The brothers in arms, who served in America's armed forces, served to fulfill the patriotic duty that was in their hearts.
However, Memorial Day has expanded not only to include those American heroes of yesterday, but also of today. Over the last few years Memorial Day has become a time to honor the brave men and women who have fought and continue to fight in Iraq, as they fulfill the same patriotic duty felt by their fathers.
This year, the West New York Joint Veterans Affairs Committee will kick off their annual Memorial Day Parade, on Monday, May 30, beginning at 3 p.m. from 67th Street and Bergenline Avenue with a few new special guests.
This year's grand marshal for the parade is a recent war veteran just discharged back in March.
U.S. Navy Special Operations Pedi Officer Third Class Alexis Pino was one of the thousands of troops serving in Operation Iraqi Freedom, and will now proudly march alongside his fellow veterans in the parade.
"I felt honored [being asked to be grand marshal]," said Pino. "I just can't explain how I felt; it almost brought a tear to my eye."
Barry Weiss, chairman of the West New York Joint Veterans Affairs Committee and parade organizer, has known Pino for many years and what he has done for his country. Weiss felt it appropriate for Pino to serve as the grand marshal and represent the men and women involved in the war with Iraq.
"I just finished my tour [which last an average of eight to 10 months]. This was my third tour to Iraq in five years," said Pino. "It was one of those things that you live day by day, minute by minute, and second by second. One minute it's very peaceful and the next you have bullets flying everywhere. The hostility was very scary."
Pino served in special operations with the United States Navy search and destroy missions and port security. He and his unit lived under a constant daily threat to U.S. troops and navel bases. Memories of explosions and bullets flying have stayed with him, but serving his country has brought a new-found love and respect for the land he loves so much.
"I speak for myself and for the other soldiers and marines out there now, it was a tremendous experience, and I know now why this is the greatest country in the world," said Pino. "It took me the last six years of my life to realize that we live in the greatest and freest country in the world, and it's an honor to be celebrated on this Memorial Day."
The surviving veterans of these tours through Iraq, World War I and II, the Korean War, and Vietnam War to name a few, put a face to the battles that many have not had to see. Because of their efforts, the community of West New York rallies around them in tremendous gratitude.
Preparing the celebration
In preparation for Memorial Day, the members of the West New York Joint Veteran Affairs Committee joined the local Boy Scout troop at Mt. Mariah's Cemetery to decorate the graves of veterans with flowers and American flags two weeks ago.
Organizations participating in the parade will begin to meet at about 3:30 p.m. at the starting point of 67th Street and Bergenline Avenue. Among them will be the U.S. Army Recruits, who will be riding the length of Bergenline Avenue on motorcycles.
"We have a lot of new groups this year," said Barry Weiss, parade coordinator. "I believe we're up to about 20 organizations, of which 10 to 11 are from [out of town]."
Some of the 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, and the fire and police departments.
The parade will turn down on 60th Street and Boulevard East and continue on to 54th Street to the veterans' memorial monument, as it does every year, with a small ceremony beginning at about 5 p.m.
Traditionally 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.
However, this year instead of having a guest speaker, Weiss and the West New York Joint Veteran Affairs Committee asked the students of West New York Middle School to write essays about what Memorial Day means to them.
"We had an essay contest with the new West New York Middle School," said Weiss. "There were no rules and regulations.
The first prize for the essay contest was $100, second prize was $50, third prize was $25, and the runners-up fourth through sixth prize were $10 each.
"The school did all the judging through their language department," said Weiss. "The first three winners are going to read their essays at the ceremony instead of having a guest speaker."
The winners from West New York Middle School who will be reading at the ceremony are Nadya Pena, first place; Katherine Rodriguez, second place, and Melanie Naranjo, third place.
After the parade celebration, Pino has additional plans to continue commemorating this Memorial Day, "I plan to spend as much time as I can with my family, especially my father, who is also a Marine Corp. veteran from the Vietnam era, and possibly visiting the families of friends I have lost in Iraq, and paying respects to them as well."