The 65th parade, a tradition that has unified three North Hudson communities (North Bergen, Guttenberg and West New York) for all those years, will take place Tuesday night as North Hudson pays tribute to Old Glory, the Stars and Stripes.
Charlie Faistl, who serves as the director of veterans affairs in North Bergen, has never wavered in his devotion to the American flag. Since 1976, Faistl has been one of the driving forces behind the North Hudson Flag Day Parade and assists with co-parade chairmen Ed O'Neill of North Bergen, Vic Conversano of Guttenberg, and Herc Dias of West New York.
"It's 65 years old now and still going strong," Faistl said. "And I think it's better than ever. I'm telling you, Flag Day is making a comeback. A lot of people have a newfound respect for the flag. While Memorial Day is a day of remembrance, Flag Day is a celebration. It's a day of respect for the community, for the country, for the flag. This is America's parade. It's everyone's parade."
Although he is a veteran of the Korean War, Faistl said that his participation in the parade goes far beyond being a veteran.
"Flag Day should be a day when we all show our patriotism and show our true colors," Faistl said. "If you turn on the TV these days, flags are everywhere. It's a special time in this country and we should be able to honor the flag. The flag is the symbol of the entire country, a symbol of freedom."
The 65th Annual Flag Day Parade, combining the services of North Bergen, Guttenberg and West New York, will begin Tuesday night at 7 p.m. with the starting point at 85th Street and Bergenline Avenue in North Bergen and will continue down Bergenline Avenue south to 57th Street in West New York, where it will turn into Miller Stadium for the ceremonies and program that will begin around 8:30 p.m.
A total of 12 marching bands have committed to participate in the parade, which is believed to be the only one of its kind in northern New Jersey.
"I don't know of any other," Faistl said. "It's definitely a rarity."
Marching bands from North Bergen, Memorial and Weehawken high schools will participate in the parade, as well as the famed Leatherneck Pipe and Drum band, the Salaam Shriners String Band, the Spirit of Liberty Band, Palisade Park Fire Department Marching Band, the Bergen County Police Pipe Band, the Raiders Drum and Bugle Corps, the Fairview Grammar School Band, and the Little Ferry VFW Band.
That's enough music and horns to stir up a lot of attention and certainly a lot of patriotism.
Several other veterans' groups, like local American Legions and Veterans of Foreign War organizations, will march as well.
There will be a parade of antique automobiles on display, courtesy of Joe Pantelino, who is involved with showing antique and classic cars in the area.
But the highlight of the parade will be the participation of the New Jersey National Guard and the McGuire Air Force Base Elite Honor Guard.
"We're dedicating the parade to our servicemen and women who are serving in Iraq and the Middle East," Faistl said. "We're really excited that the National Guard is sending a good turnout of servicemen to march."
In fact, instead of having one Grand Marshal to be honored to lead the parade, the honorary grand marshals will be all active servicemen and women in the Middle East.
Another difference this year will be the participation of the North Bergen Police Department, which will have a contingency of marchers, led by new Police Chief Bill Galvin.
"I don't believe the North Bergen police department ever marched before," Faistl said.
All three of the participating towns' leaders, namely West New York Mayor and State Assembly Speaker Albio Sires, North Bergen Mayor and State Sen. Nicholas Sacco, and Guttenberg Mayor David Delle Donna will not only march, but play a part in the closing ceremonies inside Miller Stadium.
"The cooperation of the three towns has been tremendous," said Faistl, who coordinated the parade along with John "Digger" O'Dell, a superintendent in charge of recreation for the township of North Bergen. "Guttenberg and West New York have been willing to do anything for us, and of course, North Bergen is in the forefront. It's a great chance for all to show their patriotism."
Burying the flag
Once inside the stadium, several hundred torn and tattered American flags will be given their proper burial in a flag-burning ritual. It is not legal to simply throw away Old Glory.
"We retire the flags in the proper way," said Faistl, who has helped to collect the torn flags since last year's parade. "It's the only way to properly dispose of a flag and give it the honor it deserves. People have been dropping off flags to us [at North Bergen Recreation] and we're going to give them the proper sendoff."
Faistl said that he has been encouraged by the amount of flags that have been collected.
"One man from Kearny called us and said that he had been collecting flags," Faistl said. "He came with like eight or 10 bags of discarded flags. It was amazing. We've collected hundreds over the past year. It's an all-year thing for us."
Faistl said that the parade will be held rain or shine.
"As far as I'm concerned, it's a go," Faistl said.
If anyone has a torn or tattered flag that needs to receive proper retirement during the ceremonies, it can be brought to the North Bergen Department of Recreation headquarters at 6301 Meadowview Ave. during business hours.