America, he said, ought to look out for its veterans, and hasn’t been consistent in doing so, especially during the Vietnam conflict.
His speech, which touched on aspects of every American war and the hardships soldiers faced, was particularly critical of the recent shutdown of government, which imposed hardships on aging veterans and their ability to access public spaces and monuments.
In Bayonne, one of 12 veterans posts takes the lead in presenting Veterans Day ceremonies each year. This same post also selects the grand marshal for the following year’s Memorial Day parade.
Last year, as noted by Rutkowski, the Vietnam Veterans were in charge of both. This year, the Bayonne Detachment of the U. S. Marine Corps League was in charge.
“This is the 50th anniversary of our detachment,” said Commandant Lou Giovanni, who helped reform the group in 1963 after a previous effort lapsed. “We started our annual toy drive a year later.”
The toy drive was started nationally by the U.S. Marine Corps Reserve in 1947. But Bayonne may not be able to continue the tradition because most of the membership of the league has aged, and few if any new members have been joining the organization from later wars.
This aging of the veteran population was very obvious from the 100 people who attended the ceremony, giving credence to something General Douglas MacArthur once said, “Old soldiers never die, they just fade away.”
There was one notable exception this year with the addition of Kemuel Velazquez, a U.S. Marine Veteran who had served in Iraq, and who talked frankly about his desire to join the armed services and his early regrets when he first got to Paris Island for training.
“I joined the Marines straight from high school,” Valazquez said. “I wanted to have a part in history.”
And he did. But for a few days he wondered what he had gotten himself into and wanted to go home.
This passed and now, he said he is proud to take his place among other veterans.
Council President Terrance Ruane said he had felt the same way after he first got into service.
“I called home and said, `Dad, get me out of here,’” Ruane said. ”But I got over that.”
Ruane said Veterans Day was a day to honor veterans and those he called extended veterans, the families and children who watch their loved ones go off to serve, and remain the foundation of support. He said veterans need support coming back to readjust, and that they face numerous issues like risk of suicide, lack of jobs, and homelessness.
Currently, veterans make up 8 percent of the U.S. population, but they make up 20 percent of the nation’s homeless population.
Assemblyman Jason O’Donnell said he had come to pay his respects to those who served and often risked their lives for their country.
Mayor Mark Smith pointed out that many of those in the room had fought in some of the most significant and often bloodiest battles in history, and these and others like them are the reason people at home have the freedoms they enjoy.
The ceremony for Veterans’ Day, which was once called Armistice Day to mark the end of World War I, brought together members from the dozen Bayonne veterans’ groups to pay tribute, not just to those soldiers who perished in America’s wars, but for all those who served or are still serving.
The meaning of the day changed at the conclusion of the Korean Conflict when towns began to use the day to honor all those who served their country. In 1954, then President Dwight Eisenhower signed legislation designating Nov. 11 as Veterans Day, honoring all veterans.
Although some communities still stage parades in honor of veterans, many communities offer more solemn tributes in ceremonies like those in Bayonne, holding vigils for those fallen as well as those currently serving. Veterans' group color guards gathered their flags or colors filling the chamber with red, white, and blue as well as the flags symbolic of their units and their posts.
Sponsored by the Bayonne Memorial Day Parade Committee, the event drew local and state dignitaries along with veterans, their families, and others.
Rev. Dorothy Patterson of Wallace Temple AME Church gave the opening prayer. Rev. Joseph Barbone, pastor of Our Lady of the Assumption Church in Bayonne, gave the closing prayer. The Bayonne Memorial Day Parade Committee Joint Color Guard Captain Frank Perrucci led the flags. Taps was performed by Val Koltunowitz. Michelle Turi sang both the National Anthem and God Bless America.
In the crowd Glen J. Flora, commander of the Joyce-Herbert Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 226, said the Veterans’ Musuem on West Ninth Street is drawing more interest from schools around Hudson County and the state. This is a positive sign for the museum which has struggled in the past, even though many consider it one of the most comprehensive in the state.
Al Sullivan may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.