The Mackenzie Post commander saw action from 1966 until 1968, and although he suffers from the effects of Agent Orange, a defoliant sprayed in Vietnam when he served there, he was happy he was able to return—something some of his friends didn’t get to do.
“I was lucky. I came home in one piece,” he said. “And my mind is working well.”
So each year when the city has its Memorial Day Parade, Zmyslowski hopes that Bayonne residents will come out and honor the servicemen and women who fought, and still fight for their country. This year the parade steps off at 10:30 a.m. on May 26.
For Zmyslowski, it’s about the public remembering and paying homage. This small gesture means so much to those marching: a simple thank you for sacrifices made.
“The best reason to attend is to support the veterans,” he said. “This is the public’s one chance to come out and support them. They should come and cheer. There's no way to explain how it feels when you’re marching and hear people cheering.”
Zmyslowski remembered a Hoboken parade he participated in when he first started marching.
“The people were ecstatic. It was like another world. You could almost float down the street,” he said. “It’s just such a good feeling to see the enthusiasm of all the people.”
This year’s Bayonne parade will feature 28 groups, including 12 veterans’ organizations that plan and participate in the event annually. Each year a different one runs the parade, and that post selects the grand marshal for that year. The veterans march up front; there are still a couple of servicemen from World War II who participate.
“We’ll have just a little bit of everything,” Zmyslowski said. “Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, the Elks, the Concerned Citizens, the sheriffs and corrections departments, McCabe's ambulance, cops, firemen, churches, Mt. Carmel Lyceum, the Bayonne Youth Center, and more.”
The parade honors the Air force, Army, Coast Guard, Marines, Merchant Marines, and Navy.
Since the Marine Corps League, Bayonne Detachment 191, is the lead post this year, the group has dedicated the parade to the 220 U.S. Marines and 21 other military personnel killed during an attack at their barracks in Beirut, Lebanon, in 1983, as well as the 58 French soldiers killed at a different location.
A bit of history
The Bayonne Memorial Day Parade started in 1918 and has been held continuously every year since then but one, in 1995, when a lightning storm forced its cancellation, according to Zmyslowski, the grand marshal in 2004.
This year’s grand marshal is Martin Wilk, a Marine Corps corporal who served during the Korean War and shipped out from the former Military Ocean Terminal.
Wilk has been an active member of FA Mackenzie Post 165 for the last 57 years, and is its current 1st vice commander.
Wilk suffered frostbite while serving, but despite his injuries returned and served the city as a firefighter from 1958 to 1991.
He has been active in many of Bayonne’s veterans’ posts and has held elected positions in all of them, including The Catholic War Veterans Post1612, Korean Veterans, Marine Corps League, Mackenzie Post 165, Disabled American Veterans, Am Vets, and Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 226.
Wilk is currently recuperating from a severe fall he took during one of this winter’s storms, and plans to lead the parade from a military Jeep.
The parade begins at 5th Street and Broadway and continues up the avenue until its completion at 32nd Street, where there will be a reviewing stand set up in front of American Legion Post 19, 683 Broadway.
Zmyslowski urges Bayonne residents to take time to watch the parade and honor our veterans.
“Support the veterans that are there, all veterans, and the memory of all veterans,” he said. “Especially the ones that didn't make it back; they're the ones that made the big sacrifice.”
Joseph Passantino may be reached at: JoePass@hudsonreporter.com.