TRENTON – A bill sponsored by Senators John A. Girgenti and Paul A. Sarlo which would designate the Route 3 bridge over the Passaic River between Rutherford and Clifton as the “Chaplain Charles J. Watters Memorial Bridge,” in honor of a Vietnam War hero from New Jersey who sacrificed his life to save his fellow soldiers was approved by the Senate today by a vote of 36-0.
“With this bill, we are providing long-overdue recognition to one of New Jersey’s greatest modern heroes,” said Senator Girgenti, D-Passaic and Bergen, and Chairman of the Senate Law, Public Safety and Veterans Affairs Committee. “Chaplain Watters was a product of New Jersey, born in Jersey City and ministering to parishes in the Northern part of the State. But his courage under fire, dedication to his men, and ultimate sacrifice to rescue his wounded fellow soldiers stand as a beacon of bravery and heroism that enshrines the greatness of America.”
The bill, S-1850, would officially designate the bridge carrying Route 3 over the Passaic River between the City of Clifton and the Borough of Rutherford as the “Chaplain Charles J. Watters Memorial Bridge.” The sponsors noted that due to the State’s current economic crisis, they asked that the bill be amended in the Senate Transportation Committee to remove an appropriation of $2,500 for signage. However, the amended bill would authorize the Department of Transportation to receive gifts, grants or other financial assistance raised through private funding to cover the costs associated with producing, purchasing and erecting signs designating the bridge.
“As much as we would have liked to make sure that Chaplain Watters receives the honor that he rightfully deserves, we have to recognize the stark budget realities we face in the State,” said Senator Sarlo, D-Bergen, Essex and Passaic, and Vice Chairman of the Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee. “Senator Girgenti and I have received assurances from local veterans’ groups that funding will be available to provide signage without tapping into the State’s already depleted resources. Thanks to the charity of these groups, a true hero will receive long-overdue recognition for making the ultimate sacrifice to save the lives of his fellow soldiers.”
The sponsors noted that Chaplain Charles J. Watters, who was born in Jersey City, served in parishes in Rutherford, Jersey City, Paramus and Cranford before becoming a New Jersey Air National Guard Chaplain and then an Army Chaplain during the Vietnam War. He was killed while rescuing wounded men during the Battle of Dak To, during which he selflessly attended to the needs of his fellow soldiers, risking his life to provide medical assistance to the injured and offer last rites to the dying. He is buried in Arlington National Cemetery and was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor, one of only seven chaplains to ever receive the award.
“Chaplain Watters represents the epitome of American bravery and heroism, and I’m glad that we’ll be able to honor his sacrifice and remember his story,” said Senator Girgenti. “At a time when our nation is fighting wars overseas to root out terrorism abroad, and fighting at home to overcome nearly unprecedented economic distress, we need to look to our heroes, both present and past, to remember the greatness of our country. By naming the Route 3 bridge after Chaplain Watters, we will be creating a symbol to show our appreciation for Chaplain Watters’ sacrifice, but also, to highlight the best that America has to offer.”
“With thousands of New Jerseyans entrenched in wars around the world, we need to remember heroes like Chaplain Watters, and all of the brave men and women in uniform who have given so much to preserve our freedom,” said Senator Sarlo. “This is a fitting honor for a soldier who gave his life to rescue the wounded and bring solace to the dying. As our soldiers continue to put their lives on the line, it’s more important than ever that they know that New Jersey is proud, and we will always remember our heroes.”
The bill now heads to the Assembly for consideration.