At Eagle Oaks Golf and Country Club the annual Honor Day has grown by leaps and bounds.
What started as a chance for a few service men and women in town for Fleet Week to play at the course has grown into hundreds of troops playing golf, sharing their experiences and taking part in a banquet to cap off the day.
Thursday was the fourth time the club hosted the event and once again area children got the chance to come and meet the real life heroes and learn more about what they do on a daily basis.
One of the guest speakers at the club was Navy Seal Chief John Cummings. He said he told the students more about the importance of Memorial Day than he did about his life with the elite unit. "I'm basically talking about Memorial Day and what it means to honor our fallen who have come before us," he said.
Monsignor Joseph Curry from Immaculate Conception School in Spotswood brought students to the program as part of their Memorial Day lessons. "It's just a way to celebrate Memorial Day and honor the service men and women," he said. "It shows them the different ways people serve and give of themselves to help other people."
Sgt. Zachary Mendenhall of the United States Marines came to Fleet Week aboard the USS Wasp and said the men and women were honored to be a part of the day.
Especially for soldiers who are deployed overseas Mendenhall said the support from back home means a lot to them. "It's nice for us to be able to go out and say hey thanks we appreciate it," he said.
With Fleet Week and Memorial Day Mendenhall said it is an important time of year for the troops. Currently serving in the first battalion ninth Marines and having served with the third battalion sixth Marines he said their brothers and sisters in arms are never far from their minds. "In some way shape or form we all lose a buddy or lose a comrade in arms," he said.
An eight-year veteran having done several tours overseas Mendenhall said Memorial Day is an important one. "I think people might overlook the holiday but for us, especially for the troops it's one of the biggest ones," he said. "A lot of us walk around with that in our heads and our hearts 24/7.
In addition to the Marines there were also representatives from the United States Coast Guard, the Monmouth County Sheriff's Department and the Squankum Fire Department performing demonstrations for the students.
Cummings said he was impressed by what the club does to honor the troops on this day. "For a beautiful golf course to open their doors to us during fleet week and show how much they appreciate our service and our sacrifice is amazing."
The event is also a point of pride for the members and management of the club. Bob Smith of Wall said he has played in the event every year and considers it an honor to be part of the day as it has grown. "I take great pride that I'm part of a membership and a group of people that really care for our servicemen and women and what they do and the sacrifices they make," he said.
John Beurskens, the club's assistant general manager and membership coordinator said the goal from the beginning has never changed. "This is something that as we said from the beginning is to have a day that these guys will never forget." Treating their guests like "rock stars," is just one way they say thank you to the troops.
As part of the day, club members pair up with a member of the service to take on the course. Smith said the conversations they have during the day are ones he never forgets. "They don't believe that they're making any sacrifices," he said. "They believe they're doing their duty and they love what they're doing. We thank them and they thank us."
No matter what the score is at the end of the day Smith said it is a memorable experience either way. "It's a really good feeling and I'm honored to walk alongside people that do that," he said.
In addition to the golf and the banquet the event also serves as a fundraiser for th Hope For the Warriors organization. The goal of Hope For the Warriors is to help the families of service members who have either been wounded or killed in the line of duty. Beurskens said he expected the event to raise close to $100 thousand dollars for the cause.