Residents gained an attractive park within a park with the official opening of a new $1.1 million veterans’ memorial at the north end of James J. Braddock North Hudson Park on Thursday, Jan. 21.
“People said, ‘Wait for the spring’” to open the new park, said Freeholder Anthony Vainieri, who instigated the project. “We waited long enough. I wanted it open as soon as it was done.”
A crowd of over 100 residents gathered on a chilly afternoon to witness the dedication by local officials and the official ribbon cutting. Among the attendees were numerous veterans from various conflicts, including representatives of the American Legion, Veterans of Foreign Wars, and the Jewish War Veterans.
The new memorial features five bronze plaques, each honoring a different branch of the military, ringed around a circular walkway with flags rising in the center.
“I’m ecstatic, delighted,” said Dave Kronick, who served in the army during the Korean War. A former assemblyman for the 32nd district and commander of Jewish War Veterans Post 76, he hopes to see something added to honor dogs that served in wartime.
Goodbye, ‘dust bowl’
Ideas had been batted around for years for redeveloping this section of the park. Ground was finally broken almost exactly one year ago, in January 2015. The veterans’ memorial was designed by Suburban Consulting Engineers of Flanders, N.J, and constructed by Applied Landscape Technologies of Montville, N.J.
The memorial was part of a $6.1 million James J. Braddock Hudson County Park Improvement Project that also included several new ball fields near Woodcliff Avenue, new lighting, and a new comfort station in the 167-acre park.
“We got $2.6 million from Green Acres funding,” said Vainieri. “And the rest the county kicked in.”
“We took that blight and we made it into something that is really, really beautiful.” –County Executive Thomas DeGise
“This is amazing,” said North Bergen Mayor and state Sen. Nicholas Sacco, one of the dignitaries who spoke at the ribbon cutting. “We’re in the dust bowl – that horrendous field that was here. All it did was create dust and noise, and really didn’t function properly.”
“I love it,” said Howard Barmad, a veteran of three campaigns in Europe between 1944 and 1946, and recipient of the purple heart, bronze star, and combat infantry badge. “The dust bowl was a soccer field. Soccer chews up grass. Informal leagues would come here on the weekend from New York and it was almost impassable in the summertime, with all the dust. So just getting rid of that is in itself a blessing.”
The section of the park had been designated as an impromptu playing field but it never worked out as intended, with County Executive Thomas DeGise calling it “a misguided attempt to provide some recreation in the area.” The ground was inappropriate for soccer and the space turned into a desolate eyesore. “We took that blight and we made it into something that is really, really beautiful,” said DeGise. “I think all parks – and we have a lot of them and we’re proud of every one of them – should be the right combination of passive recreation and active recreation.”
Soccer will now take place on the new fields elsewhere in Braddock Park, topped by turf appropriate for the game.
Circle of honor
Several of the officials who spoke gave thanks to the park staff, both management and employees, who tend to the park on a regular basis. Freeholder Anthony Romano offered his thanks to the Hudson County Sheriff’s Department and the North Bergen Police Department for patrolling and providing security daily.
He also thanked Vainieri, who became a Freeholder last January and immediately took up the cause of improving Braddock Park. “He’s given new energy and vitality to the Freeholder board and he’s a welcome addition,” said Romano.
Guttenberg Mayor Gerald Drasheff echoed that sentiment. “[Vainieri has] been a freeholder for a year, and for the last year he’s been like a bulldog with respect to this park, by making sure that everything got done, and got done correctly.”
Next up for the veterans’ memorial is christening it with an appropriate name. Several attendees offered suggestions. “Right now it’s officially the ‘Veteran’s Passive Memorial Walkway,’” said Vainieri. “A couple of names were thrown at me today. ‘Circle of honor’ stuck in my head.”
Plans are afoot to add a plaque and possibly a monument in the center of the circle. Already one tree has been given a plaque in dedication to a former veteran who lived across the street.
Robert Farley, Sr. was among the veterans to show up and express his great appreciation for the new park honoring those who fought for freedom. Farley served in the Navy in Vietnam beginning in 1963. “It was just starting to heat up a little bit then. Then in ’65 it really took off,” he recalled of the war.
Farley served as a boatswain’s mate and mount captain on a 40 mm anti-aircraft gun in the amphibious forces, ferrying tanks, jeeps, trucks, and troops until 1967. After he was discharged from the military he served for 35 years in the North Bergen Police Department, retiring, like his father before him, as a deputy chief.
He was accompanied to the ribbon cutting ceremony by his proud son, Robert Farley, Jr., currently an officer in the North Bergen Police Department, and the third generation of Capt. Farleys on the force. The two were among the last to leave after the ceremony, strolling around the circular walkway and admiring the monument to those who risked and sometimes lost their lives in dedicated service to their country.
Among the other officials present at the ceremony were Hudson County Sheriff Frank Schillari, Assemblywoman Angelica Jimenez, North Bergen Commissioners Hugo Cabrera, Allen Pascual, and Julio Marenco, Guttenberg Councilman Wayne Zitt, former Surrogate Don DeLeo, and Hudson County Parks Director Michelle Richardson.
Art Schwartz may be reached at email@example.com.