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The William J Hocking American Legion Post 91 Color Guard

Wharton, New Jersey

A Legacy of Excellence

Over the years Post 91 has had a number of memorable activities, some of which have faded with the passing of time and some still endure. The Post 91 Color Guard certainly is one of those activities that have endured over those years, nor has the Color Guard simply survived but it has thrived. This is the story of the Color Guard, a tradition of excellence that continues to this day.

Beginnings

After World War II, the Post 91 Color Guard typically marched in the Wharton and Dover parades. In addition to these local parades the Color Guard marched in every Memorial Day and Veterans Eve ceremony. During this period Martelle Jones and Kenny Stalter were the Color Guard Captains for many years. 

Pictures of the post World War II Color Guard show a uniform not too different than many World War II (and Korean War) veterans were accustomed to.

The uniforms consisted of black wool pants, an “Ike” style jacket, white gloves, white braid, white boot leggings and the traditional legion hat.  The uniforms were purchased from the National American Legion. (Pictures of Color Guard Captains’ Jones and Stalter provide great examples of this style of uniform)

These uniforms were worn until to approximately 1970.

Vietnam Era

The Vietnam era starts on February 28, 1961 and ends May 7, 1975.   To the credit of the Korean and WWll veterans the Vietnam veterans were welcomed with open arms to Post 91. 

Some of the members that should be credited for welcoming the new veterans were Billy Kassay, Harry Weeks, Melvin Cole, John McGrath, Dick Dyson, Kenny Stalter, Walt Goldsworthy, Bill Emigh, Neil Griffin, Benny Bencivenga, Will Emmons and Walt Noonan.

It is important to note that without this intial warm welcome the Color Guard may not have endured to the present day.

The first few Vietnam era veterans that joined the the Color Guard were: Andre Finnegan, Dennis Miller, John Martenis, Kevin Finnegan, Jim Matanin, and Ed Brice. 

John Martenis became the Color Guard Captain taking over from Kenny Stalter around 1971. 

Many of those members who started in the Post 91 Color Guard continued to serve the post in positions of greater responsibility. Kevin Finnegan was the first to get involved as an officer in the Post and became the Post Commander in 1975.  Later Andre Finnegan, Jim Matanin, Dennis Miller, and Ed Brice also became Post Commanders’.  All five are also Life Members of the Post.

A Change in Vision (1970-80’s)

A new Legion member, Nick Patrick, made a motion at a Post meeting to have the Post purchase new Color Guard uniforms to replace the conventional black uniforms worn by 90 percent of the American Legion Post Color Guards. The motion was carried and the Post 91 Color Guard began a trend for innovation that permeates later Post 91 Color Guards.

The Color Guard organized an annual golf outing at Picatinny Arsenal to obtain funds for the uniforms and flags. It became a very profitable event because of Mickey Doboney, Alan Bone, and Tom Jennings who had many of the local town establishments sponsor holes.

The new uniforms had light blue shirts, drill sergeant style hats, black pants with a gold stripe, gold braid, gold ascot, and black jump boots with gold shoe laces. There were also brass pins for the shirt collars labeled, “91” and “NJ”.

The uniforms were well received and many Color Guards through out New Jersey started copying this particular color combination. However, Post 91 remained unique in that not one of those other Posts purchased the drill sergeant hats due to the cost of the hats.

The new uniforms were revealed for the first time at the Town of Wharton’s Fire Departments 75th Anniversary parade, August 18, 1979.  An interesting note is that Kevin Finnegan, past commander in 1975 was a co-chairman of the parade as a member of the Wharton Fire department.

The first viewing of the new blue uniforms at Wildwood was in September 1979. The Color Guard captain was Nick Patrick. Also marching during that event were Dennis Miller, Bruce Schnare, Andre Finnegan, Claude Smith, Ed Brice, Jim Matanin, and Harold Valentine. 

Over the following years the Color Guard participated in numerous parades in Morris, Sussex, and Ocean counties. 

The Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) hosted a Morris County parade every year called, “The Loyalty Day Parade”.  Both American Legion’s and VFW’s  competed in this annual parade sponsored by the VFW. It was during this era where the Post 91 established itself as the premier Color Guard with strong competition from the Whippany VFW. As a resullt of this stiff competion the Post Color Guard became Morris County’s top Color Guard winning the NJ American Legion State Championship and Whippany VFW eventually won the VFW State Championship.

Additonally the Color Guard marched in the Veterans Day Parade in New York City on November 11, 1988. This parade that year was during the term of Mayor Ed Koch.  Mayor Koch’s famous saying was, “How’m I doing?”, so in repsonse Ed Brice said to the Mayor, “ How we doing Mayor?” referring to the Color Guard’s military presence. The mayor said, “Looking good, looking good”.  The Color Guard led the parade and had their picture on the front page of the New York Post.

In 1989 the Post Color Guard went to Baltimore for the American Legion National Convention parade. Funds were raised and a bus was chartered to transport the Color Guard to Baltimore.  The Post 91 Color Guard was the lead Color Guard for the State of New Jersey.  The Color Guard was very fortunate that one of the Color Guard members, Bob McCarthy, was also a bus driver for Lakeland Bus Company.  He not only drove the Color Guard to the Convention he also gave the Color Guard a tour of Washington DC and the important sites located there. 

Continuing the Tradition (1990s-2000s)

The Post Color Guard had one of the largest wins in its history in 1993 at Perth Amboy’s, 300th Anniversary Fireman’s Parade. It was a 4 hour parade and the Color Guard won 3 trophies including best overall Color Guard out of approximately 30 Color Guards.  There were 14 members who participated in this parade.

The Color Guard for the second time marched in the New York City Veterans Day Parades on November 11, 2001.  Mr. Bloomberg at the time a candidate for New York City Mayor asked if he could have his picture taken with the Color Guard for his campaign portfolio. The myth was that this picture with the Color Guard hung in his office at Gracie Mansion for many years. 

Focus on Vietnam

The Color Guard decided to visit the Vietnam Memorial Monument and if possible perform an ceremony while there. The Color Guard was granted special authorization to march to the Memorial in full uniform with flags and rifles. So with the necessary authoization secured the Color Guard and family members, approximately 14 in total, chartered a bus to Washington DC to lay a wreath at the Vietnam Memorial Monument.

At the Memorial a wreath was placed by Ed Brice, at the time the Color Guard Captain.  The wreath was placed at Panel 65 for Sergeant William Francis Brice (Ed’s brother).  William was killed in action on May 27, 1968.

Sergeant William Brice was a member of E Company 2nd Battalion, 503rd Infantry, 173rd Airborne Brigade.  Sergeant Brice was Airborne qualified and received the Combat Infantry Badge, Purple Heart, and two Vietnam ribbons. William’s two brothers Ed and Dan Brice are Post 91 members. Ed and Dan currently prepare the food after the Memorial Day parade in Wharton.

The Post Color Guard also attended the opening of the New Jersey Vietnam Memorial. The Post was honored to march with General Norman Schwarzkopf at the dedication of the NJ Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Holmdel, NJ.

The American Legion State Convention

While many Legion members and supporters have noted the stalwart participation of the Color Guard, including the accompanying accolades, at the New Jersey State Convention in Wildwood, NJ this was not always the case.

The Post has been marching at the annual New Jersey State Convention since the 1960’s but for many years was not judged. This was simply a result of the Post neglecting to register to be to be judged. In the 1980’s the Post Color Guard learned the rules and regulations and filed the official form to be judged. 

The first few years the Color Guard didn’t completely understand the judging criteria and placed 7thto 10th.  The Color Guard eventually learned the rules and regulations and won its first State Championship in 1986. 

The members of that break through Color Guard were: Dennis Miller, Ed Brice, Andre Finnegan, Dave Brown, Bill Trowbridge, Bob McCarty, Jim Matanin, Claude Smith, Russ Boyer, Ken Yascavage, Billy Whittenberger, Mickey Doboney, Bruce Schnare,  and Joe Giordano.

While the Color Guard broke through in 1984 this high mark would later be followed by an unfortunate hiatus from the Legion Convention in Wildwood. From 1995-1997 the Color Guard simply stopped participating at Wildwood. Consequently the attendance of members dwindled who were going to Wildwood almost to the point of ending completely. 

