CLIFTON, N.J. (CBSNewYork) — Memorial Day is officially Monday, but several veterans groups in the Tri-State Area honored those who made the ultimate sacrifice Sunday.
Decades ago, May 30 was the official holiday. Some say honoring those who served before the official holiday is a way of reminding Americans the three-day weekend isn’t a time to celebrate, but to pay respects, CBS2’s Lisa Rozner reported.
A prayer was offered at the Colonia Veterans of Foreign Wars post for those who lost their lives fighting for our country.
“Our comrades before us fought in worse conditions than a little rain. They deserve the recognition that they earned,” William Curia said.
And Sunday rain may have put a pause on plans to post 2,169 flags throughout Clifton’s municipal complex, but volunteers were still at the ready for the “Clifton Veterans Avenue of Flags.”
“About 40 or 50 come in and do this. Yeah, some could barely walk even. But it’s very important to them to do this,” Clifton Veterans Avenue of Flags chairman Keith Oakley said.
Each 10-foot pole is engraved with the name of someone who served that lived in Clifton at one point, like Oakley’s father.
Because rain would damage the flags, they will be unfurled Monday morning.
Joseph Tuzzolino, a Purple Heart recipient injured in the Vietnam War, will put up the flags of 10 family members.
“I think of the families, the mothers and fathers … their son never came home,” Tuzzolino said. “Couldn’t bounce his kid on his lap or walk his daughter down the aisle.”
Army veteran William Van Eck said he remembers his best friend who died and other friends. It also reminds him of times he dropped everything to save others in Vietnam.
“They were wounded on a road and that they needed our help,” Van Eck said.
“When they come around and tell you make sure all your paperwork is correct, that means make sure your will papers are signed for next of kin,” Cold War veteran Mike Gimon added. “Years ago, when I first got out of service you couldn’t get a spot on a parade route. Now, it’s so sparse it’s not even funny.”
Up until 1971, Memorial Day was observed on May 30. Some veterans feel it should go back to that date.
“Would you like your birthday changed? No. So why should they change, especially days like Memorial Day. That’s a sacred holiday for all of us here,” Oakley said.
Some veterans said they feel the three-day weekend distracts from the holiday’s true meaning, and since the close of World War II fewer Americans know someone who died in combat, which means fewer may be aware of the sacrifices so many before them made, just so they could be free.
The Clifton veterans plan to be up at sunrise putting up each flag. They said the display draws family members from all over the country.