Steve Kucevic, first assistant chief of Hopatcong Fire Co. #2, salutes after laying a wreath at the base of Veterans Monument during Hopatcong’s Memorial Day Ceremony, Saturday, May 24.

Hopatcong honors its hometown heroes

HOPATCONG – Dawn Roberts, mother of fallen Hopatcong soldier Sgt. Michael Kirspel Jr., who was killed in Afghanistan in 2010, makes no secret of her struggle with her son’s death.

At the borough’s Memorial Day Service Saturday, Roberts, speaking publically about her son, remembers questioning whether society “really cared” that he died serving his country, sacrificing himself for others. She battled with the thought, she said, that society also didn’t see her own sacrifice, the loss of her child.

Dawn Roberts, mother of fallen soldier Sgt. Michael Kirspel, Jr., addresses the crowd at Hopatcong's Memorial Day Ceremony, Saturday, May 24.
Dawn Roberts, mother of fallen soldier Sgt. Michael Kirspel, Jr., addresses the crowd at Hopatcong’s Memorial Day Ceremony, Saturday, May 24.

“I sacrifice every single day,” she said to a hushed crowd of approximately 300 spectators gathered around the monuments at Veterans Park.

But the passing of time, her work with the children at Hopatcong Middle School and seeing the people of Hopatcong come together time and again to honor her son has made her realize that “people do care, they do see the sacrifice.” She also believes the way she honors her son, the way she remembers her son and the way she lives her life now has helped her get through the “darkest time of my life,” adding that her faith has also always played a big role in her healing.

“Jesus Christ and a soldier – we can’t make it without either one,” she said.

Saturday’s Memorial Day celebration kicked off with a parade from borough hall to Veterans Park that included local elected officials, the Hopatcong Women’s Club, Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, the Hopatcong Knights of Columbus, the Hopatcong High School marching band, police, fire and rescue patrols, sports teams, and other local groups. Hundreds of residents lined the parade route to pay tribute to and cheer for their local heroes. Most of the marchers stayed to witness the wreath laying ceremony at Veterans Park after the parade.

Under threatening skies, Tim Carey, VFW Post 1010 commander, led the services, introducing each of the featured speakers and announcing the placing of each wreath, including wreaths for Sgt. Kirspel and Hopatcong resident SP4 John Curtin III, who died in Vietnam in 1968.

In addition to Roberts, Sgt. First Class Casey Dougherty, who served with Sgt. Kirspel in Afghanistan, spoke publically about his relationship with his fallen friend, struggling to get through most of his speech.

“The best soldiers I have worked with come from small towns like Hopatcong,” he said. “He’s part of your community, he’s part of your history.”

In speaking about the borough’s two fallen soldiers, Mayor Sylvia Patillo urged the crowd to “not forget them” and to be “inspired by them.”

“They lived for a reason and they died for a cause. They believed in something bigger than themselves. They believed in our values, our culture and our way of life.”

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