A 'pillar in the community' gets rewarded
(Photo by Corey Perrine)

A 'pillar in the community' gets rewarded

In 1999, Air Force and Vietnam War veteran Bill Cruice was asked by Department of New Jersey leadership to form an American Legion post in Ocean City, N.J.

Cruice, now a Paid-Up-For-Life member, went knocking on doors and soon encouraged other Legion members to do so. The post’s membership grew, as did its exposure in the community. But one thing was missing: a post facility.

Until now. On April 14, community leaders came together with national, department and local Legion leaders to celebrate the grand opening of the 4,800-square foot Morvay-Miley Post 524. A grand opening just for Legion Family members took place April 7, while another for vendors is scheduled for April 21. The April 14 event also included Department of Veterans Affairs staff to announce that the post would provide VA virtual care at its facility.

More than 300 showed up for the April 7 event while a large turnout also came on April 14, including American Legion National Vice Commander Larry Marcouillier, Department Commander Darryl Reid, National Executive Committeeman Chuck Robbins and Alternate National Executive Committeeman Berley Hanna Jr.

Dozens of Legion Family members also attended, including members of the American Legion Auxiliary, the Sons of The American Legion and the Legion Riders.

“This is just what our national commander is promoting: Legion Family, involvement in the community, and this post is all about that and has been all about that for many, many years,” Robbins said. “They just continue to be a pillar of this community.”

Cruice, a 29-year member of the Legion, said that at one time the post’s executive board was meeting at Cruice’s house. “Every month I would have to go to City Hall and say ‘where can we meet?’” Cruice said. Later, Post 524 would conduct meetings at a VFW post and then in a county building.

But Cruice said that when Jay Gillian was elected mayor of Ocean City, the mayor was able to convince the city to lease the post land at 46th Street and West Avenue. The price tag: $1 a year for 50 years.

Cruice also said two particular events the post conducted – a 9-11 anniversary ceremony in 2002 and a remembrance ceremony in 2005 for the 30-year anniversary of the fall of Saigon – cemented its reputation in the community.

“We did a parade to welcome home Vietnam vets, which had never been done in New Jersey,” Cruice said. “With those two events, the city administration saw how sincere Post 524 was in its support of veterans. I think those two events are what solidified the community with Post 524. Anything we wanted after that, we just had to knock on the door.”

When the post began staging fundraisers for the facility six years ago, the community bought into it. “The American Legion has been around since 1999,” Post 524 Commander Bob Marzulli said. “As we started to get bigger, we started making a name for ourselves in Ocean City. I think when we decided to do this that (the community) recognized who we are and what we do. At that point, we had the backing of the city council and mayor. And then everyone chipped in.”

In addition to members of the community donating funds, Marzulli said work was done at the post by union apprentices. “Instead of working in the classroom, they worked on our building,” he said. “Plumbers, drywallers, floorers, bricklayers – all those locals came to our defense. They were already getting paid by the union. We just gave them an opportunity to do real work.”

The post raised more than $500,000 for the facility, meaning there is no mortgage on the building. The facility has a large kitchen and dining hall and sits just a few blocks from the Atlantic Ocean.

The post – named for Jon Richard Morvay and Bruce Michael Miley, two local residents killed in action during the Vietnam War – currently has 425 members, along with an Auxiliary unit and SAL squadron both numbering 125 members or larger. During the April 14 event, the department commander presented the post with awards for the post reaching an all-time high in membership for eight consecutive years and exceeding the previous year’s membership for eight consecutive years.

“I think it will be a draw for people,” Reid said. “You have a lot of visitors coming down each year to Ocean City during the summer. I see they could be prospective members real easily. When you have a facility like this, people come.”

State and local government officials attended the April 14 opening. State Sen. Jeff Van Drew presented the post with a resolution from the New Jersey Legislature honoring the post for building the facility and giving area veterans a place to gather and relax. “To actually get it done and have a tangible effect on people’s lives is what you’ve done,” Van Drew told the post’s membership. “That makes a difference.”

Ocean City Councilman Keith Hartzell, the son of a World War II and Korean War veteran, said his father didn’t step into a Legion post for almost 50 years after his service. “He realized that this interaction that you offered my father meant the world to him,” he said. “And then when my father passed away, the way you treated my mother – she was family to everyone in this building. I’ll never forget that as long as I live.”

Cruice likely won’t forget seeing the post get its first home anytime soon. “I did not think that I would be around long enough to see this happen,” he said. “What you see here today is the completion of an effort by a whole bunch of people.”