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Casino leaders see great promise, challenge in Atlantic City's future

ATLANTIC CITY — Touting investments at casinos and throughout the city, a panel of gambling executives said Wednesday the city’s future is promising.

But to achieve that promise, the resort’s leaders have to work together to take advantage of opportunities, such as sports betting and increased development, to make the resort a true destination, said Mark Giannantonio, president and CEO of Resorts Casino Hotel, during the event hosted by the Greater Atlantic City Chamber.

“What’s missing in Atlantic City is the spirit of community,” Giannantonio said as he held a copy of The Press of Atlantic City from Memorial Day weekend 1967, which showed a thriving Boardwalk. “Back then, there were so many stakeholders involved. It’s been a missing component for the last 20-25 years.”

The event at the Sheraton Atlantic City Convention Center Hotel featured Giannantonio; Marcus Glover, president and chief operating officer of Borgata Hotel Casino & Spa; Matthew Harkness, president of Hard Rock Atlantic City; and Tony Rodio, president and CEO of Tropicana Entertainment Inc.

“When you have competitive entities — and the casinos are competitive entities — talking about and encouraging a spirit of cooperation, I think that it’s really important that leadership have identified that as an issue,” said Joe Kelly, president of the chamber.

Harkness, an Atlantic City casino veteran, told the audience he was happy to be back in the area. The city, he said, has a bright future, although sometimes it tends to downplay its accomplishments.

“What I have seen is that this market is still robust,” he said.

Glover, who joined Borgata three months ago, said making better use of Atlantic City International Airport is an essential part of improving the local economy. He agreed the city’s economy is robust but said the city still suffers from negative perceptions outside New Jersey.

Online gaming revenues continue to grow

ATLANTIC CITY — When Gov. Chris Christie signed internet gaming legislation into law in February 2013, it was touted as another option that would make the resort’s gaming market more competitive.

Giannantonio said the future looks bright on the north end of the Boardwalk. Over the next year, several key projects are expected to open in that area, including Hard Rock, the Observation Wheel at Steel Pier and The Beach at South Inlet, a residential project on a grassy 4-acre lot bound by Atlantic, Pacific, New Jersey and Connecticut avenues.

“Things are really pointing up,” Giannantonio said. “We want to welcome everyone back to the neighborhood. We are really excited about Hard Rock joining and opening. We think that Hard Rock and the brand is going to be a dramatic uplift for Atlantic City and certainly for the north side of city.”

Ventnor, Atlantic City holiday parades keeping an eye out for snow

South Jersey is in line to get a few tenths of an inch of snow along the shore Friday into Saturday.

That’s not much to worry about, but for the organizers of the Ventnor Holiday Parade and Atlantic City Block Party, the safety of the participants and audience is always on their minds.

“The police and safety officers will work the event to help the public. However, good common sense is always key,” said Joe Kelly, president of the Greater Atlantic City Chamber.

Two different systems will bring the potential for snow this weekend.

The first is a low-pressure system that will ride up the eastern seaboard between late Friday and Saturday morning. This has the potential to be a bigger storm. However, it is likely to bring, at most, an inch or two of snow, not sticking to roads much.

The second system comes Sunday. This likely would be flurries, if anything.

Only 7.7 inches of snow fell at Atlantic City International Airport last winter, but between these two events, the season could be off to a snowier start.

Shelly D’Orazio, of the Ventnor Beautification Committee, is just hoping the snow ends in time for Saturday’s parade.

“Just give us dry, and we can bundle up. We can handle it,” D’Orazio said.

It looks like it will be dry for both the Ventnor and Hammonton parades.

They driest part of the weekend will be Saturday afternoon into early Sunday, which falls between the departing low-pressure system and the incoming clipper system.

Had the Ventnor parade not been moved to the afternoon, and held in the morning as in the past, organizers would have had to worry more about snow this year.

SEEN at Ocean City's Christmas in the Downtown

“We did it last year at 4:30 p.m.,” D’Orazio said. “It worked so great that we decided that we had to do it during the afternoon again this year.”

Snow or not, you can expect a chilly pair of days Saturday and Sunday, with high temperatures struggling to get above 40 degrees.

But that’s the season, Kelly said.

“Anything that creates a holiday spirit is encouraging,” Kelly said. “You want people to be comfortable but want people to understand that we are in December.”

Cape veterans recall Pearl Harbor, World War II

MIDDLE TOWNSHIP — Joe Kasmark and John Sherman were just teenagers when Japanese planes attacked Pearl Harbor in 1941 and killed more than 2,300 Americans.

A few years later, the two men, who now live in Cape May County, would both be aboard U.S. Navy ships aiding in the fight in the Pacific during World War II.

This week, Sherman and Kasmark met for the first time. They were brought together by Sherman’s daughter, Debbie Robson, who stumbled upon Kasmark with her granddaughter at the Acme in North Wildwood.

Dobson nominated Kasmark and her father to receive quilts from the Quilts of Valor Foundation, a group that makes quilts to comfort combat veterans.

Sherman and Kasmark received their quilts Tuesday morning over breakfast at Glick’s Corner Cafe in Middle Township. The two WWII veterans talked about their experiences in battle, movies they watched on the ships and the quality of the mess hall food.

