Veterans Honored at Annual Parade


Images/Barbara James

Clifton celebrated and honored its Veterans with a parade that brought smiles to the many who lined the parade route, stretching from the Athenia Veterans Post on Huron Avenue, up Van Houten Avenue, and ending at City Hall for a meaningful ceremony.

Veterans Day is November 11th and is a federal holiday. Clifton always schedules their tributes during November and as we all know, November weather can be quite unpredictable. Fortunately, Sunday’s weather was picture-perfect. Temperatures were in the low 60s, the sun was warm on the spectators, and a very light breeze kept people comfortable on the sunny day.

Activity on Huron Avenue was lively with marching bands from the area, including the Mustang Marching Band, PCTI Marching Band, the Hawthorne Caballeros, and the Salvation Army Band among others, practicing and getting into formation. Clifton High School ROTC members assembled, some of them looking forward to enlisting one day. This year’s parade was in honor of Purple Heart recipients, combat veterans injured or killed in the line of duty.

As the parade moved along Van Houten Avenue, the crowds were larger than in recent memory and decidedly enthusiastic. Parade organizers had posted on social media earlier in the week, asking participants to refrain from wearing or carrying posters or gear promoting any political candidate or cause (Election Day is just two days after the parade.) Many spectators wore patriotic clothing or Mustang gear, and older residents, many wearing caps proclaiming their Veteran status and branch of service sat on chairs brought from home and looked wistful, yet proud. Young children accepted flags from parade marchers and waved them enthusiastically as their parents applauded and shouted, “Thank you for your service!” to the parade marchers, some walking and some in cars and on floats. It was as close to a Norman Rockwell version of a small-town military appreciation parade as one can imagine.

At City Hall, a crowd gathered to greet the various marchers, floats, and musicians and again, it was much larger than in recent memory. The applause and cries of “Thank you for your service” resonated with the veterans, who looked happy to be acknowledged.

In previous years, Clifton residents Keith Oakley and Frank Gaccione had organized the parade seemingly effortlessly. Gaccione passed away earlier this year and Oakley has moved out of New Jersey, so it was left to others to fundraise and organize the event. Gaccione’s son Joseph and his wife Christine, and Clifton veteran Joe Tuzzolino from the Clifton Avenue of Flags, both volunteered to run the event and did a phenomenal job.

Tuzzolino, also a Purple Heart recipient, emceed the ceremony at City Hall. He thanked everyone involved, including the Clifton Police, Fire, and DPW Departments as well as the Clifton Recreation Department which raised funds for the parade with a Food Truck event earlier this summer. He talked briefly about the brotherhood of the military and said that the Purple Heart – “Something none of us ever want to get” – was a bond like no other. Parade Grand Marshal Neil Van Es spoke movingly, yet humorously and he too thanked everyone. “Clifton does such a great job, they just do it right!” He asked for a show of hands of who in the crowd were veterans and asked for a round of applause to “show them that you’re appreciated.” He added that for all the freedoms we have in terms of free speech, freedom of religion, freedom to assemble, to vote, to get information,” it all starts with veterans. He also emphasized that a thank you, especially for the veterans of WWII, Korea, and Vietnam, is appreciated more than we can imagine.

Other veterans' events in Clifton include a Thanksgiving-style dinner delivered to a veteran’s home on Thursday, November 9. This is open to veterans currently living in Clifton, and you must pre-register by Wednesday, November 8 by calling the Recreation Department at 973-470-5956. Please provide your name, address, phone number, and military branch. The Avenue of Flags will display almost 2,800 flags, weather permitting, on Saturday, November 11th. Volunteers are always needed to put up the flags at dawn and then take them down before sunset. Please call the Recreation Department for more information.

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