The holiday honors living service men and women who served in the military. This is in contrast to Memorial Day in May, which honors departed service members.
“It's so important that we remember our veterans,” said Mayor Nicholas Sacco, who said he has attended each celebration since first taking office in 1985. “We have a large group now of service members from different times. There used to be almost all World War II veterans; now it's a larger group, all the way through the Gulf War and later.”
Freeholder Anthony Vainieri said he has attended the celebration with his father—who is a veteran—since he was a kid.
“Today should be some type of happy occasion,” Vainieri said. “When we can say to our veterans, 'Thank you.' It's the sad days where we can't say, thank you to the soldiers that have fallen for us.”
“It means everything to me.” – Joe Lepore
Joe Lepore, who served in the armed forces from 1978 to 1982 during the Iranian Hostage Crisis, greatly appreciated the honoring.
“It means everything to me,” said Leopre, a North Bergen native. “I come from a family of veterans, from World War I all the way up through Korea and Vietnam. I have family that I've lost in the military, and during wars. I wish I would've stayed in my whole life. That's the only regret that I have.”
“We risk our lives for a lot of people,” said Dennis Carnetz, who was drafted for the Vietnam War. He trained at Fort Dix in New Jersey and Fort Hood in Texas from 1971 through 1974 (he was never deployed overseas). “Vietnam vets didn't get that much acknowledgment when they first came home, and they were upset over that. Now it's a little bit better. I got [honorably] discharged, it was like nothing. No ceremony. No anything.”
Duncan Ndirangu, who emigrated from Kenya to the U.S. in 1997 and served in Iraq from 2004 to 2005, said he “always wanted to serve the country. Today feels great, knowing that I contributed to the U.S. and all the safety for kids and everybody.”
Ndirangu recently ran the New York City Marathon with a veterans’ group that helped him train. He resides in Jersey City.
One of the town's public officials is also a veteran. Commissioner Julio Marenco served in a submarine during Desert Storm in 1991.
“It was great,” Marenco said of his experience. “I learned a lot. You see all these guys; they put their lives on hold to serve this country. You have to appreciate that, because they're still contributing to their country.”
Hannington Dia can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org