Clifton's Purple Heart Remembrance Ceremony Honors Local Heroes


Mayor Ray Grabowski. All photos by Barbara James.

A somber crowd gathered Wednesday evening at the Killed In Action section of the Municipal Complex, near the building where the more than 2,000 flags are stored for Clifton’s Avenue of Flags.

The Purple Heart is the oldest American military medal and is not awarded for bravery or heroism; it is awarded for sacrifice. The Purple Heart medal is awarded to those who have been wounded or killed in combat. Purple Heart Day commemorates the creation of the Purple Heart Medal in 1782 by General George Washington. Originally known as the Badge of Military Merit, it was initially awarded to three Revolutionary War Soldiers in 1783.

The Revolutionary War ended and the Purple Heart faded into obscurity until being later revived in 1932 on the bicentennial anniversary of Washington's birth. Purple Heart Medals were retroactively awarded to those wounded or killed while serving in the armed forces during World War I due to enemy action on or after April 5, 1917. It is estimated that about 1.9 million Purple Hearts have been awarded since that time. It is also the most intricate and expensive medal in the inventory.

Purple Heart Day is usually August 7th but this year, Clifton’s ceremony had been rescheduled due to weather. Most notable about this event was the relocation of the monument that has long been a part of the landscape at the Main Memorial Library, so named in honor of Clifton’s war dead. The monument was moved from the library “back home,” as many speakers noted, “where it rightfully belongs," and now stands together in the Field of Honor dedicated to Clifton’s casualties of war.  Joe Tuzzolino explained, “It’s quiet here, the library is nice but it was too noisy to be near the street, and a monument like this is best displayed where it’s quiet." 

Organized by various local groups and veterans, including Joe Tuzzolino, Jim Feeney, Neil Van Ess, Matt EZ, and Dennis Dahlinger, the program opened with the presentation of the Colors by the Clifton Police Department, a prayer, the Pledge of Allegiance, and several speeches. Mayor Ray Grabowski thanked the veterans and their families for their sacrifices. The event organizers spoke of the brotherhood of the Purple Heart movingly, their voices sometimes catching with emotion.

283 Clifton residents have been killed in action during World War I, World War II, and the wars in Korea, Viet Nam, and Iraq. Tonight, each had their flag fluttering in the breeze and each of their names was read by one of the Purple Heart veterans, followed by the ringing of a bell. Names were broken down alphabetically and by military branch.

The evening concluded with a live playing of “Amazing Grace” by the Passaic Drum Corps, a mournful rendition of “Taps," and a brief prayer. When the event was over, many of the veterans, mostly wearing caps that commemorated their service, approached the organizers to thank them. The Keepers of the Flags and volunteers set about to gather the flags and put them away before dusk, as is required by military tradition.

The public is invited to stop by and visit the monument, located across the street from the flag barn on City Hall property. 

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