum before she came but once she saw it she became very interested, especially because she has family members in the city.
“I learned about what people gave up to preserve our freedoms and this made me proud to be an American,” Doria said.
The Veterans’ Museum is located at the Joyce-Herbert VFW Post 226 at 16 West Ninth Street. For more information about hours or to schedule a visit, call (201) 858-1416.