Fallen Marine brought home: Motorcade returns plane crash victim to NJ
FREEHOLD — More than 100 motorcycles, joined by law enforcement officers from around New Jersey, saw to it that Cpl. Dan Baldassare was returned home with care.
A motorcade traveled more than 100 miles to bring the fallen Marine and Colts Neck native from Dover Air Force Base to the Clayton & McGirr Funeral Home in Freehold Monday, ahead of his funeral Tuesday.
The Howell Township Police Department closed down the length of Route 9 between Route 195 and the funeral home, as law enforcement agencies from around the state guided a hearse past onlookers hoping to pay their last respects to a fallen warrior.
Baldassare was one of 16 people killed earlier this month when their plane crashed into a field in Mississippi. Though most of those lining the streets Monday did not know Baldassare personally, knowing he served his country was more than enough to make people want to honor him.
Tim Rohan of the Marine Corps League first joined the Marines in the 1950s. He said the Corps has meant a lot to him throughout his life. Even with seven decades separating their times of service, Rohan said, it was important that those who came before honored those who serve today.
"Once a Marine always a Marine," he said. "It's supporting of the country, of the Marine Corps, of the armed services."
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One of the people that took the ride as part of the motorcade was Michael Schaffer of the American Legion post in Toms River. Schaffer said the riders took up more than a mile on Interstate 195 as they made the trip.
Schaffer said the rides are an important part of his time outside the service.
"I was a Vietnam era guy and we didn't get any of this. We made a pledge that there would be no one ever left behind before or again," he said. "We want to make sure that the family's aware, that people are aware that this is a fallen warrior and he needs to be recognized."
Joanie Pondish, a Jackson resident with a deep history of military service in her family, said it was important to her to come pay tribute to Baldassare even though she had never met him.
"We wanted to come and pay our respects for the family and show our support for our country," she said. "I'm just so excited that people took the time to come today. Sometimes I think we forget about the important things. We get caught up in life and we forget what these young men and women sacrifice everyday for our freedom."
Schaffer he was glad to see so many groups come out to show their support for the fallen Marine, making it a special day for everyone involved.
"It's a sad thing to have to do. It's a glorious thing to have to do to let the family know that their warrior won't be forgotten," he said. "It's amazing to see the turnout, all the different warrior groups that are represented here today. It was just a great day. It was just an absolute great day."
A service is scheduled to be held for Baldassare on Tuesday at 11 a.m. at Colts Neck High School before burial at Brigadier Gen. William C. Doyle Memorial Cemetery.
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Contact reporter Adam Hochron at 609-359-5326 or Adam.Hochron@townsquaremedia.com