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News: Vettes rev up to cheer vets who served

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    Vettes rev up to cheer vets who served

    Vettes rev up to cheer vets who served

    Third annual car parade attracts 130 vehicles, ends up at Lyons VAhospital

    By Meghan Van Dyk Daily Record July 13, 2008

    MORRIS TWP., NJ -- With their engines revved and their wheels shining, 130 Corvettes rolled out of the parking lot of the Morristown Armory bound for the Lyons Veterans Affairs Medical Center on Saturday morning.

    The Corvettes -- a myriad of years, models and colors -- stretched for half a mile and arrived at 10 a.m. to deliver breakfast -- and more importantly, companionship -- to the 240 veterans who are staying at the hospital.

    The annual event -- Vettes for Vets -- began three years ago and is organized by Mendham Township resident Jerry Filippini as a way to honor his father, the late Albert R. Filippini, a Korean War veteran.

    The intent of Vettes for Vets is simple, Filippini said.

    'Show of respect'
    "It's not a car show, but a show of respect for our New Jersey veterans," Filippini said in front of his own 2006 Daytona Sunset Orange Corvette. "We give the veterans a cup of coffee and a bagel, show them the cars and sit with them on the lawn or under a tree, listening to their stories."

    In the project's first two years, the Corvettes lined Mendham Township's Ralston Hill Road, where Filippini lives with his wife and two daughters.

    But growing from 38 cars in 2006 to 98 last year, Fillipini needed a bigger place to rally up this year's 130 Corvettes, so he enlisted the help of Brig. Gen. William Phillips of Picatinny Arsenal, who led the caravan in a Humvee, and the Morristown Armory.

    This year, members of Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 8946 also escorted the caravan to collect items from Corvette owners for care packages, which the post delivers daily to the Walter Reed Hospital in Washington, D.C., as part of its Wounded Warrior Project.

    Many of the Corvette owners are veterans themselves, including Joe Notowicz, 60, who was stationed in Germany with the Army from 1968 to 1970. Notowicz, who is restoring his 1975 Corvette in his Morristown garage, is a member of the Natural Glass Corvette Association, a Morris County-based club.

    More fun than bingo
    "Being a vet, it feels good, it feels nice to help," Notowicz said.

    "A lot of these guys are car buffs, so it's great to talk cars with them and let them. It's something different, a bit more fun than playing a game of bingo."

    Some of the drivers came from as far away as the south shore of Long Island and the Jersey Shore. About a dozen members of the North Jersey Corvette Club, including President Frank Ricciardi and his wife, Kathy, of Cedar Knolls, came out to the event for the first time as a club.

    "Doing things like this gives us a chance to give back and have fun while doing it," Frank Ricciardi said. He added that clubs often sponsor fundraisers for various charities. "If not, we're just a bunch of old people with fancy cars," he said.

    First-time Vettes for Vets attendees Alan and Kathy Odell of Boonton marveled at the variety of Corvettes that packed the parking lot like majestic sardines for about an hour before the caravan set out.

    "This is just such a great cause," said Kathy Odell, sitting in the couple's 2002 millennium yellow convertible. "Driving one of these is just fun. They're exciting and they're a symbol of America. It'll be good to share them with the people who helped grant America the freedom and opportunity these cars represent."

    The veterans, too, have come to look forward to the event, according to Ruth Sposito, a recreational therapist at the Lyons Veterans Affairs Medical Center.

    "It's not about the cars for many of them, though the cars do take many of them back to their time," Sposito said. "It's about hanging out with the drivers and talking about their experiences in the war, their grandchildren or just getting the chance to complain about the food to someone. They love doing normal stuff, stuff we take for granted."

    Meghan Van Dyk can be reached at (973) 428-6633 or mvandyk@gannett.com.
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