Kasmark, 92, of North Wildwood, remembers hearing news of the Pearl Harbor attack Sunday morning, Dec. 7, 1941. He was a 16-year-old high school student living in Philadelphia.

“As a teenage kid, I didn’t know much about war,” he said. “I didn’t realize how serious things” were getting.

Sherman was a few years younger than Kasmark and living in Maryland when he heard the news.

“I had just went out to get the paper, and I came back,” said Sherman, 89, of Cape May Court House. “(My mother) just told me the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor.”

Students get history lesson from local veterans

GALLOWAY TOWNSHIP — Seven local veterans sat down with students from Absegami High School on Monday to give a first-hand history lesson as part of the school’s Veterans Day observations.

Kasmark was drafted in 1943 right after graduating high school. He asked the draft board if he could join the Navy.

“I just didn’t like the thought of them shooting at me personally,” he said.

Sherman tried enlisting when he was 16 but was told to come back when he turned 17. He said he was eager to serve his country and get revenge on the Japanese.

He did come back when he was 17, and the Navy assigned him to the USS Niobrara in 1945.

“We refueled ships striking in Japan — aircraft carriers, battlewagons, cruisers, all those big ships,” Sherman said, adding the ship was a “floating time bomb” because of the highly flammable fuel on board.

Kasmark, meanwhile, was sent to electrician school for 16 weeks before being put on the USS Connolly, a destroyer escort. The ship sailed into the Pacific and took part in the Battle of Iwo Jima as one of its first missions, he said.

Near the end of the war, the Connolly was operating out of Okinawa and conducting anti-aircraft operations, Kasmark said. They were the first line of defense against Japanese kamikaze planes.

On April 13, 1945 — a Friday the Thirteenth, Kasmark was quick to add — a kamikaze pilot flew directly toward his ship.

“He dove in on us, and our gunners got him before he got to us,” Kasmark said.

The war ended Aug. 15, 1945, when the Japanese surrendered. Sherman and others aboard the Niobrara were watching a movie called “Something for the Boys” when they heard whistles and horns coming from nearby ships.

“So we run out on the deck and there’s an officer out there,” he said. “He was a little guy from Georgia. He said, ‘My word, Sherman, the war is over.’”

After returning to the United States, Kasmark became a firefighter in Philadelphia while Sherman worked on electrical power lines. Both men said their experience in the war impacted the rest of their lives.

“When you’re through the war, you take things a little more seriously as a young guy,” Kasmark said.

“At that time (when I came back), it never really dawned on me, but the older you get, the more it comes back to you,” Sherman said.

Atlantic City native recalls brother's time at Pearl Harbor

ATLANTIC CITY — Local World War II veteran Jim Thomas can still vividly remember going to a Navy recruiting center in Philadelphia with his brother and father in 1940 when the country was on the brink of war.

Thomas’ father, Adam, was a World War I veteran who served in the Navy for nearly 30 years starting in 1912. There was no doubt his sons would follow in his footsteps.

“No one ever walked this planet who loved the Navy more than my dad,” said Thomas, who has lived in Atlantic City his entire life. “It became his family, and he stayed in until he retired.”

So when Adam Thomas and two of his sons — Robert, who had just turned 18, and Jim, who was six years younger — walked into the recruiting center to talk about Robert signing up, the recruiter ignored the sons and only asked their father some questions.

“(He) just looked at my dad and said, ‘Well, what do you think, Mr. Thomas? Should we sign him up for four years or six years?’” Thomas said. “And my dad immediately said six years without hesitation.”

Just over a year later, Robert Thomas, called “Barney” by his family and friends, was in the water at Pearl Harbor picking up survivors after Japanese forces bombed the naval base Dec. 7, 1941, and thrust the United States into World War II.

Robert Thomas spent his time at Pearl Harbor and the entire war stationed on the USS Pennsylvania. Leading up to the attack on the Hawaiian naval base, the Japanese had identified the Pennsylvania as one of its primary targets because it was one of the flagship battleships of the fleet and the sister ship of the USS Arizona.

Just days before, however, the Pennsylvania was moved to a dry dock for repairs and was spared from being destroyed. The battleship that took the place of the Pennsylvania in the harbor, the USS Helena, was bombed and heavily damaged that day.

“(My brother) spent the entire war on the USS Pennsylvania, which I think was one of the luckiest ships out there,” Jim Thomas said.

The Pennsylvania was involved in some of the heaviest fighting in the Pacific Theater, which included the bombardment of Guam, the Philippines, Saipan and Kwajalein Island.

Just days before Japan surrendered, the Pennsylvania was torpedoed by a submarine that opened a 30-foot hole in the stern. Emergency repairs were done, but the ship had to return to the United States traveling three knots an hour.

When he returned home to Atlantic City, Robert Thomas opened Thomas Motors on Albany Avenue. He died in 1977.

Jim Thomas, 89, served in the Navy during WWII in 1944 and 1945 and opened Jim Thomas Motors at Annapolis and Ventnor avenues. He still lives in Atlantic City with his wife, Dolores.

“I like to think that when my brother made his last cruise to heaven, there was another sailor there with seven hash marks that said, ‘Come aboard, son, you brought honor to your family and your country,’” Jim Thomas said.