• September 15, 2019

Atlantic City 9/11 ceremony honorees include decorated Vietnam vet - Ocean City Sentinel: News

Atlantic City 9/11 ceremony honorees include decorated Vietnam vet

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Posted: Wednesday, September 4, 2019 10:22 am

ATLANTIC CITY – Maj. Gen. William McDowell Matz, a local Vietnam veteran and decorated war hero, will be recognized at a ceremony that also honors those who were killed during the 9/11 attacks.

The Saracini-O’Neill Atlantic City 9/11 Memorial is a 501(c)(3) volunteer organization dedicated to preserving the memory of the 2,996 individuals who perished on Sept. 11, 2001, and the nation’s subsequence response to terrorism.  

The memorial is named in honor of Victor Sarancici, the captain and pilot of United Airlines Flight 175, and John O’Neill, a retired FBI agent, terrorism expert and director of security at the World Trade Center. 

The organization also honors Andrew Alameno of Wildwood Crest, a bond trader at Cantor Fitzgerald Securities and Patricia Cody of Brigantine, senior vice president and managing director at Marsh & McLennan. Both died in the World Trade Center during 9/11. 

The organization will hold its ninth annual ceremony at 10 a.m. on Wednesday, Sept. 11, at the Boardwalk at Jackson Avenue in Atlantic City. 

The ceremony features a display of a 30-foot by 60-foot American flag suspended between two ladder trucks, patriotic songs, music by the Atlantic City Fire Department’s Sandpipers Pipes and Drums, a Civil War cannon salute and a 40-ton 9/11-themed sand sculpture. 

This year the ceremony’s “Local Heroes Among Us” will honor Matz, Navy Seal Joseph Hahn, the sole honoree of the Longport American Legion’s Wounded Warrior Week, and World War II veteran John Gallagher of Absecon Island, who was a POW in the infamous Stalag 17. 

Laurie Doran, director of the Intelligence and Operations Division for the New Jersey Office of Homeland Security, will be the keynote speaker.

Matz enlisted in the U.S. Army after graduating Gettysburg College and was commissioned as a second lieutenant. He has a master’s degree in political science from the University of San Diego and graduated from the Harvard University Senior Executives in Government/Management program.

During the Tet Offensive in Vietnam, Matz, then a U.S. Army captain, commanding his 150 Company C, was on a reconnaissance in force mission when the Vietcong ambushed them. 

Matz led his men through the firefight, establishing a “blocking position.” Matz’s radioman was killed during the skirmish. Matz directed artillery and gunship support during the firefight. 

For Matz’s heroism on Dec. 4, 1967, President Lyndon B. Johnson awarded him the Silver Star Medal. 

Two months later, on Feb. 1, 1968, Matz was under orders to provide “follow and support” to three companies who were pinned down by enemy fire. Matz led Company C to the city of My Tho where they were met by enemy rocket and automatic-weapons fire. Matz witnessed enemy fire wound four of his men. He ran to the aid of the most seriously wounded man and was himself wounded. He carried the soldier to safety despite his wound. 

For his heroism, Matz was awarded the Purple Heart and the Distinguished Service Cross. 

On Feb. 14, 1968, Matz continued to direct the fire of his men through the Battle of My Tho, pressing the attack forward. 

For his bravery in combat, Matz was awarded the Bronze Star. 

In peacetime, Gen. Matz was executive secretary to two Secretaries of Defense, Caspar Weinberger and Frank Carlucci. In the private sector, Matz was vice president of Raytheon Corp. and general manager of Vinnelli – Northrop Grumman. He also served as president of the National Association of Uniformed Services, a veteran’s advocacy organization. 

In January, President Donald Trump appointed Matz as the new Secretary of the American Battle Monuments Commission. He is responsible for overseeing 26 overseas military ceremonies and 29 memorials and monuments. 

The Saracini-O’Neill Atlantic City 9/11 Memorial’s co-directors, Bob Pantalena and Pam Paparone, said Matz was an excellent choice to be recognized. 

 “We have connections with people in the military and they mentioned him (Matz) as a good candidate,” Pantalena said. “In a 10-week period he has a Bronze Star, a Silver Star, a Distinguished Service Cross.”

Pantalena, who was born a few days after the Pearl Harbor attacks in 1941, said it’s important the public takes time to remember 9/11.

“You grow up respecting our country, our military,” Pantalena said. “9/11 comes along and it’s really an attack against our belief system and our ethos. They attacked our business district, the World Trade Center, they attacked our military, the Pentagon, there’s a good chance they were headed for the Capitol or the White House, but Flight 93 took that down. When you’re my age and see these things develop over your lifetime, you have a great deal of respect and you’d like to honor those people who died as a result of foreign agents attacking us.” 

Pantalena said one day while exercising on the Boardwalk, he saw a bench dedicated to Sarancici. 

“Victor Saracini was born and raised here. He rented a place one block over in Ventnor for the summer. I met him two weeks before 9/11. He was prepared to buy a house down here,” Pantalena said. “I think the family got together and put a bench there and a flag pole and the city of Atlantic City bought a beautiful plaque.”

Eight blocks from Saracini’s bench, Pantalena encountered a bench dedicated to O’Neill. 

“I was thinking, those two guys died together. Let’s put them together,” Pantalena said. 

Thus the Saracini-O’Neill Atlantic City 9/11 Memorial was born. Volunteers planted flowers and the city installed a plaque and flagpole at Jackson Avenue on the border of Atlantic City and Ventnor. 

“We got 25 people the first time and one bagpiper. Now we get a crowd of maybe 400 to 500, one time a thousand depending on the weekend,” Pantalena said. “It really snowballed. We make it bigger and better every year. Hopefully it’ll remain in the hearts and minds of all the people.”

 Volunteers placed 550 small American flags on the site of the memorial for Independence Day. Pantalena said 750 flags will be planted on the lawn for Labor Day.

“We’ll do it for every holiday, Veterans Day, Flag Day, Armed Forces Day, and Memorial Day,” Pantalena said. 

Paparone said Matz is still working well into his 80s. 

“He’s (Matz) highly decorated and what really impresses me – I’m a nurse practitioner – is the level of his vitality and vigor for a man in his 80s that he is still actively working,” Paparone said. “As a nurse, someone with that degree of longevity and a great quality of life that is what  ismost impressive to me.” 

Paparone credited Pantalena for realizing benches for Saracini and O’Neill should be placed together in one memorial 

“From that idea it’s grown to a very successful and memorable event,” Paparone said.

Paparone wasn’t surprised Atlantic City’s 9/11 ceremony has grown over the years.

“I think there was a need for people to express their grief and remember the solemnness of the day,” Paparone said. “We had Victor Saracini’s mother here until she died. It was really very meaningful. His sister attends the ceremony most years.”

For more information on the Saracini-O’Neill Atlantic City 9/11 Memorial, visit their website AC911memorial.com.

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