The Memorial Day parade kicked off at noon from Trolley Park at the northern tip of Paterson Plank Road on Saturday. The sky was gray, the temperature cool, and a few raindrops fell here and there, but the mood of the marchers and bystanders was buoyant for the annual parade that Mayor Mike Gonnelli brought back to town in 2010 following many years’ absence. In fact, Secaucus could count on two “big” parades years ago — the Memorial Day parade (held on the “real” Memorial Day of May 30 years ago) and the fire chief’s inspection parade held biennially in September. The latter parade was the “bigger” of the two, and took months of planning. There hasn’t been a chief’s parade for years; instead, a testimonial dinner is held. We’re not sure why the Memorial Day parade ceased to be an event in town; maybe it ended when the three-day holiday weekend started and the town cleared out for the holiday. The new installment of the parade is held the weekend before the actual holiday. The town, American Legion and VFW still hold a Memorial Day ceremony at Town Hall on the actual Memorial Day, which this year is Monday, May 29.
Memorial Day started out as Decoration Day following the Civil War and is an American holiday that honors our war dead from every branch of the military. Veteran’s Day, celebrated in November, recognizes our nation’s military veterans. It began as Armistice Day following the end of World War I, “the war to end all wars.” Veteran’s Day is always celebrated on November 11, whatever the day of the week the eleventh falls on, which this year is a Saturday. Citizens are encouraged to “thank” a veteran for their service on that day.
The grand marshal of the 2017 Memorial Day parade was George Wohlrab. He served in the U.S. Army during the Vietnam War. His grandchildren shared the float with him during the parade. Another float had veterans who served during several wars. These included Joe Testa, Phil Papa, Nick D’Elia, William Lauber, Donald Kennedy, Michael Miller, Ronald Weaver, Joe Baccola, Michael Yaccarino, Steve Cirone, and George Shahbazian. Police Chief Kevin Flaherty led the parade with Lt. Wayne Bruton and Captains Carlos Goyenechea, Dennis Miller and Joe Baccola. Joe’s father was one of the veterans featured on the float. Joe Baccola Sr. served in the Korean War, and many remember him as one of the first Parking Enforcement Officers in town. (A fellow PEO, Joe Petrizzo, served during World War II. He was unable to make this year’s parade, but we have a photo of him and some of his buddies from WWII on this page. Joe was also one of the first Secaucus PEOs.)
Mayor Gonnelli and Councilmen Rob Costantino, John Gerbasio, Mark Dehnert, Jim Clancy and Bill McKeever came after the police officers. McKeever’s grandson Noah Moran joined him. Bill McKeever is also a Vietnam vet. Councilwoman Susan Pirro was unable to make an appearance. Police Det. Aniello Schaffer pulled up to the curb to give youngsters along the parade route lollipops; the children were mesmerized by the electric-powered T-3 Segway the detective was riding. The veterans and council members handed out American flags to bystanders while members of the U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary handed out mints. Police Officer William Eccles patrolled the Plaza on his police bicycle and then took up his station at Front Street and Minnie Place watching the line of march while also enjoying all the festivities. (We were glad to see that Officer Eccles was wearing a bike helmet, setting a good example for children!)
The Secaucus High School Marching Band, led by senior Drew Fournier, lent a lot of oompah to the proceedings. Secaucus Middle School Student Government Organization students were in the line of march, as well as Boy and Cub Scouts, Brownies and Girl Scouts. Contingents from the Filipino Society of Secaucus, the Indian Caucus of Secaucus, and the Indian Temple proudly marched in their colorful outfits. The Indian bagpipers and drummers, in their kilts, played rousing patriotic tunes. A fife and drum group in Union blue Civil War regalia had us singing along to “Yankee Doodle.” All five companies of the Secaucus Volunteer Fire Department were represented with fire trucks in the line of march. Newly-crowned Secaucus Senior Citizen of the Year Sheila Tiboni Witrock was all smiles in a red convertible.
Residents—young, old and in between—waved to family members and friends in the parade, or just waved in acknowledgement of their participation in the community event. Many clapped when the float with the veterans and Grand Marshal George Wohlrab passed by. The line of march wended down the Plank Road turning right at Marra’s Drug Store onto Front Street and then proceeded to Hudson Avenue where it turned left and then took another left onto Centre Avenue, ending at American Legion Post 118 at Second Street. Festivities continued at Post 118 into the afternoon. Mother Nature cooperated with no precipitation and it actually warmed up a few degrees. A nice day, a patriotic day, a community spirit day—and thanks to Mayor Gonnelli, something Secaucus continues to be well known for!