They came from far and wide, old and young, some riding in floats sponsored by local politicians, others in groups of marchers from official or school military organizations.
Although billed at the first Jersey City Veterans Parade, many of those attended came from other parts of Hudson County, especially Bayonne, wearing uniforms from bygone eras or carrying banners that celebrated a day that has in the past been often forgotten.
Some people, such as Jersey City Mayor Steve Fulop and Bayonne’s Chuck “The Bleeder” Wepner, were well-known veterans. Most were not. But nearly every face, old or young, regardless of nationality or color, beamed with special pride as the city and its residents paid tribute to their service.
Among the many officials that took part were County Executive Tom DeGise, Bayonne Councilman Juan Perez, Hudson County Sheriff Frank Schillari, State Sen. Sandra Cunningham, Jersey City Council President Rolando Lavarro, and Council members Diane Coleman, Joyce Watterman, Richard Boggiano, Michael Yun, and Daniel Rivera.
Cunningham’s husband, former Jersey City mayor and state senator Glenn Cunningham, was a Marine.
“I always felt like I was part of the Marine family,” she said.
“So few do so much for so many.” – U. S. Sen. Robert Menendez
Standing on the steps of City Hall with hundreds of attendees, Fulop paid tribute to the many people who have served the country through military service.
While the city has honored veterans for Memorial Day for nearly a century, many people had to go out of town to places like New York, Newark or Hoboken, to celebrate Veterans Day.
Veterans Day originated as “Armistice Day” on Nov. 11, 1919, the first anniversary of the end of World War I. Congress passed a resolution in 1926 for an annual observance, and Nov. 11 became a national holiday beginning in 1938. Veterans Day is often confused with Memorial Day, which honors American service members who died in service to their country, while Veterans Day pays tribute to all American veterans – living or dead – with special thanks to those living veterans who served their country honorably during war or peacetime.
‘A small gesture’
“I’ve always said that I got more out of the Marines as a human being than the Marines out of me,” Fulop said.
He served in the U.S. Marines during the early days of the Iraq War.
“Our armed forces – and everyone who has served or still serves in them – deserve to be honored in the communities in which they live,” Fulop said.
The parade kicked off at City Hall then made its way through downtown Jersey City and up Newark Avenue to conclude at Harsimus Cemetery, where additional ceremonies took place.
Fulop said the parade was “a small gesture” to those who serve, some of whom made the ultimate sacrifice to preserve America as the land of opportunity.
“The parade is recognition of the thousands of veterans who served,” Fulop said.
Councilman Roland Lavarro, who is a second generation Filipino, said he owes is life to American veterans, who fought during World War II.
“My mother might not have made it out, if not for veterans,” Lavarro said. “So I wouldn’t be here.”
“Jersey City over many years has given sons and daughters to the defense of the nation, and it is fitting and appropriate that we remember, that we honor, that we commemorate, and that we come together as a community to do so,” said U.S. Sen. Robert Menendez.
He said ending the parade Harismus Cemetery was fitting because of the tremendous amount of history there, going back beyond the Civil War.
“In the long history of the world, only a few generations have been called upon to answer the call to freedom. They did not shrink from their responsibility. They welcomed it. And so few do so much for so many,” he said. “Yes, we should go to a Veterans Day parade and remember and honor their service. But a grateful nation honors the men and women in service by how we take care of their healthcare, how we take care of them in their disability, and make sure that no veteran is homeless at the end of each and every day, and how we take care of their loved ones for the ones who made the ultimate sacrifice. That is my vision of a grateful nation.”
Menendez said he has proposed the “Enhanced Veterans Act,” to help these veterans.
“When I think of Mayor Fulop – and while he does not talk about it a lot – he was in the midst of a promising career on Wall Street when he decided to answer the call on his own after he saw what happened on Sept. 11, 2001. Or when our sheriff served the United States Navy or so many others. That is one of the great things about America, that its sons and daughters come together to answer the call to preserve our freedoms and to make sure we continue to be the greatest country on the face of the earth.”
Al Sullivan may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.