The goal of naming a site in dedication to a deceased person is to honor their legacy and keep it alive. But it's up to the living to do so.
"Without a story, a name is just a name," Palermo resident Angelina Joyce Canizzaro said. It's been nearly 50 years since Canizzaro's fiance and high school sweetheart, Ocean City resident Jon Richard Morvay, was killed in action during the Vietnam War. But though years have passed, Canizzaro said her love for Morvay and her memories of their time spent together hasn't faded.
"I believe we were soul mates," Canizzaro said.
Morvay (Mar. 17, 1947-Oct. 23, 1967) was Ocean City's first casualty in the Vietnam War. The second was Army SP5 Bruce Michael Miley (Dec. 20, 1946-Oct. 21, 1968). The Miley-Morvay American Legion Post 524, located at 3304 Bay Ave., Ocean City, was named in honor of these two men. But up until a few weeks ago, Canizzaro said, the Post 524 had little information on who these two young men really were, aside from a short paragraph-sized biography listed on its website, legion524ocnj.org/. Canizzaro, therefore, has made it her personal mission to help the post obtain more information and memorabilia on both Morvay and Miley.
She has already donated several photographs of Morvay to the post, including a large, matted and framed photograph of Morvay in his battle uniform, passed down to Canizzaro by Morvay's mother, June, who died in February.
Canizzaro also is searching for people who knew Miley to help her gather more information about his life to share with the post. She said so far she has had a few leads and is seeking the public's assistance to find out more.
She has also shared her personal memories of herself and Morvay with the posts' members.
Canizzaro and Morvay met during their senior year at Ocean City High School. Morvay and his family had just moved to Ocean City from Haddonfield, Camden County, that year, and Jon was the new kid at school, she said.
"He sat next to me in history class, and I thought he was the most beautiful thing in the world," Canizzaro recalled.
The young couple's first exchange happened as many high school boys and girls' do. Morvay asked Canizzaro to copy her class notes.
"For some reason, I always typed my notes," Canizzaro said. "Jon said to me, 'Lend me your notes and during lunch we can go back to my house, and I'll make you a tuna fish sandwich.'"
A tuna fish sandwich and a Coca-Cola later, he had stolen her heart.
"Oh, and he also drove a 1965 silver blue Corvette Stingray," Canizzaro said, still gushing like the smitten schoolgirl she was back then. "I didn't grow up with much, so for me this was like a dream, something I could never forget."
From that day on, Canizzaro and Morvay were inseparable.
"He taught me so many things. He was such a funny guy, a trickster, and, oh, so charming," she said. "We'd spend the nights driving aimlessly around the Somers Point circle just to be together."
After high school, Morvay proposed and Canizzaro happily accepted. Morvay then went off to the Valley Forge Military Academy and enlisted in the Navy in 1966. He died in action Oct. 23, 1967 at the age of 19. Canizzaro and Morvay had planned to marry after he served. "He was in the jeep with his commanding officer (Lt. Joseph John Rhodes, of Naval Construction Force NMCB 121) and another boy from his battalion when they went over the enemy land mine in Phu Bai, Vietnam," Canizzaro said. "Jon flew out of the jeep and part of his face and foot were blown off."
A letter sent to Jon's parents, Jon Morvay Sr. and June Morvay, from Cmdr. B.E. Stultz dated October 1967, read, "Nothing I can say will lessen your burden of grief, but I want you to know that Jon died serving his country proudly. His initiative and ability were exemplary. He never hesitated, regardless of the dangers, when there was a need for volunteers."
Morvay was the grandson of a WWI veteran and the son of a WWII veteran. He earned numerous awards and medals, including the Purple Heart, the National Defense Service Medal, the Vietnam Service Medal, two Bronze Star Medals, the Navy Unit Commendation Ribbon, the Republic of Vietnam Meritorious Service Medal, the Gallantry Cross Medal and the Vietnam Campaign Medal. Canizzaro said Morvay will always be "her hero," and her love for him will live on.
"I loved him more than anything in the whole world," she said.
Commander of Morvay-Miley Post 524 Robert Marzulli said the post has been seeking information on Morvay and Miley and is grateful for Canizzaro's help.
"We knew they were Ocean City boys who died in the Vietnam War, and that's why the post was named after them, but we didn't know any background about who these kids were," Marzulli said. "It'd be nice to share Morvay's and Miley's stories our members."
Contact Elisa Lala:
How to help
Anyone with personal stories or memorabilia on Jon R. Morvay and Bruce Michael Miley to be shared or donated with Morvay-Miley Post 524 are being asked to email Angelina Joyce Canizzaro at firstname.lastname@example.org.