EDISON — An eagle flies in front of the New Jersey Veterans Memorial Home in Menlo Park, thanks to welding teacher Joseph Gess and his students at the Middlesex County Vocational and Technical School in Piscataway.
“Fierce Allegiance,” an 1,800-pound stainless steel sculpture with a 16-foot wingspan, was dedicated Nov. 26 before state, county and local officials, residents of the nursing home, veterans and Piscataway Vo-Tech students.
“I haven’t seen anything like this before,” said Joseph Brandspiegel, CEO of the 300-resident Veterans Memorial Home. “It represents the contributions of all the veterans who live here. The sculpture is a gift to America and a gift to all our veterans.”
According to MCVTS Superintendent of Schools Brian J. Loughlin, the eagle was the brainchild of Gess, whose aim was to teach his students welding but also to instill a sense of patriotism in them.
“The project taught a group of students welding skills but not typical welding skills, highly precise, skilled work,” Loughlin said, calling Gess “an outstanding example of what a great teacher can be.”
“He did this for one reason only – to inspire his students,” said Assemblyman Patrick J. Diegnan Jr.
Diegnan and Freeholder Deputy Director Ronald J. Rios were instrumental in finding a home for “Fierce Allegiance” at the Veterans Memorial Home. Gess termed the location “absolutely perfect.”
“This is a real work of art,” Rios said, adding that the sculpture captures the traits of the bald eagle that inspired the founding fathers to adopt it as a national symbol: strength, long life and its majestic appearance.
“This is a day of great pride and joy for us as we celebrate our youths, who have honored the sacrifices of our veterans,” said Freeholder Director Christopher D. Rafano.
Diegnan presented a joint resolution of the state Legislature honoring Gess and the 30 students who worked on the sculpture over two years. State Deputy Commissioner of Veterans Affairs Raymond L. Zawacki presented certificates of appreciation to Gess and his students.
Zawacki marveled that the sculpture, which is mounted on a colorful 3,800-pound base, survived Superstorm Sandy “with not a feather ruffled.”
John Bicsko, president of the MCVTS board of education, presented Gess with a hard hat decorated with images of a bald eagle and the stars and stripes.
Also present for the ceremony were Brigadier Gen. Michael Cunniff, state adjutant general, Freeholder Carol Barrett Bellante and Edison Mayor Antonia Ricigliano.
The national anthem was sung by East Brunswick Vo-Tech theater arts student Kelsey Rodriguez after the colors were presented by the Middlesex County Sheriff’s Department Honor Guard and the Middlesex County Police and Fire Pipes and Drums. Piscataway Vo-Tech culinary arts students prepared and served refreshments.