Fortunately two members rekindled the Post’s attendance at Wildwood. Alan Bone and Bill Burbridge are credited with restarting the Color Guard’s participation at the Wildwood convention. This renewed interest resulted in a new wave of State Championships.  Because of their initiative, the Post  eventually rented all the rooms in an entire motel. Clearly a huge swing in attendance had occurred.

Starting in 2009 the Post earned four consecutive State Championships, a run that has not been repeated by any other Post in New Jersey.

Also during this era the Color Guard added its first female veteran to the Color Guard, fixed bayonets to the rifles, and introduced a saber for the Color Guard Commander. Each of this modest changes enabled the Color Guard to differentiate itself from other Posts and keep the winning tradition alive.

During this time the Color Guard uniform consisted of black trousers and shirts, yellow ascots and braids, black boots with yellow laces, “AL” and “NJ” collar brass, and black berets with “91” on the beret flash.

In 2017 the Color Guard uniform swapped out some items to add a new dimension to the "now" classic black uniform. A new shoulder patch (modeled after the previous patch) and redesigned "91" flash were introduced. Along with those updates, the black beret was swapped out for the Ranger tan beret, yellow shoulder braids and ascots were replaced with tan versions, and finally tan boot laces.

Over the years the American Legion Auxiliary (Unit 91) and the Sons of the American Legion (Squadron 91) have also fielded winning Color Guards. Those wins ranged from State Championships at the annual Wildwood convention to various local parades. 

Notable Moments in the Color Guard’s History:

  • Picatinny Arsenal Armed Forces Day parades which the Post Color Guard led for many years.
  • Ed Brice “trying” to call the cadence with a band behind us. For some reason Ed could not ever hear the bass drum beat.
  • Being invited to present the Colors at Giants Stadium.
  • 40/8 State parade in Seaside Heights, NJ – resulting in First place over all.
  • Competition between Mine Hill, Denville Legion and Whippany VFW Post.
  • Every Veterans Eve and Memorial Day Parade in Wharton.
  • Marching with the Wharton Fire Department.
  • Marching with WWll, Korea, Vietnam, Desert Storm and War on Terror veterans.
  • Having new members continue the tradition of excellence. For example Leon Stickle, Amery Vasso, and Sara Vasso.
  • Repeat first place finishes at the annual Boonton Fire Department parade.
  • Attending West Point Football games.

This history was written by Dennis Miller a member of Post 91 for 47 years and the Color Guard for 45 years. (April 2017 - updated August 2017 by Amery Vasso)

State Championships (12)

 

1986

2005

2012

1988

2009

2013

1990

2010

2016

1998

2011

2017

 

 

Color Guard Members prior to 1969

 

Benny Bencivenga

Neil Griffin

Bob Schnare

Mel Cole

Charles Hall

Claude Smith

John Czipo

Jack Hillabrant

Kenny Stalter

Steve Czipo

Martelle Jones

Chuck Ullman

Stewart Dunn

Bill Junkermeier

Harold Valentine

Dick Dyson

McClement

Jack Vienne

Bill Emigh

John McGrath

Pat White

Wilson Emmons

Walt Noonan

 

Walter Goldsworthy

Bob Powell

 

 

BOLD type indicates past Commander Post 91

 

Color Guard Members since 1970

 

Tom Barber

Joe Krieg

Claude Smith

Alan Bone

Don Malcolm

Leon Stickle

Russ Boyer

John Martenis

Bill Trowbridge

Ed Brice

Jim Matanin

Joe Turpack

Dave Brown

Bob McCarthy

Harold Valentine

Bill Burbridge

Dennis Miller

Amery Vasso

Sandy Craven

Nick Patrick

Sara Vasso

Mickey Doboney

Al Porphy

Roger Vogel

Glenn Faltisco

Bill Roberts

Bill Wittenberger

Andre Finnegan

John Ruppell

Brian Wolfinger

Kevin Finnegan

Bruce Schnare

Ken Yascavage

Joe Giordano

Dick Schreck

Dan Zullo

Wayne Jacobus

Matt Sichko

Manny Santana

 

BOLD type indicates past Commander Post 91