North Bergen officials paid tribute to Hudson County’s veterans earlier today, giving special recognition to U.S. Army veteran Donald DeLeo, who faced East German and Russian troops along the German border during the height of the Cold War.
DeLeo served with the U.S. Army’s storied 2nd Calvary Regiment, whose origins date back to the early 19th century, where earlier veterans served in the Mexican-American War in the 1840s and the American Civil War in the 1860s.
DeLeo served in military intelligence and was responsible for providing the 2nd Armored Regiment with details about all the different types of weaponry that the East German and Russian armies deployed along the border that was shared with East Germany and Czechoslovakia.
He was first deployed to West Germany in 1959, and then two years later the Berlin Wall was constructed.
He and his comrades were always on full alert because it was always a possibility that skirmishes, or even an outright attack, could happen at a moment’s notice, particularly during those chilling days of the Cuban Missile Crisis in October 1962.
His regiment adhered to a strict motto known as toujours prÃªt, French for “always ready.”
“I was there when President John F. Kennedy was assassinated, and we had instant alerts, because at that point we didn’t know what the hell was coming â€” war or not,” said DeLeo.
His job placed him right at the front lines of the border where he was just meters away from East German troops pointing their guns at him.
“I was as close to East German soldiers as you’re standing opposite me. I was a young lieutenant and bold, and one time they pointed a gun this close [pointing to his teeth]. But, luckily, they never pulled the trigger.”
During the ceremony, state Senator (D-32)/North Bergen Mayor Nick Sacco presented DeLeo with an honorary certificate from American Legion Post 33 for his active military service during the Cold War.
The certificate also recognized his service working with younger veterans who have returned from recent wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, as well as from bases in Asia and Africa.
“This year DeLeo is the recipient of an award because we wanted to thank him for all he’s done for our veterans, he’s always giving nice speeches for them, and helped to organize programs for them, so he’s done a great job for the veterans in our town,” said Sacco.
Hudson County Board of Freeholders Chair Anthony Vainieri (D-8) was the emcee of the event and said DeLeo was well deserving of the award.
“He didn’t know about it, we surprised him by calling him up to the mic. I’m really happy for him, I’ve known him since I was a little kid, he knows me most of my life. He goes back to my father’s days when my father was the [assemblyman] and they ran together back in the 1980s,” said Vainieri.
Finance and Revenue Commissioner Julio Marenco, a U.S. Navy veteran, was also acknowledged for his service.
We streamed the ceremony to our Facebook Page, which can be viewed below: