Our Grand Marshall, Dick Heller, was born in July 9, 1928 in Newark where he was raised. Dick attended Seton Hall Prep and later graduated in 1949 from Lafayette College in Pennsylvania.
Following the outbreak of the Korean War, Dick joined the United States Army – serving first at Camp Breckenridge, KY then on to Ft. Benning, GA where he trained for paratrooper air assault operations. He became a member of the famous 101st Airborne Division (the “Screaming Eagles”) one of the most highly decorated units in the history of the Army. During the Korean Conflict, he was a 1st Lieutenant and combat platoon leader. His unit was ordered back from combat operations at the front to assist in the suppression of the prisoner rebellion at the Koje-Do Island POW camp (near Pusan) off the south coast of the Korean peninsula where prisoners had forcibly seized and held hostage the camp commandant for 4 days.
The camp had detained as many as 170,000 POW’s. Violent resistance broke out among POWs, reportedly on direct orders from the Communist high command (specially trained Communist agents were instructed to be captured at the front to gain access to the UN stockade – these agents conveyed to other loyal prisoners the latest orders for creating disturbances by all available means).
The uprising was quelled but the rebellion disrupted armistice negotiations and ultimately contributed to a delay in an end to the conflict. After the restoration of order, Dick was asked to remain as Enclosure Commander to train Military Police. He served at that post for the duration.
After returning from Korea, Dick met and married his beloved, Betsy. They lived in East Orange, moving to Bloomfield, Caldwell and later Packanack Lake. Finally, in 1961, they moved to Mountain Lakes and settled into their lovely home on East Shore Drive.
Dick enjoyed a long and successful career as an executive in the insurance industry, retiring in 1996 as Vice President of North American Life Insurance Co.
Together Dick & Betsy proudly raised seven children (4 boys & 3 girls): Susan, Dick, Stephen, Douglas, Elizabeth, Catherine and P.J. In due course, their children were happily followed by 15 grandchildren (5 boys, 10 girls) and 2 great-grandchildren (1 boy, 1 girl). Betsy, after a valiant effort, finally succumbed to a long illness in 2008 but left behind for her husband and family a legacy of love and fond memories.
Both Dick and Betsy were very active in this community throughout the years they lived here, including: (Dick): Cub Scout and Boy Scout leader; Little League Coach; President – Mountain Lakes Swim Club; Chair – School Board Nomination Committee; Chair – 4th of July Program; St. Catherine’s Church Parish Council, CCD Teacher and Head Usher; Mountain Lakes Club – member of Bd. of Directors and Vice President; Memorial Day Committee (6 years). (Betsy): Board of Trustees – St. Claire’s Hospital; President of St. Claire’s Hospital Auxiliary (7 years); Secretary/Treasurer – Boonton Bowling League; and, Women’s Golf Champion (Peacepipe CC).
Not many of our citizens can claim a 52 year residence in Mountain Lakes or one highlighted by such exemplary commitment to community. We sincerely thank Dick for his service to his Country and to us. We should aspire to follow his example and we are ever grateful and proud to have him here today as our Grand Marshall.