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Diligent searching aids war memorial

WOODBURY As they continued a painstaking search for photographs of about 100 more World War II veterans from Gloucester County for a growing memorial, county officials found reinforcement this year in the form of a diligent intern.

The county Office of Veterans Affairs, which is trying to find such photos for its Wall of Heroes memorial, will add 18 WWII veterans' names and faces May 20, thanks in large part to Amanda Rosebery, a 21-year-old Rowan sociology senior from Pitman.

Rosebery assumed the task of finding the veterans' photos, in addition to her other duties, so paintings based on the photos could be added to the wall. She and her mother, Elaine, a member of the Gloucester County Historical Society, spent hours this semester digging through records to find portraits of the veterans.

Initiated in 2010, the wall begins with two plaques bearing the names of Civil War and World War I soldiers whose photos couldn't be located. That's followed by 272 mounted portraits bearing names and war service. Many of the paintings were based on photos relatives submitted.

The WWII group - about 160 so far - occupies the majority of the memorial in the county courthouse. But before a plaque is commissioned listing the remaining veterans whose photos haven't been found, the county hopes to exhaust all search options.

Rosebery and her mother tracked down the photographs of 14 of the 18 veterans to be added at this year's ceremony by scouring high school yearbooks, newspaper clippings, and genealogy websites.

"Once I started going through and finding their pictures, I found myself wanting to read [more]," said Rosebery, who's pursuing a career in veterans social services. She learned about soldiers such as Basil P. Thompson of Paulsboro, who was killed in action in Aachen, Germany, and whose photo she found in a high school yearbook.

"I can just imagine people like that, people my own age," she said. "It kind of hits home when you can picture someone you know in that position."

Duane Sarmiento, director of the Veterans Affairs office, concurred.

"You really get a connection with these guys when you're doing research," Sarmiento said, face to face with the wall of the fallen.

Rosebery and her mother plan to keep up their search.

"They could be in any year, any day in those [records]," she said. "We're just going to keep looking."

For more information, contact the county Veterans Affairs office at 856-401-7660.

- Angelo Fichera