Memorial Day was first observed on May 30, 1868 as Decoration Day, when flowers were placed on the graves of Union and Confederate soldiers at Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia.
Now, 141 years later, it has become an excuse for department stores to run special sales, and for people to mark the unofficial start of summer with barbecues and languishing on beaches. However, attendees at events in Jersey City remembered those who served their country, and those who are still serving.
Cemetery ceremony celebrating service
This year, the Historic Jersey City and Harsimus Cemetery was the site of its first annual “Honoring Our Heroes” Memorial Day Observance Ceremony. Guest speakers included Vietnam veteran and city Director of Veterans Affairs Jaime Vazquez and Jersey City resident Wilmont Griffin, a New Jersey Air National Guard soldier who will serve in Iraq starting in December. Musical performances included standards such as “The Battle Hymn of the Republic” and “Amazing Grace.”
After the ceremony, members of the public placed American flags at the gravestones of war veterans spanning as far back as the Revolutionary War.
“Most people think of Memorial Day as just part of a four-day weekend.” – Patrick Ryan
“It’s an honor to pay tribute and as I explained to my son, it is a day to honor our dead and honor our living,” Ryan said. “Most people think of Memorial Day as just part of a four-day weekend.”
Veterans ‘not forgotten’
Every year since 1998, there has been a Memorial Day ceremony at Pershing Field on Summit Avenue to remember veterans of all wars, especially the Vietnam War. One of the stalwarts at each year’s event was David Cline.
Cline, a native of Buffalo, N.Y. who settled in Jersey City in the 1970s, had served in Vietnam in the U.S Army in the 35th Infantry Division from 1967 until 1969. Before he passed away in 2007, Cline led the fight to get the community center in Pershing Field renamed the Heights Vietnam Veterans Memorial Community Center.
David Cline was honored at Monday’s ceremony, along with recently deceased Vietnam vets Sergio Lamboy and Woodrow L. Whitney, and other deceased vets.
The names of the veterans were read both by Mayor Jerramiah Healy from a proclamation by the city, and then from a list by living Vietnam veterans.
Members of the public placed roses at the memorial dedicated to those who died during the war, which bears the inscription “NOT FORGOTTEN,” and at a separate memorial for the veterans who died after the war.
Lamboy’s brother Robert and Lamboy’s widow Ava both offered tearful tributes to their loved one, a Marine who came back from Vietnam and served as a Jersey City fireman and in various administrative positions in City Hall until he passed away in December 2006.
“He came back, like a lot of veterans, with problems,” Robert Lamboy said. “But he was able to overcome those problems and he decided, ‘I want to dedicate myself to service,’ and that’s just what he did.”
Ricardo Kaulessar can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.