So, I was born October 10, 1946 in All Souls Hospital in Morristown, however my parents Ray and Helen D’Andrea lived on Oak Street across from Our Lady of Mt Carmel School when I was born. Later they moved to what was then called the “Veterans Barracks” as my dad was a WWII Navy veteran. The “Barracks” (Veterans Housing) was located at West Main Street and Highland Avenue just below the Pond Bridge as it was know in those days.
Flash forward to Feb. 6 (I think) 1950, I was three and a half years old, and I remember this vividly, “my friend Albert and I went towards the Rockaway River looking for ducks.” It did not take my mom long to notice I was not in view and she headed towards the river, behind the Vets Housing Area, right below the bridge on West Main St.
I remember standing on the bank above the river. I don’t remember falling in but I do remember lying on my back, floating, looking up at a very gray February sky and the bridge, lazily floating towards the falls at Grace Lord Park.
Now, and this according to the Newark Evening News of February 7, 1950, “Mrs. Helen D’Andrea dove into the icy river and fought her way through more than 15 feet of broken ice to reach her child, and swam back to the bank of the river.” I was held afloat by a new nylon snow suit, apparently purchased by my mom the week before, replacing an old woolen snow suit, which had I been wearing, would have been the end of me!
Mom sustained a concussion and leg lacerations from hitting the ice with her head when she apparently dove in. I do know that when she did enter the water she had on a woolen overcoat and winter boots. Definitely a handicap when diving into a river! Again, according to the Newark Evening news, mom was “seen by a Mr. Herbert Hiler, an employee of the then nearby pumping station. He summoned Boonton Police, and then plunged into the ice-strewn river to assist.”
I can remember looking up at the bridge and seeing police, Kiwanis Ambulance, and fire equipment flashing red lights. I certainly do not remember being afraid and of course, as luck would have it I landed on my back, fortunately for me. I will say it would have been one heck of a ride down Boonton Falls.
Again, as per the Newark Evening news, in the same article “The Boonton Board of Aldermen ordered that a protective fence between the river and the Veterans Housing Project be mended.” Mom, Mr. Hiler and Michael Pepe of the water Dept. were honored by the Gus Ginder Post # 242 VFW February 22, 1950, for courageous actions in time of need. Chief of Police Charles McCoy was the guest speaker at that ceremony. Mom eventually ended up on the old Lowell Thomas radio news program from New York City and received at least a few letters from attorneys, as far away as Ft. Wayne, Indiana but my parents were quite content to just let this episode pass and try to move on without fanfare.