Claud Macchieraldo, grand marshal of the Secaucus Memorial Day Parade, sat in the back of the horse-drawn wagon as it made its way down Paterson Plank Road into town center.
In some ways, this is the parade Vietnam-era veterans didn’t get when they returned home after the war, although in towns like Secaucus, honoring all veterans has been a valued tradition.
“It’s a great day,” he said, meaning the weather, which after weeks of wet and unseasonable cold had finally become spring-like.
The parade, which took place more than a week before Memorial Day, featured a wide range of entertainment that included ROTC students from Paterson’s Eastside High School and the Weehawken High School Marching band.
The Secaucus Patriot Marching Band was the hometown favorite, drawing nearly as much applause from crowds gathered along the route as Macchieraldo did.
It was a very colorful event this year, complete with clowns, horses, people dressed in historic uniforms, and many veterans.
Not all fun and games
Although Memorial Day is dedicated to those who perished in war, the town holds a more sober ceremony later in the year on Veterans Day on the lawn of town hall where the names of each veteran is called out to the tolling of a bell.
Some of the names have faded into the background. Now-historic figures from World War I are often not remembered by family members, but stories about them have been passed down. Others from more recent wars were still being mourned, though in some cases their passing had occurred more than 50 years ago.
The town did its best to remind people of who these veterans are by posting ceremonial signs on some of the streets along the parade route. “These were for each street named after veterans,” said Mayor Michael Gonnelli.
Former Mayor Anthony Just started the tradition of naming streets and parks after veterans who perished in war, Gonnelli said.
Those honored were Edward Ivonoski, Paul Shetik, Edumun R. Naters, Joseph Hassenforder, Thomas G Blondell, Howard Eckel, Anthony F. Fusco, Angus J. Gillis, Fred H. Koelle Jr., Louis A. Lanza, William C. Mansfield, Edward C. Reidel, Martin J. Sampson, Frank I. Schultz, Adrian H. Smit, Arnold P. Spamann, Henry P. Walters, Armond Alvino, and Raymond Schopmann.
Memorial Day is technically a day for remembering those soldiers who died defending their country. But each year brings news of veterans who survived the war but did not survive the past year.
The historic beginning of Memorial Day dates to the Civil War. Some of the marchers wore historic Civil War uniforms and drove the rigs pulled by horses, drawing a lot of attention from kids too young to remember when horses commonly occupied Secaucus streets during farming days.
Veterans from each of the services dressed in their traditional uniforms, waving to the crowds as they passed. Behind them, a line of military vehicles added to the flavor.
This year, the town changed the parade route so that instead of ending at the American Legion Post for an after-parade barbecue, the parade ended at Buchmuller Park in the center of town.
“This worked a lot better,” Gonnelli said.
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