Local towns gathered together on June 14 to celebrate Flag Day, an occasion commemorating the adoption of the United States flag in 1777. The parade, which began on Bergenline Ave near 85th Street, culminated in a flag-burning ceremony for retired flags at West New York's Miller Stadium on 58th Street. Various municipal departments and honor guards from North Bergen, West New York, Guttenberg, and even Palisades Park marched alongside local high school marching bands and elected officials.
“It's a tradition that we're always proud to be a part of, because it means so much to our country and to the veterans who are part of our county,” said Evita Gomez, color guard coach for Memorial High School's marching band, as participants lined up. “And it's a way of uniting the different towns within our county for a common, positive, patriotic cause.”
According to Guttenberg Mayor Gerald Drasheff, Hudson County has been celebrating Flag Day for over 100 years. Well into his seventies, he recalled participating in the event as a high school student.
“It's a day that we take time out to honor the symbol of our country,” he said. “It’s always been a big event up here in North Hudson.”
Drasheff also came flanked with Guttenberg's commissioners, including Councilman Wayne Zitt, who is running to take Drasheff’s place in November.
Having participated in the event for several decades, Drasheff said he remembers the parade “used to be a lot bigger. I wish we could get more of a crowd out. This used to be done at the end of the school year; every high school would march. But I think it's important that we keep tradition alive.”
“It's good to have our band play together with the West New York group,” said Brian Bonacci, the North Bergen High School marching band director, just before the crowd headed for the stadium. “It's great for both towns to work together to celebrate pulling together. It's good that these kids are aware the holiday exists and they're actively participating in the celebration of it.”
Later on at the stadium, West New York Mayor Felix Roque delivered a speech about what the flag means to him. “This flag means hope,” Roque told the crowd. “I remember coming from Cuba in 1967, and the first thing I saw was the American flag.”
Shortly after Roque spoke, Rudolph Kilma, a WWII veteran who the Hudson County Freeholders awarded a certificate of recognition to last month, joined Vice Commander Andy Ventura and Chaplain Paul Kuck in officially retiring the flags. The North Hudson Fire and Rescue then lit them on fire to close out the ceremony. Though burning the flags might seem unpatriotic at such an event, it’s the preferred method to retire a flag that is not longer useable. The American Legion, a U.S. veterans association, has a code stating that “when a flag has served its useful purpose, it should be destroyed, preferably by burning.”
Hannington Dia can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org