Thank you for your service

Local 600 president receives honor for his service and his work with veterans

Berkeley Heights Local 144 State Delegate Pat Moran (left) with Local 600 President Tom Lombardi showing the proclamation he received from Millburn Township

In 1966, Local 600 President Tom Lombardi left behind a baseball scholarship at Fairleigh Dickinson University and, against his parents’ wishes, enlisted in the Army.

That started a career of service that included 26 years with the Millburn Police Department, working on patrol and in the motorcycle unit. And since becoming Local 600 president, the retired Millburn Local 34 member has continued to go above and beyond for other members who have served in the military.

On Aug. 16, Lombardi was honored by the town of Millburn with a proclamation for his military service. U.S. Army Sergeant Lombardi was awarded two Purple Hearts, given to servicemen wounded in the line of duty; a Combat Infantry Badge, for actively participating in ground combat; a Vietnam Service Medal; Combat Aviation Wings; a
Combat Air Medal with five silver oak leaves, awarded for heroic or meritorious achievement while participating in an arial flight; the Bronze Star, for a heroic and meritorious deed performed in an armed conflict; and three Presidential Unit awards, for extraordinary heroism in action against an armed enemy.

Lombardi was trained as a military policeman and assigned to an infantry unit in Vietnam. During his first tour, he was wounded by an RPG during the Tet Offensive and was treated in a MASH unit, followed by a military hospital. Upon his recovery, he joined the 240th Assault Helicopter Company, also against his parents’ wishes, and participated in a gruesome battle called “116 Hours in Hell,” where he lost numerous teammates, including his pilot and gunner.

After coming back from the war, Lombardi became a part of Local 34, but it wasn’t until 2006 that he realized veterans could access benefits.

Since getting involved with Local 600, Lombardi has made it a point to keep in touch with officers just like him who served.

“As new things come out, new stuff that’s available and how to file claims, we make that information available to people — not just in Jersey. We have a lot of veterans that are out of state,” he said.

Not only does he help out fellow veterans turned law enforcement officers, he’s making a tangible difference.

Recently, Lombardi partnered with the town of Millburn to raise $60,000 to build a brand-new parking lot at the local VFW. That led him to work with Millburn’s mayor to put in “Purple Heart” parking spots at the town’s city hall.

“We want to help these guys, that’s all we want to do, and the town is helping us do it.”

All of that and a good relationship with the mayor led the town to choose Lombardi as the first veteran to receive the special proclamation.

One might call the proclamation a thank-you that was a long time coming. Lombardi says the months after coming home from Vietnam were a tough road.

“When we came back, we felt like we were the enemy,” Lombardi recalled. “When I applied for my first job, we couldn’t put on the job application that I was a Vietnam veteran. That kind of was unsettling.”

It’s not just the thanks from the town of Millburn that’s significant, it’s the thanks Lombardi gets from those just like him.

“Last time I was there [at the VA hospital], I was sitting there waiting and two gentlemen came up. I talked to them fora little bit, and they thanked me for fighting for everything they got. What caught me off guard was they were in Afghanistan and Iraq.”

Retirement hasn’t slowed Lombardi down at all. He hopes to continue to educate veterans in the future and inspire them to reach out for a helping hand.

“My philosophy is, the squeaky wheel gets the grease, and if you don’t ask you’re never going to find out.”