"The flag represents every individual that served as part of th US Army Garrison team and their many and varied accomplishments," -- United States Army.
"I had a hard time holding back my tears thinking about the events that have happened here over the years," said Pete Peterson as he stood on the grounds of Fort Monmouth, for what will likely be the last time, in the bright hot September sun Tuesday afternoon. A Neptune resident and a retired Army educator to soldiers, Peterson spent much of his career, from 1961 to 1984, here at Fort Monmouth.
Peterson was among an estimated 300 Army and civilian attendees at Tuesday's Garrison deactivation ceremony and flag casing held outside Russell Hall on the Oceanport side of Fort Monmouth. Russell Hall is the headquarters of the Garrison, which in civilian terms, is the municipal building for the "town" of Fort Monmouth.
As the flag was cased, the fort was symbolically closed as a military installation. It will officially close with the locking of a gate on Sept. 15, along with other installations across the nation which will close as a result of the Base Realignment and Closure Act (BRAC). Now cased, the flag will reside at Installation Management Command in Virginia.
But that is what the fort closure looks like on paper. What it looks like in flesh and blood is hundreds of people upheaved from their home base, saying good bye to their mayor, their boss, their home, their , their fire company, their office, their gym, their grocery store, their sense of place.
It is a difficult thing to capture, as the speakers at the ceremony illustrated as they struggled to contextualize the loss and the meaning of this long period of history. The speakers, like Alfred Mangino, a retired civilian, gave a thorough accounting of Fort Monmouth's contributions to military communication and technology (carrier pingeons in the world wars, night vision goggles in the 1970s, to name only two). Harder still was the accounting of the human element. It was clear from their tone that each man at the podium felt a mix of pride and grief as he looked out over the people, spilling out from the tents, clearly more than the Army anticipated would flock to see their colors cased.
Some in the audience traveled a great distance to be there. Karen Gornto, originally of Oceanport, now lives in Maryland and works at the Aberdeen Proving Ground where she is an operations division chief. Until her move recently, she had been at Fort Monmouth since 1985.
"I had to be here," she said. "It's bittersweet," she said motioning to the crowd where her friends and employees were, some of whom she wouldn't see again.
Though many at the fort chose to retire rather than move, Gornto said she wan't ready. Instead of selling her Oceanport home, her daughter is living there. "I'll work down there for another four or five years," she said, adding with a smile, "But I'm coming back."
Davis Tindoll, one of the official party who spoke, addressed those difficult choices that the soldiers and civilians have had to make because of , from which he has personal experience. "Just like you, we faced tough decisions about whether to sell or rent, retire or relocate," he said.
But if Tindoll mirrored the audience's pain in that statement, he wasn't as well received when he told them that this fort closure was for "long term cost effectiveness," a statment met with low chuckles and soft booing.
The event was especially personal for George Fitzmaier, the garrison manager. Though it wasn't the development of a new technology that his staff was working on this last year, closing an installation is a whole mission in itself -- one where you would assume that morale would falter, but not here he said. Fitzmaier commended his garrison for embracing every challenge that BRAC presented, "You took on the mission of closure with resolve and grace."
"As I look out here today," he said. "I see people who have made a difference... people who will continue to make a difference for our Army and for our country."
Afterward, despite the long afternoon sun, many lingered for a long time, talking with coworkers and old friends, some retired, some who have moved on to other installations already.
Retired Major General David Gust and his wife Peggy are now living in Maryland where he is a consultant. Over the course of his career which stretched 30 years, he and Peggy spent a total of 19 years at Fort Monmouth. It was their favorite, they said.
"A lot of the people I talk to felt that way. The say they never lived any place that was quite like this," Peggy said. "It's more like a family, more like home."
The last ceremony the Army will hold before the gate closes will be Retreat at 4:30 pm on Thursday. If you live in Oceanport you may hear the .