"I can't forget it," Ortizio said. "It's important for me to remember."
It's also important for the youngsters of Weehawken for Ortizio to remember, because along with long-time friend Joe Bradley, Ortizio makes an annual visit to the classrooms of the fifth grade students of Roosevelt School and helps them learn about what truly happened in World War II.
Back then, as a member of the 491st Armored Field Artillery, Ortizio was given a camera by a German officer, which enabled Ortizio to take pictures of concentration camps in Austria, as well as snapping other areas throughout Europe.
Ortizio served in France, Germany, Czechoslovakia, and, of course, Belgium, during the famed "Battle of the Bulge." He was fortunate enough to take some pictures that would serve as a constant reminder of what he endured.
Ortizio also secured a Nazi flag that he was able to bring home with him.
"I saw the flag being displayed on a building," Ortizio said. "So I took it down and kept it. And I wrapped myself in it to keep warm during the Battle of the Bulge."
Each year, Ortizio and Bradley go to the classrooms and share their stories of what it was like to serve in World War II.
"The students have been hearing about World War II and learning about it, but they bring it all to life," said Aurora Hoover, a fifth grade teacher at Roosevelt.
Ortizio holds on to those days dearly and is honored to go back to meet with the children, to help them understand the past.
Recently, Ortizio received an honor of his own when he was selected to serve as the grand marshal of the annual Weehawken Memorial Day parade.
Ortizio has been a member of the Veterans of Foreign Wars for more than 50 years and is currently a member of Weehawken's Oulton Kraft Post No. 1923. Parade Chairman W. James Hams, who has coordinated the parade for almost 40 years and the commander of the VFW Post in town, selected Ortizio to be the grand marshal.
"When Hamsy called me up and told me, I was totally surprised," Ortizio said. "I was in shock. It's a great honor for me. It actually choked me up a little. When I was asked if I would be the grand marshal, I said, 'You better believe it.' It's a wonderful feeling."
Monday's parade will commence at the assembly point, namely Highpoint and Gregory Avenues, at 9:15 a.m. The parade will then continue west on Highpoint to Hudson Avenue, turning north on Hudson to Maple Street. It continues east on Maple to Ridgely Place continuing onto Pleasant Avenue to Park Avenue.
At Park Avenue, the parade heads north to 49th Street, then heads east on 49th to Boulevard East, then heads south on Boulevard East until it gets to the Soldiers' and Sailors' Monument, where the program and exercises will be held.
The parade will feature many groups from the town, including the high school marching band as well as the Memorial High School marching band, several different civic and youth organizations, the local police and North Hudson Regional Fire and Rescue departments, as well as plenty of representation from area veterans' groups, like the VFW and the American Legion Post 18.
The township's Gold Star mothers, namely Rose Cemelli and Virginia Dabonka, who had sons that were killed in action during the Vietnam War, will present flowers at the monument.
All in all, it's a township-wide turnout that enables residents to remember the true meaning of Memorial Day. "It's important to have a day like this," Ortizio said. "Even more so now, since Sept. 11. We can't let any of that go since then. I lost friends in World War II, but we all lost after Sept. 11. I never understand why people want to do things like that. There really is a sense of sadness this year."
Ortizio said that he has always made it a priority to march in the parade, but will be riding in a prominent car this time as grand marshal.
"I'd much rather march," Ortizio said. "But if I'm told to get in the car, then that's a different story, because I always follow orders. But I feel better marching."
Ortizio still feels young, evidenced by his actions last Thursday during a pizza party the senior citizens gave to the Roosevelt School students at the Senior Nutritional Center. Ortizio spent most of the afternoon dancing several steps with the young ladies of the fifth grade classes whom he had gone to speak to last fall.
In return, the students presented United Nations Beanie Bears to the seniors.
"I think the connection is wonderful," fifth grade teacher Donna Jimmerson said. "Getting the children together with the seniors is just wonderful. And having the veterans come to the classroom and talk to the kids about their experiences really means a lot to them."
And it means a lot to Ortizio.
"I enjoy it immensely," Ortizio said. "I look forward to going to talk to the kids. I think they get a big charge out of us coming and I know I love it."
And Ortizio will keep preserving his memories.
"I went down to the waterfront the other day to take pictures of the battleships coming up the Hudson River," Ortizio said.
He used the same camera he received from the German officer in 1945. Some things never change.