As he rode down Washington Street on an overcast May day as the Grand Marshal of the Memorial Day Parade, William Perry waved to lifelong friends, family, neighbors and fellow veterans. A genuine smile graced his face, as the community and the country that he dedicated his life to recognized him. By his own admission, it was one of his proudest moments.
"We truly are the luckiest country in the world," said the WWII veteran just before the parade began.
At 82, Perry passed away at his Bloomfield Street home on Sept. 24. The funeral service on Monday at Ss. Peter and Paul Church was packed, with mourners overflowing into the street.
Born in New York City, Perry left home at 21 to serve in the Army in World War II, from 1942 to 1945. He served overseas in Africa, Italy and Sicily, spending much of his time as a member of an anti-aircraft artillery unit that was used to strike German airplanes on route to bomb allied forces.
As the war progressed, his unit moved into the Italian peninsula and fought its way to southern Germany, where a bullet to the head wounded him. He has received five combat ribbons, five bronze stars and the Purple Heart.
After the war, Perry moved to Hoboken with his wife, Mary. He was a manager for A & P Supermarkets for 32 years before working for Washington Savings Bank and Hudson United Bank in Hoboken for 20 years. He retired in 2000.
Perry was well known in the community for his social consciousness. He was a familiar face at City Council meetings, usually sitting with Mary in the front row, sometimes meting out even-handed comments or questions. In the 1970s, when the city's waterfront was blighted and unused, he volunteered with the Hoboken Environmental Committee to clean up River Road.
Before the Wednesday night meeting, the City Council expressed their condolences and praised Perry for his activism.
"Anyone who has ever come in contact with William truly cherishes those moments," said council President Ruben Ramos Jr.
Richard Del Boccio, the council's senior member, added that Perry will be missed. "He was a very civic minded gentleman," said Del Boccio. "He was a friend of the council that would talk about clean streets or stabilizing taxes. But probably the fondest memory I have of [Perry] is of him walking the avenue. He would always have the time to listen to what you had to say."
The council also announced they will begin the process of getting the necessary approvals to erect a sign that says "Perry Way" on his block.
He was a parishioner of Ss. Peter & Paul Church, and served as an officer of the Holy Name Society and a member of the Parish Council.
Before the parade Perry said it is important to commemorate Memorial Day because it shows respect for the veterans who have fought for America, but it also represents an opportunity for people in the community to come together.
"My theory is that if we can get people together for a purpose and common goal, we're all better off for it," said Perry.
Hoboken resident Vinny Wassman, a fellow combat veteran who served two years in the Korean War, said that Perry was a stand-up person. "He was a veteran's veteran," said Wassman. "He was always there when you needed him."
Perry is survived by his wife Mary; his three daughters, Rosemary, Mary Elizabeth and Anne Marie; a sister, Loretta Turner; a brother, Robert Perry; five grandchildren, David Cardino, Michael Cardino, Brian Cardino, Jennifer O'Callaghan, and Mark Perry; and one great-grandson, William.