This Sunday, May 30, veterans will show the people of West New York just how much it means as their annual Memorial Day Parade kicks off at 3 p.m. beginning on 67th Street and Bergenline Avenue.
"We always have it on the real day," said Barry Weiss, 54, chairman of the West New York Joint Veterans Affairs Committee and parade organizer. "We are the only township in Hudson County that holds the parade on the true day, which is the 30th of the month."
The celebration of Memorial Day, which was originally known as Decoration Day, first began in the late 1860s. According to www.historychannel.com, who provides a brief history of Memorial Day, Decoration Day "was a time set aside to honor the nation's Civil War dead by decorating their graves."
In a proclamation issued by General John A. Logan of the Grand Army of the Republic, on May 5, 1868 he declared that May 30 be "designated for the purpose strewing flowers, or otherwise decorating the graves of comrades who died in defense of their country during the late rebellion, and whose bodies now lie in almost every city, village, and hamlet churchyard in the land."
Again according to the site, Decoration Day, which was inspired by local observances in several towns throughout America for three years since the Civil War, was first widely observed on May 30, 1868. General James Garfield also made a speech at Arlington National Cemetery in Washington D.C. during that first celebration. Afterwards 5,000 participants helped to decorate the graves of more than 20,000 Union and Confederate soldiers. Over time, the name was changed to Memorial Day in order to honor all those who had died in all the American wars, which at that time started to include World War I.
In 1966, the federal government, under President Lyndon Johnson, declared Waterloo, New York as the official birthplace of Memorial Day. It was due to the town's first observance on May 5, 1866 which became an annual community-wide event where businesses are closed residents decorate graves. In 1971, Congress declared Memorial Day a national holiday.
Weiss along with his fellow co-chairs Herculano Dias and Anthony Cavallone at the Joint Veterans Affairs Committee, aid with organizing the event.
"We've been doing this [the parade] for about 40 years," said Anthony Cavallone, 85, assistant chairperson of the Joint Veterans Affairs Committee and a veteran of World War II. "Hopefully there will be a lot of veterans in the parade."
They sent out an official release announcing the parade and inviting any veteran or organization wanting to participate to join them the day of the parade.
"You always find somebody else that you never realize is there," said Weiss, who was also grand marshal for the parade for three years. "As long as you're a legitimate organization of some type you are welcomed to participate. The more the merrier."
It is never officially known how many organizations or veterans will be participating until the day of the event when everyone begins to meet up at 2:30 p.m.
"You never know who is going to show," said Weiss. "A lot of the groups don't reply with letters."
Some of the definite groups that participate every year include the local American Legion and the Jewish War Veterans, town officials and dignitaries, elementary and Memorial High School marching bands, military recruits, the fire and police department, and so on.
Honoring the troops
This year, the parade will be celebrating the men and women fighting the war in Iraq. The committee is asking any veteran or soldier that has been recently involved in the conflict with Iraq to participate in the festivities and serve as grand marshals. Currently they have two soldiers from the Iraqi war, which are set to march in the parade.
"The idea is to support America and its troops, said Weiss. "The idea is to keep it going because if you stop Memorial Day you're losing the whole meaning of the people currently overseas."
The parade will culminate on 60th Street and Boulevard East in front of the veterans' monument. Preceding the singing of the National Anthem, the mayor will say a few words, town officials and veterans will get a chance to speak, and if available there will be a guest speaker. Last year the children were asked to share what Memorial Day means to them instead of having a guest speaker.