Bayonne renames street after veteran Jack Graham

Graham was a local war hero who served in Vietnam

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The street is now known as Jack Graham Way. Photos by Daniel Israel
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A young Jack Graham in his service uniform. Photo courtesy of Graham family
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The Graham family poses with the new street sign.
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City officials were on hand for the dedication.
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The house in Bayonne where Graham lived at his whole life.
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City Councilman Gary La Pelusa, whose ward Graham lived in, spoke about Graham’s heroism before the sign was unveiled.
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The street sign at the corner of Broadway and Jack Graham Way will serve as a physical reminder of his legacy.
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The street is now known as Jack Graham Way. Photos by Daniel Israel
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A young Jack Graham in his service uniform. Photo courtesy of Graham family
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The Graham family poses with the new street sign.
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City officials were on hand for the dedication.
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The house in Bayonne where Graham lived at his whole life.
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City Councilman Gary La Pelusa, whose ward Graham lived in, spoke about Graham’s heroism before the sign was unveiled.
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The street sign at the corner of Broadway and Jack Graham Way will serve as a physical reminder of his legacy.

Bayonne has officially renamed West 52nd Street, between Broadway and Avenue C, as Jack Graham Way. Family, friends, and city officials gathered at the corner of Broadway and 52nd Street on Nov. 9 to unveil the new street sign and rededicate the street after Graham.

Born and raised in Bayonne, Graham had lived on that portion of the street for his entire life. He died in July of this year at the age of 76.

A local war hero

After graduating from Bayonne High School, he served in the U.S. Air Force from 1965 through 1969. He served in Vietnam with the 300th Tactical Fire Squadron and was awarded the Bronze Star for heroism during a Viet Cong attack on Da Nang Air Base.

The rocket attack started just after midnight on July 14, 1967. Anywhere from 50 to 80 rockets rained down on the base, killing eight American soldiers and wounding 175. Five of the dead were Air Force serviceman who were killed by explosions as they attempted to put out fires on burning aircraft.

Following the attack, Graham volunteered to disarm and offload bombs from aircraft in the area to prevent further explosions and injuries. Meanwhile, other aircraft burned nearby, with the risk they could explode as well. However, Graham was unwavering and got the job done safely.

A young Jack Graham in his service uniform. Photo courtesy of Graham family

After returning from the war, he worked in warehouses for a variety of companies, including McKesson Chemical in Woodbridge, prior to retirement. He was also a devoted volunteer, coach and president of the Bayonne Youth Soccer Association, serving the recreation and travel leagues. Additionally, he was an active member of the American Legion Post 456 in Stewartsville.

Graham was honored by the Bayonne Board of Education at its annual Field of Heroes ceremony in 2018. Now he also has a street and corresponding sign named in his honor.

Family remembers Jack

Prior to the unveiling, his sons Justin and Devin Graham described memories of their father to the Bayonne Community News.

According to his sons, Graham was modest, a family man, and a great father figure.

“He was humble,” Justin said, with Devin in agreement. “If there’s one thing you could really say, he was very humble and very caring, but strong.”

“He never complained,” Devin said.

Both sons said Graham instilled his sons with more than just his unassuming nature.

The Graham family poses with the new street sign.

“He taught me how to be a good husband and father,” Justin said. He added that Graham also taught him patience and how to love.

Considering his humble nature, Graham’s sons said he would probably be shocked at the street renaming. “He’d be surprised, no question,” Justin said.

A truly humble man

Third Ward City Councilman Gary La Pelusa, who was a proponent of the resolution to rename the street after Graham, added that he would be excitedly surprised about the honor.

“I think so,” Justin said. “But at the same time, you know him being so humble, he might be a little bit embarrassed.”

“He absolutely would have been embarrassed,” Devin said. “He would have thought this was too much for him.”

And while Graham may have been embarrassed at the honor if he were here, his sons agreed the street renaming was a humbling experience for them.

“I’m humbled by it to be quite honest,” Justin said.

“I never would have expected any of this,” Devin said. “He’s been a pillar of this community for a long time. And for him to have this, its emotional. I’m so happy to be a part of this community.”

City officials were on hand for the dedication.

Of the decent crowd that gathered for the unveiling, Justin said: “It’s nice to see how many people he touched in different ways.”

‘Missing him every day’

Florence, his wife, told BCN how much this honor meant to her but also Graham.

“This honor to me is so important,” Florence said. “Jack fought so hard to live the last three years of his life.”

Prior to his passing, Graham had been battling brain cancer, lung cancer, and Parkinson’s Disease.

“For this man to fight all of that, after fighting in the Vietnam War and becoming a war hero, I would say that he wasn’t only the country’s hero but he was my hero,” Florence said. “He was a good man, a humble man.”

According to Florence, he never told anybody about his heroism during the war.

“He took bombs off of planes and saved people that were on that base,” Florence said. “He never ever talked about it.”

The house in Bayonne where Graham lived at his whole life.

Hidden heroism

The family found out about Graham’s heroism through the local library.

“It was through my son that we found out all about it,” Florence said. “He went to the public library. There was a lesson plan one of the sixth grade teachers wanted him to do on the war heroes of Bayonne. And in that folder was his father.”

Florence said she still misses Graham and that renaming the street will be a way to remember him.

“I miss him terribly every day,” Florence said. “I was with him 52 years: married 50, dated two years before that. He was a kind man, a loving man. I couldn’t have asked for a better husband or better father for my children.”

Graham is survived by his wife, sons, and his grandchildren, Jacklynn, Justin, Joviana and Cadence. In addition to his family, many neighbors were present at the ceremony to honor Graham. According to next door neighbor Claire Malecky, Graham was more family than anything.

“I can honestly say that he was a wonderful person,” Malecky said. “His name up on that sign is well deserved.”

City Councilman Gary La Pelusa, whose ward Graham lived in, spoke about Graham’s heroism before the sign was unveiled.

A fitting honor

Before the family unveiled the street sign bearing Graham’s name, La Pelusa offered some remarks.

“For those of you who did not know Jack Graham, I would consider him quiet and unassuming but very heroic,” he said. “This is a very deserving honor for a man who didn’t want people to know what kind of hero he really was.”

La Pelusa recalled the story of how Graham’s family found out about his heroism through the public library.

“I had to the see that article from 1967, and it told about Jack Graham who was a definite Bayonne hometown hero,” he said. “The Da Nang Air Force Base in Vietnam was attacked. A lot of the planes were already on fire and exploding. He took it upon himself to disarm, then take those bombs off of those planes so that they would not explode and kill more people.”

According to La Pelusa, renaming the street that Graham lived on his whole life after him is a fitting honor.

“Jack Graham lived on this block his whole life,” La Pelusa said. “Unfortunately, due to his untimely death, he’s not able to see this. But this immortalizes him even more. It’s a great honor. He loved Bayonne, he loved the neighborhood, and he loved his family very much. This is deserving of a hero of his caliber.”

For updates on this and other stories, check www.hudsonreporter.com and follow us on Twitter @hudson_reporter. Daniel Israel can be reached at disrael@hudsonreporter.com.