Manchester Mayor Michael Fressola was recently honored by the Four Chaplains Memorial Foundation of the Navy Yard in Philadelphia as the recipient of its Legion of Honor service award.
The award, presented on March 16 at the AMVETS New Jersey Post 2 in Jackson, was presented to the mayor in recognition of his years of community and national service.
"I've been kind of an active guy all my life," Fressola said at his office in the township's municipal complex last week.
The award recognized Fressola for his service in the U.S. Naval Reserve from 1947 through 1955, his volunteer work as a Cub Scout leader while living in Staten Island in the 1960s and his current commitment to Community Medical Center in Toms River as a trustee.
"I was so shocked and surprised about it. It came out of the blue," he said. "I don't even know who submitted my name."
Fressola has been Manchester's mayor since 1998, having been re-elected twice. Prior to serving as mayor, Fressola was chairman of the Manchester Planning Board from 1990 to 1993 and a town council member from 1992 to 1998.
"I've been active as mayor, and active in my own community," he said. "I have an interest in it, naturally, as a resident."
The mayor said that he believes his work with veterans throughout the years caught the attention of the Four Chaplains.
"I think that the real motivating factor was that I have a very active veteran's advisory committee," he said. "I have a specialist at the town hall on Thursdays, once a week, and he's here to help veterans with any problems they have."
Township veterans can call ahead or visit the municipal complex on Colonial Drive Thursdays from 9 a.m. to 12 p.m. to speak with the specialist, Fressola said.
Fressola said that he is also "actively working" to secure group homes for veterans in Manchester who do not want to move to assisted living complexes.
According to a township press release, the Legion of Honor award was established "to publicly recognize persons whose lives model the kind of selfless service to community, nation, and humanity without regard to race, religion or creed that was exemplified by the Four Chaplains that perished when the USAT Dorchester was torpedoed by an enemy submarine during World War II."
The Four Chaplains -- George Fox, Alexander Goode, Clark Poling and John Washington -- helped the ship's crew secure life vests in the chaos following the 1943 attack and sacrificed their lives by giving away their own life preservers to sailors without one. The chaplains are celebrated, according to the AMVETs, for putting aside their differing religious beliefs in the spirit of interfaith cooperation.