PJ's Peter Corcoran, 8 other students help build flagpole at veterans cemetery

Director of Communications
Pope John XXIII Regional High School

SPARTA — Peter Corcoran knows he could have done anything to fulfill his required service hours at Pope John XXIII Regional High School.

The senior could have volunteered at a nursing home; he could have devoted his time to a soup kitchen; he could have helped out children at a local program.

But, that’s not what he wanted to do.

Instead, he wanted to make a true difference with his time. 

Corcoran put his time to great use, as he helped build a flagpole at the Northern New Jersey Veterans Memorial Cemetery in honor of past and present veterans in the armed forces. On Saturday, the flagpole was unveiled during a Veterans Day ceremony at the cemetery, located on 75 North Church Rd. in Sparta.

“It’s an honor,” Corcoran said of building the flagpole. “Everything that we do at Pope John is serviced-base and I didn’t want to fill my service hours doing something on a Saturday a couple of times. I wanted to do something that would last. ... It’s great to know that I can have an effect on so many people, especially for our veterans who fight for us every day and their families.”

Corcoran said he and his father, Paul, had looked for opportunities during the spring of his junior year to do community projects that had a lot of meaning to them. They saw in a local newspaper that the cemetery — built in 2015 on county-owned land — was a place constructed by volunteers and the only veterans cemetery in North Jersey.

They took a ride up to the cemetery and met with John Harrigan, the president of the Sussex County Chapter 1002 of the Vietnam Veterans of America who told them that they were looking for more people to help finish a couple of projects, including the flagpole, on the 67-acre site.

Corcoran, who has an interest in a military career, and Paul thought it was right up their alley.

“We saw that everybody was volunteering there,” Paul said. “I turned to Peter and said,  ‘Hey, how would you like to help finish the flagpole?’ He said, ‘Yeah, let’s do it!’”

While working on the project, Corcoran was given the honor and responsibility to lead a youth volunteer effort to complete the project. Among the many things he did were creating a website in which people could buy engraved pavers in order to raise funds for the project, writing letters to the principals of all the local high schools informing them of the project, talking to Pope John’s Interact Club about the project and informing his peers around the school.

Some of those efforts worked, as they raised $4,300 through the selling of the pavers. In addition, they saw eight more Pope John students —Michael Damico, Zachary Dole, Patrick Hanley, Jack Lubertazzi, Joseph Moshella, John McGuire, Ethan O’Connor and Joseph Shelley — volunteer to help build the project, which was completed on Nov. 4. Among the many tasks they did were cleaning the cemetery, moving soil, finishing the grading, seeding, weed whacking, rock removal, planting flowers, and mulching.

“We definitely bit off more than we could chew,” Corcoran said with a chuckle. “We thought it would be done in October, but we got it done just in time. It was just amazing to work with some of my closest friends on a project like this.”

Their work was revered by the roughly 75 people who attended the Veterans Day ceremony on Saturday. Pope John XXIII Regional High School President and Principal Father McHugh was impressed with what Corcoran and the other Pope John students had done for this project.

“I’m so proud of Peter and his band of helpers,” Father McHugh said. “They are wonderful kids who did this on their own terms and with generous hearts. I’m in awe of their volunteerism, their patriotism and their commitment to honoring America at all times.”

While this project certainly met his required amount of service hours, Corcoran said the impact of this flagpole is something he will remember forever.

“It puts into perspective how even a little something like this can change someone’s life,” Corcoran said. 

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