The threatened rain did nothing to dampen the spirits of those who came out to watch or participate in the 2013 Memorial Day Parade in Secaucus. Band after band, marcher after marcher, float after float carried the same consistent message: Secaucus remembers and honors those who fought and, in some cases, lost their lives defending the nation.
The Grand Marshals for this year’s parade, Anthony Argenziano, John Cingirre, Joseph DeMartine, Henry Fett and Anthony Mongelli, sat atop the Public Library float for the long march from Secaucus High School to the American Legion on 2nd Street and Centre Avenue.
People crowded the shoulders of the road, especially along Paterson Plank Road, to watch the parade pass, waving at the veterans and others who took part, small children grinning at the brightly-colored uniforms the band members, cheerleaders and others wore – including the dramatic display of Native American garb that helped brighten the overcast day.
Few adults, let alone the children who watched the parade, would have known names like Shetic or Schopmann, Eckel or Koelle, except as names of local streets or parks. But they were among the nearly two dozen men who gave up their lives in defense of their country, heroes immortalized over the last two decades as the town sought to find fitting tributes.
“These are men in their nineties. We need to honor them now.” – Mayor Michael Gonnelli
After World War I, the day grew to honor men and women who died in all American wars, and became a federal holiday in 1971 at the height of the Vietnam War.
Although Memorial Day is technically a day for remembering those soldiers who died defending their country, each year brings back the news of some veteran who had survived the war but passed away in the past year.
Some of the names had faded into the background, now-historic figures from World War I whose families only remotely remembered some relative talking about them. Others from the more recent wars were still mourned, even though in some cases their passing had occurred more than 50 years ago.
Secaucus has always been a patriotic town. Indeed, John J. Kane paid tribute to the 900 soldiers that served in both world wars when he was mayor, and though the last of the World War I veterans passed on in the early 1990s – a resident then of Elms Senior building on 5th Street – the tradition has continued under every mayor to honor men and now women who risk their lives in war.
This year, the veterans all served in various combat theaters, from the “Saving Private Ryan” bloodbath of D-Day to the grueling island to island combat U.S. Marines endured in the South Pacific.
Anthony Argenziano served in the U.S. Army from 1943 to 1945. John Cingirre was a member of the Army Rangers from 1943 to 1946 and took part in the D-Day invasion of Normandy Beach. Joseph DeMartine was a U.S Marine who served in the Pacific theater from 1942 to 1946 in places made famous by John Wayne movies such Guam, Saipan, and the Marianas Islands. Henry Fett served in the army during that period. Anthony T. Mongelli also took part in the Normandy Invasion on D-Day serving in the U.S. Army from 1944-45.
The parade is back
While the town traditionally held a Memorial Day Parade, budget cuts caused the town to suspend the parade for several years, although a memorial service continued on the lawn of Town Hall where the names of deceased veterans were read out and prayers said as wreathes or flowers were laid on their behalf.
“I started the parade again my first year in office,” said Mayor Gonnelli. “We have to do everything we can for these guys just to thank them for everything they’ve done for us.”
Renewed patriotism after the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001 and the return of American troops to conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan brought out crowds and continued support.
But it also sent younger people into conflict again. While most of those who died in the service of their country were in earlier wars, Secaucus still gave up its young lives. Marine Pfc. Miguel A. Marcial III, 19, died in Al Anbar province, Iraq, in 2007. Although a Weehawken resident who grew up in Union City, Staff Sgt. John D. Linde, who died as a result of wounds received from an improvised explosive in Iraq in 2007 was born in Secaucus. Staff Sgt. Michael D. Bruzgis of Delanco, formerly of Secaucus, died Dec. 1, 2012 while serving in Afghanistan.
The town found funding to continue the parade through the hard work of the American Legion. The group’s collection of donations and other fundraising efforts also offered support for veterans’ other needs, Gonnelli said.
“The post also gives back by giving out scholarships,” Gonnelli said. “But this is about community and things changed because our young people are going off to places like Iraq and Afghanistan, and they need us to be there for them.”
Serving those who served
While he called the parade a great success, the town has number of other initiatives to help returning veterans, including giving them a boost getting onto the police department and promotions.
“A veteran gets five points in police testing,” he said. “A point means a lot and in one case, a veteran who did not get into the top ten on the test was bumped up into the top five on the list because of the points.”
Veterans get a one point boost in police promotions, Gonnelli said.
“This is our town doing this for vets,” he said.
A job placement program is also in the works.
“We’re working with Macy’s for job placement in administrative positions,” Gonnelli said. “These are good-paying jobs.”
The town is also developing a veterans’ identification program that would provide veterans with discounts with local merchants.
“We’re trying to get all the restaurants and hotels to sign onto it,” Gonnelli said.
The parade was mildly controversial in that it had five grand marshals rather than one.
“These are men in their nineties,” Gonnelli said. “We need to honor them now. After all, where would we be without them? These five fought on the beaches. And seeing them cheering on the bandstand made this a great day. This was their day. And it meant a lot for them in their twilight years.”
Al Sullivan may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.