Anyone driving on Route 539 in Manchester has seen the large rock on the side of the road decorated with the painted American flag.

Many times I've ridden past it on my way to the shore.

Recently, that rock was vandalized not once, but twice.

NJ Patriot rock vandalized (Credit: User submitted)
NJ Patriot rock vandalized (Credit: User submitted)

After the second time — Thomas Sarno, a New York City police officer, retired medically from a line of duty injury, and Laurie Lamola, a United States Air Force veteran, painstakingly removed the tar from the first time.

Sarno, who owns SIGNPRO in Mayetta — also known as West Creek — spoke to New Jersey 101.5:

What made you take on this project of restoring the rock?

"To deface the American Flag is a crime. So many men and women have sacrificed for the good of this country. They stand proud, they deserve the respect for the sacrifices given. A military member, whether active or a veteran once wrote a check payable to the United States of America for an amount equal to and including their life. Does that not say it all?"

"When 9-11 happened we chanted send our troops over there, send more cops and fire fighters to the scene. Have we already forgotten?

I watched the faces of the veterans that stopped to thank us as we worked on this Rock, they taught me that for some it is in fact a rock, for others it is a Flag, for them this is about something greater than many of us will ever understand.

The act of defacing the American Flag caused so much great sadness. For them this is a reflection of time past, for the baby they never met until long after they were born because they were busy defending America, for their fellow Soldier that they called their brother that never made it home, for the promises made to our Country.

Each and every one of them will tell you it was worth it! And today much like after Vietnam, defacing this rock was no different than spitting on them. Why did we take on the Project, Because we love our Country!"

NJ Patriot rock vandalized (Credit: User submitted)
NJ Patriot rock vandalized (Credit: User submitted)

What happened during the process?

"The fact that it was tar thrown on the rock made clean up much more difficult. We thought it was going to be a prime and repaint. One day for a good cause. We both work full time + jobs so leisure time is at a premium.

The clean up took 5 days to remove the tar and years of paint that was flaking and peeling.

It was a steep learning curve to figure out how to accomplish this task. We incorporated the help of our friends Ed and Barbara Johnson, and Jimmy Stapleton. Completion of the clean up was Sunday 5-19 with the final coat of primer being applied and the blue field for the stars being laid out and painted.

The next morning we were informed that the rock had been re-vandalized in the exact same manner. We are back to square one but we are determined to have this done by Memorial Day."

NJ Patriot rock vandalized (Credit: User submitted)
NJ Patriot rock vandalized (Credit: User submitted)

Why is this so important to you?

"The reason restoring the rock is important to us is because we saw that something was needed to be done so we stepped up to do it. The reason the symbol of the flag is important is, The American flag is a powerful symbol of freedom and democracy.

The red stripes represent hardness and valor, as well as courage and readiness to sacrifice. The white stripes represent purity and innocence and holding true to our ideals while the blue stripes represent loyalty vigilance and perseverance.

These colors embody the principles that veterans fought to uphold, such as freedom of speech, religion, and the right to live in a free land without dictatorship. For veterans, the American flag serves as a reminder of the freedoms they fought to protect. The salute is Respect, the tears, well they are memories.

Look at a veteran’s face as the National Anthem plays, it says it all. My girl will cry every time. Not out of sadness but out of Pride. God Bless the USA."

Who are the biker and veterans' groups you're involved with?

"We are not currently with any group officially but have good friends that are with Combat Vets (military based), Legion Riders (military ), Allegiance (law enforcement based), Nam Knights (military), Blue Knights (law enforcement) Punishers (law enforcement), Knights of the Inferno (fire fighters) and many others.

Be it law enforcement, military, first responder or civilian group, when the bike community comes together we are one big family and help and watch over each other."

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