With the traditional Memorial Day parade canceled for the second consecutive year due to COVID-19 restrictions, veterans, their families and community members joined wreath-laying ceremonies at the Glendale and Ridgewood Veterans Triangles on Memorial Day.
U.S. Air Force Veteran Bill Cook, the commander of American Legion Glendale Post 104, expressed that it was slightly disappointing not to have a parade again this year.
“But at least we’re able to do something,” Cook said, referring to the wreath-laying ceremonies. “Safety is first. That’s what we got to think of.”
Hosted by the Allied Veterans Memorial Committee of Ridgewood & Glendale, an alliance of several veterans organizations, both ceremonies opened with the Pledge of Allegiance, followed by the National Anthem, performed by Shannon Jones.
Russell Goeller, parade chairman and committee member, reiterated that Memorial Day was about honoring those who made the ultimate sacrifice while serving the United States.
“Remember the men and women that gave their lives for this country in some far-off land that no one can even find on a map. They’re there so we could be here together today celebrating, barbecuing, going to all the sales at the stores,” he said.
Holding up a photograph of Edward Hoyt, a young WWII Navy soldier killed in 1942, Councilman Robert Holden shared that Hoyt’s death motivated his mom to become a pen pal writing to soldiers on the front line. Her brother, who served in the Philippines, suggested she write to Phil Holden, one of his friends.
“Here I am, I’m a product of World War II, just like my wife is, and so many generations and so many families,” Holden said, explaining that it was Edward Hoyt’s death and seeing his grief-stricken parents that compelled his mom to correspond with soldiers on the battlefront.
The councilman, who has written several stories about Hoyt, urged everyone to share their family members’ stories.
“Every family has a hero. Share their stories and let their memories live on,” Holden said.
Assemblywoman Jenifer Rajkumar, who attended both ceremonies, was grateful to the heroes who sacrificed their lives so Americans could live in freedom and said the qualities she respects most about a person were courage and bravery.
“And you have that in abundance,” Rajkumar, a member of the Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, told the crowd. She also announced that she established a new veterans committee for the neighborhood and that her office would host a veterans breakfast in June, calling on all veterans posts to nominate one veteran honoree.
Congresswoman Grace Meng said the best way to honor the fallen was to provide help to veterans who are still alive and pointed to the bipartisan effort allocating $10 billion for veterans issues like mental health services, combating homelessness, and supporting veterans who were exposed to Agent Orange in Vietnam and nuclear radiation during the cleanup mission of the Enewetak Atoll, a U.S. nuclear testing site between 1946 and 1958.
“We need to make sure that we have full transparency of full accounting and to provide the necessary help that they [the veterans] so desperately need and our country has not paid in full yet,” Meng declared.
Retired Army Lt. Col. Paul Schottenhamel, secretary of the Allied Veterans Committee and 10th District commander, joined Cook to present the memorial wreaths at the Glendale and Ridgewood Veterans Triangles before both ceremonies concluded with the playing of Taps and “God Bless America.”
Michael O’Kane, officer with Chapter 32 Vietnam Veterans of America, served in Vietnam for two and a half years. He said he hoped that many young people would attend the ceremonies and learn “why we did what we did.”
“It’s a cliche, but that’s, that’s where our future is,” O’Kane said. “We haven’t forgotten. We live it every day. Somebody asked me last week, ‘Did you ever go back to Vietnam?’ I said, ‘every night!'”