"I love the town," Keating says proudly.
Keating also loves the fact that he served in the U.S. Army during World War II and remembers vividly the day he was drafted, along with his return. He would rather forget the three and a half years in between, when he was waging battles throughout central Europe.
"I went to Belgium, Holland and Czechoslovakia," Keating recalled. "I was with the 90th Combat Infantry Division. We were called 'The Tough Hombres.' We had a lot of pride in that group. And we lost a lot of men, too many to count. I feel fortunate that I wasn't even wounded and was able to come home. But I remember the men I served with, how one day I would be talking to someone and the next day, they were gone, killed in duty. I felt so sorry for them."
That's why Memorial Day is so important to Keating, who is a member of the Weehawken American Legion Post 18.
"It sure makes you remember the men who lost their lives," Keating said. "You really stop and think about them when Memorial Day comes around."
The annual Weehawken Memorial Day parade kicks off tomorrow morning (Monday, May 28) at 9:30 a.m., from the starting point of Highpoint and Gregory avenues. It will move west from Highpoint to Hudson, where it turns north toward Maple. From there it moves east to Ridgely Place and then goes north to Pleasant, continuing to Park Avenue. The route proceeds up Park Avenue to 49th Street and then goes east toward Boulevard East, where it goes south to the Soldiers' and Sailors' Monument.
Keating has been selected to serve as the grand marshal of this year's parade.
"I was a little surprised when I was told," Keating said. "It's a great honor for me. I always march in the parade every year. I never thought that I would be selected. I'm lucky this year, because I get to ride the parade route. I'm slowing down a little, so it's nice that I'll be in a nice convertible."
The Weehawken Police, the North Hudson Regional Fire and Rescue, the Weehawken Volunteer First Aid Squad and the Hudson County Ambulance Squad will all march in the parade. Veterans groups, such as the Oulton Kraft Post 1923 of the Veterans of Foreign Wars and the Weehawken Post 18 of the American Legion, will also participate.
The Memorial and Weehawken high schools' marching bands and youth groups such as the Girl Scouts, Brownies and the Weehawken Recreation Department will all perform.
Also, the mothers of two Weehawken servicemen killed on duty, Rose Cermelli and Virginia Dabonka, will be honored as Gold Star Mothers.
H. James Hams, who has been involved in the parade for 57 years and has been the parade general chairman for the last 20, once again heads the parade this year.
"It's nice that people come out to remember the veterans," said Hams, who served in the Army in World War II. "I'm so happy that they still recognize the veterans. The parade is a lot of work, but we take a lot of pride in being able to keep the parade alive."
Weehawken Mayor Richard Turner strongly believes in the importance of the parade and is slated to march in it with the Township Council.
"We've always felt that the parade not only shows respect to those who served, but acts as a reminder why we celebrate Memorial Day in the first place," he said. "People tend to think it's a day for picnics and family outings, but it's really to remember those who served in the military and those who lost their lives for us. That gets lost in the shuffle. It's an educational day for the youngsters and it's a day to remember for the adults."
Keating said that it is especially important to remember the World War II veterans.
"There aren't too many of us left," Keating said. "We're losing World War II veterans at the rate of 1,000 per day. That's 30,000 per month. So it's important that we remember."
Keating said that he is an avid supporter of the proposed World War II Memorial, scheduled to be built on the Great Mall in Washington, D.C. in the near future.
For Keating, who retired 18 years ago after a 32-year career in the trucking business, being the grand marshal represents a chance to reflect. He lost his wife six years ago and he lost his son, Gary, in a tragic accident nine years ago. He lives with his daughter, Charlene. His other daughter, Kathleen, lives in Germany.
"It's going to be a nice day for me," Keating said. "There will be so many people I know on the streets, watching the parade. I never thought it was possible. It's going to be a special feeling."