By Nicole Mitchell
Augusta, NJ –The Sussex County Miners are known for their captivating games, fun festivities, and incredible firework displays. But this wasn’t a normal Saturday night. On August 3, the Miners dedicated time to pay tribute to a very serious issue. Partnering with Rolling Thunder, Inc., a well-known advocacy group that generates awareness for recognizing United States Armed Forces prisoners of war (POWs) and (MIA) missing in action service members, both organizations held a Chair of Honor ceremony. This special memorial is an empty seat that will serve as a reminder for all those men and women who gave the ultimate sacrifice while serving their country.
The gates opened at 4:30pm and people began to file into the stadium. As more and more fans entered and filled the seats, the energy quickly became an emotional force to be reckoned with. The spectators at the game included a wide variety of special guests. Local dignitaries including Frankford Township Deputy Mayor Nicholas Civitan,Frankford Township Committeeman Christopher Carney and United States Congressman Joshua Gottheimer Representative Patrick Sheehan were in attendance along with veterans and active servicemen and the members of Rolling Thunder Inc. who sat with heightened anticipation for the emotional ceremony to begin.
The dedication took flight as Rolling Thunder Inc. took their motorcycles to the warning track on the field. As the motorcyclists continued around the track, the fans; energy continued to rise for the occasion. Following the riders silencing their bikes, National Secretary for the POW/MIA Chair of Honor Committee Elaine Martin began her speech. Then the color guard presented the colors as the national anthem was performed. After the colors were retired, the secretary began to speak again along with some other guest speakers. The ceremony concluded with a stirring bagpipe rendition of “Amazing Grace” played by Lance Evans, Veteran U.S. Army, Vietnam.
After the ceremony had come to its end, national secretary Martin shed some light on what this opportunity means to them while leaving us with some words of wisdom. “Well, it’s something that we have done throughout the state of New Jersey… the empty seat is there as a reminder for the soldiers who gave the ultimate sacrifice, while people enjoy the game.” She reminded everyone tonight that it’s not only on Memorial Day or Veterans’ Day that we should be paying tribute to people who are in the military, it’s every day. With that it was time to play ball as Miners took the field.
It was a moving night and Sussex County Miners General Manager Justin Ferrarella, candidly shared his own feelings about the Chair of Honor ceremony. “Anytime you can do something that touches everybody, everybody knows a veteran or has been affected by war, to do a ceremony that will be here at Skylands stadium forever, which is a place that brings families together, it is truly something special.” When asked how it felt to work with the well-known advocacy group, he respectfully replied, “It’s great! They are great people and an amazing organization … and to see that they are not only doing it with independent baseball but minor leagues as well, that’s something that’s great and again it touches everybody.”
On this powerful Saturday night, fans got to enjoy the beautiful Chair of Honor ceremony, the game itself, and a brilliant firework show. And for those who have fallen while defending our country and have yet to return home, there will always be a seat waiting for them at Skylands Stadium.