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ESTELL MANOR - The thousands of grave markers and American flags placed next to them at the Atlantic County Veterans Cemetery was a visible reminder to all those who attended Atlantic County’s 34th Annual Veterans Memorial Day program on Friday afternoon of the true reason for the holiday.

“Sacrifice is the absolute pinnacle of patriotism,” said keynote speaker Master Gunnery Sgt. Michael D. Schenck of the U.S. Marine Corps Reserves during Friday’s ceremony. Throughout his speech, Schenck expounded on how sacrifice and freedom go hand in hand and the importance of honoring those who made the ultimate sacrifice.

“We have got to live out the freedoms earned by others,” said Schenck.

During the ceremony, Atlantic County Executive Dennis Levinson was presented with a certificate from the Atlantic County American Legion for his continued support and efforts on behalf of veterans.

“It’s not all about barbeques and backyard fun, it’s about the men and women who gave their lives,” said Marine Cpl. Scott Stys about Memorial Day. Stys served alongside fellow Atlantic County Sheriff’s Officers, Marine Sgt. Mark Azagra and Nathanial Lewis, Staff Sgt. USMC retired, during the ceremony as the three paid tribute to their fallen comrades.

“This is us giving back to something we are all a part of,” said Lewis. “It doesn’t let us forget the men we lost.”

Cely Rivera and her mother, Ines Ayala, arrived at the cemetery early in order to sit near the grave of Rivera’s husband, Tech Sgt. Timothy J. Rivera, U.S. Air Force, before the day’s ceremony started. Rivera’s husband passed away from cancer in 2014. It is a journey the two women make on most holidays to help them feel close to him.

While the two never really discussed it, Rivera believes her husband would not be surprised about being buried at the Atlantic County Veterans Cemetery. “He had a feeling he would end up in a veterans cemetery,” said Rivera.

“I adopted him, he was my boy,” smiled Ayala proudly. “I think she loved him more than me,” joked Rivera good-naturedly. Growing serious, Rivera continued “My husband was so humble, he hated any kind of accolades.”

The Atlantic County Veterans Cemetery is located inside the Atlantic County Park at 109 State Route 50, Estell Manor. The Atlantic County Veterans Museum is adjacent to the park.

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