On Wednesday, May 25, a group of veterans representing all Bayonne veterans’ chapters paid their annual tribute to the “heroic dead” at Constable Hook Cemetery, a hidden Bayonne graveyard whose last soldier was buried in 1912.“Nobody really knows that in the middle of all these tanks there’s a grave site,” said Danny McMahon, a member of the Disabled American Veterans Chapter 5. He was driving down 22nd Street pointing to big white storage tanks visible through the barbed wire fencing surrounding the International Matex Tank Terminals (IMTT), a liquid storage and handling facility. “They don’t really want anyone taking pictures,” he said, noting tight security on the waterfront and protocol to send a list of visitor names to security in advance of the ceremony.
“When I worked in construction…I used to come here to have my lunch. I used to sit here and look at all their names. I used to know all these names.” – Frank Perrucci
The white picket fence and history
Once on the IMTT property the site is accessible via a short gravel path, one of four that were built in the 1980s during a restoration effort.The original eight paths are gone, and only half of the cemetery’s original 1.3 acres remain. A white picket fence matching the white storage tanks surrounding the 200 by 200-foot cemetery indicate the restored area. Thirty-foot industrial vats look misplaced behind the old gravestones, like big, awkward steel mausoleums.It looked like there were under a hundred gravestones; the actual number is up for debate.According to Bayonne Community News contributor Bill Hastings, 210 original burial plots were meant to contain up to eight grave shafts, but there’s no documentation to show exactly how many burials there really were. Hastings reported in 2013 that “an ongoing project to determine how many were buried there…is more than 1,500 individuals, many Bayonne residents.”
Frank Perrucci, standard bearer and founded of the Concerned Citizens of Bayonne, has marched in Bayonne’s Memorial Day Parade every year until he suffered a stroke two years ago. He’s been coming to the cemetery even longer. The 84-year-old veteran said that before the storage tanks, “This whole area was overgrown with vegetation.”He said, “When I worked in construction…I used to come here to have my lunch. I used to sit here and look at all their names. I used to know all these names.” He remains the color guard captain for the veterans.
On an 85-degree day, the veterans averaging around 75 years old, showed up with enough flags for each grave. They removed the sun-bleached flags left from last Memorial Day and replaced them with new ones. Barry Jones, commander at VFW Post 7470, then began the traditional Memorial Day service.He recited before the flag at the front of the cemetery, “On this day, forever consecrated to our heroic living and dead, we are assembled once again to express sincere reverence.” The veterans saluted the flag and left the historic site until next year.
“Nobody really knows that in the middle of all these tanks there’s a gravesite.” – Danny McMahon
The Sunday night weather report called for a Memorial Day rain storm in Bayonne. Luckily the clouds stayed at bay and residents came out to see their vets and community members march. The Bridgemen marched in their last Memorial Day Parade and it was their penultimate performance in Bayonne. Their last will be July 23 at Veterans’ Stadium.
Residents came out in droves as usual, despite the sweltering humidity. “This our ritual. We never miss a parade.” Bayonne resident Judy Henderson said. After the parade each year, she and her family go to her niece’s house for a barbecue. “It’s all about the vets and the food.” Mindy Taylor is another parade-goer who has family in the service. “I have two nephews in the army and a son in the air force,” she said waving to her niece marching with a group of middle school cheerleaders.
Owners of Craft Fox Studios on Broadway, Kristin Knight and her mother Nina Nelson, lined up chairs outside their shop for their family to watch the parade. “We’re open today. It’s our first year.” Her brother, Bob, is a captain the armed forces and her best friend in high school did two tours in Iraq. The family are long-time Bayonne residents, but this is the first time watching the parade as shop owners. Nina said, “Oh we’ll be our here every year.”
Rory Pasquariello may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.