Statue of war hero unveiled

Stephen R. Gregg now stands in bronze

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The statue of Stephen R. Gregg. Photos by Daniel Israel
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The moment the statue was unveiled.
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Kopacz addresses the crowd at the unveiling.
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The statue of Stephen R. Gregg. Photos by Daniel Israel
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The moment the statue was unveiled.
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Kopacz addresses the crowd at the unveiling.

A statue of Stephen R. Gregg, a World War II hero and Congressional Medal of Honor winner from Bayonne, was unveiled in a ceremony in the county park that bears his name. The statue stands near the 43rd Street entrance, just off of JFK Blvd.

Hudson County Executive Tom DeGise, County Commissioner Kenneth Kopacz of Bayonne, and members of the Gregg family, including Gregg’s son Stephen Jr. and daughter Susan, unveiled the statue on July 15.

Gregg’s statue stands seven feet tall and sits atop a three foot-high granite pedestal surrounded by plantings with decorative lighting and pillars. An existing plaque honoring Gregg was incorporated into the pedestal.

The $130,00 project was funded by the County’s “One Percent for Art” Trust Fund that sets aside one percent of all county capital project costs for the creation of professionally created public artwork near county buildings and in county parks and recreational spaces.

The Office of Cultural and Heritage Affairs through its public art committee culminated reviewed proposals in a signed contract on January 4, 2020 with J. Brett Grill, of JBG Sculpture, Grand Rapids, Michigan.

A true hero

Born in 1914, Gregg was a welder who lived on Hobart Street in Bayonne before the war. He volunteered for the army after the bombing of Pearl Harbor. His job as a welder kept him out of the draft prior to that.

On August 27, 1944, Gregg saved seven wounded soldiers while his unit was advancing up a hill near Montélimar in southern France, when enemy gunfire pinned them down. The men were hit, and the fierce gunfire prevented medics from reaching them.

Gregg picked up a discarded light machine gun and charged up the hill with a medic in tow. Even as German soldiers tossed grenades at him, Gregg continued to fire at them, allowing the medic to rescue the wounded men.

After running out of ammunition, Gregg was surrounded and nearly captured, but escaped when U.S. troops fired on the Germans.

Highly decorated

The moment the statue was unveiled

Gregg was also awarded a Silver Star, a Bronze Star with cluster, a purple heart with cluster, the French Croix de Guerre, and the Combat Infantry Badge. On Bastille Day in 2001, France honored him with its highest medal, The Legion of Honor. He was one of the most highly decorated soldiers of World War II.

Prior to his heroic action in France, Gregg was wounded twice. Once near Oran, Algeria in late 1943, during the U.S. North Africa campaign and again while in action in Italy in January 1944, where he won his Silver Star.

Gregg returned to Bayonne in May of 1945, holding the rank of Lieutenant, to a host of ceremonies over the next five decades, including a parade for his homecoming that saw over 50,000 attendees. He met his wife at the parade and raised children.

Gregg worked for the Hudson County Sheriff’s Department for 50 years, retiring as chief of court officers in 1996.

The park was renamed for Gregg in 1994. He died at age 90 in February of 2005.

Lauding the local legend

DeGise, Kopacz, and Grill gave short speeches.

“Bravery and hero, words like that, maybe we use them a little too loosely at times, thinking a baseball player or an actor or something like that is our hero,” DeGise said. “But I don’t think there’s anybody in our country who would look at the resume of Stephen Gregg and think that he was not a hero or question his bravery.”

“Stephen Gregg’s bravery was only exceeded by his modesty,” DeGise said in a press release. “Whenever I encountered him, I was always struck by how he deflected praise of his incredible service in some of the fiercest campaigns in the European Theater during World War II—where he shed blood for our nation more than once—and continued to fight. I am so glad our Public Art Trust has funded this wonderful work honoring a Hudson County resident and a great American.”

Kenneth Kopacz addresses the crowd at the unveiling.

“We have worked so hard to beautify this park with upgrades and renovations throughout: improving recreation for all; building new fields that our children can not only be proud of, but that visiting teams are jealous of,” Kopacz said. “And we have done so in honor and memory of a man we are so proud to call our own, a true American hero, Medal of Honor winner Stephen R. Gregg. Today is the culmination of these beautification projects as we pay tribute to Stephen R. Gregg with this new sculpture. For our community, may it serve as a symbol of hope and courage.”

Said Grill, the sculptor:  “Thank you to all the veterans, thank you for your service. I’m blessed to be a part of a project like this. Every time I’m out making a sculpture it’s really humbling because it means a community trusted me to tell their story. And Stephen Gregg’s story is obviously one that binds us together and deserves to be memorialized. Our sculpture is created in bronze. Bronze doesn’t rust, corrode or crumble. It stands as a marker of permanence. There are bronzes from 2,500 years ago that still stand. So we choose to tell the stories that should be remembered the longest and that are most important to us in bronze.“

Legacy lives on

“This statue cements his legacy in Bayonne and Hudson County,” said Stephen Gregg Jr. “My father was a very humble man. Frankly, he would be embarrassed by the honors bestowed upon him today. He always said there were other servicemen who did brave deeds and did not receive acclaim. He reconciled this by considering himself as being the representative of all veterans. At the time of “Saving Private Ryan,” my father was introduced to the actor Tom Hanks. He embarrassingly told Hanks that he did not know who Hanks was. Hanks then told him that it was not important that my father know who Tom Hanks was, but was important that Tom Hanks knew who my father was. So who was my father? An ordinary man who did something stupendous; a true representative of Bayonne and Hudson County; and a symbol for veterans everywhere.”

For updates on this and other stories, check www.hudsonreporter.com and follow us on Twitter @hudson_reporter. Daniel Israel can be reached at disrael@hudsonreporter.com.