Arriving in the Dead of Night

by Jule Spohn


"They come in every night on the train - sometimes four or five at one time." So begins an article in today's Star Ledger describing the arrival of the bodies of servicemen who were killed in combat and returned to Newark's Penn Station. I guess it was written today because of Veterans Day. It is a somber look at the role played by Newark's Penn Station baggage handling dept in times of war.

The article was written by William Gordon who is a Star Ledger feature writer. He was reporting for the Newark News back in 1986 when he received a tip from a railroad cop that a northbound train regularly stopped in Newark at 1 am. These trains regularly carried the war dead from both the Korean and Viet Nam wars. "They are doing it (at that hour) because it would cause a stir if the rush-hour crowds saw it" said the cop.

Each aluminum coffin was packed in wooden crates and each had a two man Honor Guard escort - an Officer and an Enlisted Sergeant.

The baggage section foreman said "sometimes we have four or five hearses waiting here. Usually on Saturday night we have the most. Lots of time it's just the funeral home people who meet them."

As an afterthought he said "These men are not baggage, you know. Military remains, and their escorts, travel with first-class tickets each.

"The platform, with its dirty, yellow-brick walls scrawled with graffiti, looked a lonely homecoming place for the American dead of these wars."

"But that's the way it always was when the midnight train pulled in, leaving a few more first-class passengers at Newark station."
This is not a very happy story, but it is a real picture of what happens behind the scenes here in Newark in the past and unfortunately will happen again.

God Bless the men and women who are in the military and put their lives on the line every day so that those of us at home will be safe.

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