Despite a war against terrorism and daily reports of soldiers dying, the same people usually come out to mark Veteran's Day because of the advancing age of the veterans. A number of regulars couldn't attend this year due to illness and old age, some staying home to take care of aged family members. The aging of veterans has been a growing problem over the last few years. Even World War II veterans are beginning to fade, and many vets from the Korean War are now over 70. The average age World War II veteran is 79.
Whereas many can remember Ed Strict, who died in the early 1990s, as the last surviving veteran of World War I, now the oldest veteran in Secaucus is 89-year-old Howie Elwell, who served in World War II.
"But we're all getting up in age," McClure said, asking those who could stand to rise for a moment of deserved attention. A few dozen stood. Many could not, having arrived using walkers.
"Everyone should be proud of your heritage and what you have done," McClure told them.
The living memory of past wars is fading as veterans pass away.
McClure said it is a lucky thing that Mayor Dennis Elwell and Deputy Mayor John Reilly are Vietnam veterans, because soon, the council will have to take over the Veteran's Day ceremonies as those who run them grow too old to continue.
Representatives from the Veterans of Foreign Wars, The American Legion and their ladies auxiliaries gathered in the council chambers Tuesday, with McClure noting the change in the role that women were playing in the new military.
Judy Balderacchi is now the commander of the American Legion in Secaucus, and she spoke about the necessity of honoring the veterans and the sacrifice military people made for the defense of freedom historically as well as in contemporary times.
Mayor Dennis Elwell said women are taking on new roles in the military and fighting on the front lines side by side with their male counterparts, although historically, McClure noted, women always played an important role behind the scenes.
"I think when we say veteran, we think man, but it hasn't been like that for many years," McClure said. "Even going back to the American Revolution, women were always there, nursing or packing rifles. Behind every good man was a good woman."
"It shows you the times that we are in," said Elwell. "In the second world war, women played a background part. Women supported men, took over jobs in this country. Women were delegated jobs that were thought to be given up by men to perform combat. In Korea and Vietnam, the situation was similar. Today when you read the newspaper, women are actually on the battlefield and - if you read the newspapers of the last few weeks - they suffer the same atrocities of war as men."
A long tradition
Veterans Day was first celebrated on Nov. 11, 1921 when an Unknown Soldier's remains were interned at Arlington National Cemetery at a site overlooking the Potomac River. This became a point of reference for veterans throughout the United States, giving universal recognition of the end of World War I. The war ended at 11 a.m. on Nov. 11, 1918.
Armistice Day, as it was known then, became a national holiday in 1926. It was believed then that World War I would be the war to end all wars, something unfortunately disproved when violence again erupted in Europe within a decade, leading eventually to the Second World War. In 1954, President Dwight Eisenhower signed legislation designating Nov. 11 as Veteran's Day, this with the intent of honoring not only World War I veterans, but all veterans who fought for America. Two more unidentified veterans were buried in Arlington, one killed in WWII, one in the Korean Conflict.
In 1973, arrangements were made for the burial of an Unknown Soldier from the Vietnam War, though they didn't find an unidentified soldier to bury there until 1984.
Since Sept. 11, 2001, the world changed for Americans, McClure said. War had come to America's shores, and he hoped that more people would recognize the day for its veterans than for its shopping sales.
Elwell said as the war in terrorism progresses, it is clear that America face choices whether or not to support the troops overseas. He pointed to Vietnam, where he served, and where people back home did not always support the troops.
"How would our soldiers fighting in World War II have felt if the people back home did not support them in their struggles overseas?" Elwell asked, urging residents to support the troops and if possible write letters to soldiers serving in war zones.