It was red, white, and blue all over Hoboken on Wednesday night when residents crowded Washington Street sidewalks for the city’s 115th Annual Memorial Day Parade. The longest continuously-running parade of any kind in all of New Jersey, this year’s edition was the largest in history.
As is tradition, an enormous American flag was hung across the parade route at the intersection with 10th Street. Just beyond it, outside the Elks Club, was the parade’s grandstand, where a group of Hoboken veterans led by grand marshal Tom Brereton observed the parade.
“I believe that this is the best thing we can do to remember all our veterans, deceased and living,” said Brereton, who served in the U.S. Army’s seventh Infantry Division from 1963 to 1965. “Hopefully as our new veterans get older they’ll carry the torch and continue the tradition.”
Hoboken veterans from World War II, the Korean War, the Vietnam War, and the Gulf War all marched in the parade. According to Jack O’Brien, who is 85 and has dressed in Revolutionary War-era garb and played the fife in the past 70 Memorial Day Parades, only six local World War II veterans are still alive, including himself.
“I believe that this is the best thing we can do to remember all our veterans, deceased and living.” – Grand Marshal Tom Brereton
John Carey, a veteran of the Vietnam War and the parade’s chairman, said that “unfortunately, sometimes people forget about the fact that so many people have given their lives to protect this country.”
“That’s why parades like this are important, to remind people of the men and women who’ve made the ultimate sacrifice,” he said.
Parade-goers echoed Carey’s sentiment, including many parents who brought their youngsters.
“I think this starts the process of teaching our kids that we have a lot to be thankful for,” said Douglas Taurel, who brought his son, Austin, 4, to the parade. “Right now he just sees a bunch of marching bands and trucks, but one day he’ll realize that this is very important.”
This year’s parade also took time to honor Hoboken’s first responders, including police officers, firefighters, volunteer emergency workers, and even Hoboken High School’s emergency response club, for their work in the immediate aftermath of Hurricane Sandy last October.
Several elected officials, including City Council members Tim Occhipinti, Theresa Castellano, Jennifer Giattino. and David Mello, marched in the parade. Assistant Business Administrator Stephen Marks stood in for Mayor Dawn Zimmer, who was out of town.
“I love a good Memorial Day Parade,” said Occhipinti. “Walking down one of the top 10 streets in America, waving at our residents and honoring our veterans? This is the best part of my job.”
Mello agreed, commenting, “It goes without saying how important this is, especially at a time when we’ve still got so many troops deployed around the world.”
In addition the Hoboken High School Marching Band, bands from Weehawken, West New York, and Hawthorne, New Jersey took part, along with the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey Pipe and Drum Corps, the Union City High School Junior ROTC, the Hoboken Historical Society, and the city’s Boy, Girl and Cub Scout troops.
Dean DeChiaro may be reached at email@example.com
Two-time veteran named Hoboken’s senior of the year
Medals, awards, commendations from presidents and senators, and hundreds of family photos cover every inch of Vincent Wassman’s Bloomfield Street brownstone. It’s a lot to be proud of, but when you ask the 88-year-old Hoboken native, who served in World War II and the Korean War, what he considers his greatest honor, he points to a key that hangs just below his collection of war medals.
“That’s the key to the city of Hoboken,” said Wassman. “They give that to dignitaries; kings and queens and people like that. I think that’s a pretty big honor.”
Wassman’s hometown pride is not something to be questioned. In addition to being awarded the key to the city in 1991 by former Mayor Patrick Pasculli, he has served as the commander of the city’s American Legion Post 107, the Sachem of the Improved Order of Red Men Tribe 229, was the chairman of the city’s Bicentennial Celebration in 1976, was an Exalted Ruler of the Hoboken Elks, and was even named Irishman of the Year in 1999.
Now he has one more award to hang on his wall – Mayor Dawn Zimmer recently named him the city’s 2013 Outstanding Senior Resident.
“It’s a big honor, it really is,” said Wassman. “And it could be the last one, too. The last hurrah. But to be fair that’s what I said when I got the last one.”
Asked what it’s been like spending his entire life in Hoboken, he called it “a hardship.”
“Hoboken’s never been easy,” he said. “In the old days it was hard and yet we lived and we were happy. We all got along well.”
And despite the changes he’s seen over the past several decades that he’s lived on Bloomfield Street, he said things are more cyclical than ever.
“We used to have tons of children on this block, and then for the past 10 years we had no children, so many young people moved in,” he said. “But now we’ve got kids next door and twins down the street.”
Wassman’s wife, Nona, passed away three years ago from cancer, but is survived by Wassman’s five children and nine grandchildren.
Asked if anything has stayed the same in Hoboken over the years, Wassman gave a typical answer.
“The parking,” he said. “It was a nightmare to park in the old days and it still is.”
Wassman was one of six World War II veterans to march in the 115th Annual Memorial Day Parade last Thursday, and called the experience “very special.”
Along with the outstanding senior residents of other Hudson County municipalities, Wassman will be honored by County Executive Tom DeGise at a ceremony at the Casino in the Park in Jersey City on Wednesday, May 29 at 12 p.m. – Dean DeChiaro