May 23, 2014 at 4:56 PM
NORTH PLAINFIELD, NJ – Dignitaries from the armed forces, Garden Club of America and local, state and federal governments gathered together in North Plainfield today to rededicated the nation’s first Blue Star Memorial Drive on its 70th Anniversary.
The Blue Star Memorial Drive from North Plainfield to Mountainside was first planned in 1944 to honor the soldiers of World War II with the planting of more than 8,000 flowering dogwoods for six miles of Route 29, now Route 22, by the Garden Clubs of New Jersey in consultation with the New Jersey State Highway Department.
This first-in-the-nation Blue Star Memorial Drive stretches from North Plainfield to Mountainside, and launched a movement that saw similar projects in every state in the union. The Memorial travels through Watchung, Scotch Plains and Westfield in central New Jersey.
“Garden Clubs didn’t want to build just another stone monument, but wanted to build living memorials to the men and women who gave their lives serving in our armed forces,” said Mary Warshauer, the Director of the Central Atlantic Garden Clubs.
The ceremony was held at the Vermeule Community Center in North Plainfield because the actual sign is on Route 22 at North Drive and the DOT suggested that sixty people at a dangerous intersection would not be a good move.
“Thank you all for being here to honor this beautiful new Blue Star Memorial Drive sign, and the impressive landscaping all around it that is the work of the Garden Club of New Jersey, the New Jersey Blue Star Highway Council, and the New Jersey Department of Transportation,” said North Plainfield Mayor Michael Giordano. “They should all be very proud at the result of their work that honors veterans in New Jersey and the United States.”
The North Plainfield High School ROTC presented the colors and Patricia Lofton, who is a Supervisor in the Motor Pool for the Veterans Administration NJ Health Care System, sang the National Anthem and God Bless America. North Plainfield High School students Aaron Ervin and Mark Romero played taps to close the ceremony.
The renovated mini-park was designed and implemented New Jersey Department of Transportation Landscape Architecture staff. In includes a raised planting bed resting on large white stones and a ring of flowering trees 15 feet behind the sign.
Barbara Mullen, the President of the Garden Club of New Jersey officially handed over the sign to DOT Secretary of Landscape Architecture David Earl who brought a surprise gift for the Garden Clubs and the New Jersey Blue Star Memorial Highway Council.
“I’m pleased to announce that the Department of Transportation has committed $100,000 to support and restore Blue Star Memorial Drives that the Garden Club of New Jersey are unable to maintain,” said Earl.
Congressman Leonard Lance spoke of the importance of Garden Clubs to his own family, and how much the North Plainfield Blue Star Memorial Drive sign means to him.
“Let me make as clear as I can that Memorial Day is not a day of celebration, but one of commemoration when we honor our war dead,” said Congressman Leonard Lance. “Memorial day is a time that we set aside for those who gave their lives so that we could continue to live in freedom.”
The new sign is the third in the 70 years since the first was dedicated, and is such an exact replica of the original that it credits the "New Jersey State Highway Department," a governmental entity that has not existed for decades.
Many local businesses took their name from the Blue Star Memorial Drive, including the former Blue Star Diner in North Plainfield, and the closed Blue Star Cinema and Blue Star Cleaners in Watchung. The Blue Star shopping center in Watchung is still operating with many popular stores.
The Blue Star designation comes from military service flags that are used by families to signify that as immediate relative, such as a sibling or child, is actively serving in the military during a time or war or active hostilities. A gold star with a blue border is used to signify that an immediate family member died while serving in the military during a time of war or active hostilities. The flags were first used during World War I, and had their peak of popularity during WWII and are still in use today.
There are 29 additional Blue Star Memorial locations in New Jersey with official signage and recognition.