RARITAN, NJ - Raritan lost a great man when longtime Basilone Parade Chairman John Pacifico passed away June 28 in his home at the age of 91.
This author was honored to have served with him on the parade committee.
Pacifico was the ideal chairman of Raritan’s annual parade. He was born in the family home at 13 Doughty Street in Raritan in 1927. As a young teenager during World War II, he experienced life on the home front. He, along with all others, followed the news reports to track the ongoing progress in the war. They mourned and prayed as the list of local boys who died in the war never seemed to end. The Pacifico family had much to worry about as John’s brother Vincent was away from home serving in the army, and would join the fight by the end of the War. John Pacifico kept the Raritan soldiers well informed of the town’s personal news by writing detailed letters to many of them. Years later, they expressed their appreciation for this service that connected them to friends and family.
Pacifico remembered when it was first announced that a hometown guy, John Basilone, was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor. When Raritan held a “Welcome Home” parade for Basilone in September 1943, Pacifico was there.
He served in the military himself when he joined the army in 1950, serving until 1952.
Pacifico joined the Basilone Parade Committee in 1985 and became the chairman in 1987. He fostered its growth from a small one-day event into a weekend affair. He increased the number of units that were marching, and he especially wanted there to be plenty of bands in the parade so that when the music drifted away, there would be more music coming along. Under his leadership, the number of bands increased from just a couple to a dozen. With more units and more music, more people attended the parade.
Another big addition he made was to hold a concert on the Saturday night before the parade. It usually featured a military band, such as the Quantico Marine Band. These concerts were held for over 20 years at the Raritan Valley Community College Theatre. For many years, all 1,000 concert seats were filled. A ticket was hard to come by. In recent years, due to the aging of the World War II generation, the once valued concert has been discontinued.
At all the events on Basilone weekend – the Saturday concert, the parade itself and the ceremony after the parade – Pacifico was the Master of Ceremonies. He was always impeccably dressed in a suit, and he spoke with a passion about Basilone’s heroics. He made sure to thank all those for their contributions.
Pacifico played the managing role in other patriotic activities in Raritan. He was the voice of Memorial Day and Veterans’ Day services that were held in front of the Municipal Building, and, in recent years, at the Memorial Park. When Raritan’s “Wall of Heroes” was unveiled, Pacifico was the gracious host.
Pacifico’s chairmanship of the parade was never challenged. He was so dedicated, caring and competent that the committee members never even considered having another chairman. He gave everyone a say as at the end of each meeting, as he would go around the room to give each committee member a chance to have input.
When necessary, Pacifico could be firm. I recall one instance when I was new to the committee and had a bit too much unchecked enthusiasm. As one meeting was beginning, he seemed annoyed. He started by saying, “before we do anything, I must bring attention that there has been a violation of one of the sacred rules of this town and parade.” I listened intently, wondering what had happened. He then held up a political brochure, one that I had done for a candidate in the upcoming election. I had put some Basilone-related accomplishments in that brochure with a photo of Basilone. Pacifico said correctly that the brochure appeared to have been designed by me. (I always used certain fonts and background colors.) He tactfully explained that this could not happen again, as the rule in town was that “Basilone stays out of politics.” I apologized to him and the committee. He did not mention it again, and I obeyed the sacred rule thereafter.
His involvement in his community was vast and amazing. It started when he was very young as an altar boy at St. Ann Church. He served for 30 years on Raritan Recreation, with 10 of those as the chairman. He was on numerous committees, often as the leader. He was a deacon at St. Ann Church for over 40 years, contributing to baptisms, weddings and funerals, and was always present at church services and functions. To Pacifico, this was his most important mission. Parishioners were always appreciative of his contributions. Many families approached him to give eulogies, since he had a personal and vested knowledge of the deceased.
For The BReeze, Pacifico was often a vital (uncredited) source for many of the articles about local history. He was the “historical consultant” for two books on Raritan – “The John Basilone Story” and “Raritan’s Finest Hour – The Story of Raritan During World War II.”
A dedicated family man, he married Dorothy Hoffman in 1958. They were married for 58 years until her death in 2017. They had two children, John Jr. and Jean.
Pacifico loved his hometown of Raritan. On his final day, he seemed to know that the end was near, so he had his daughter drive him around town. They drove by the houses where his best friends once lived. Their final stop was at the Basilone statue.
His longtime friend Peter Vitelli said of him, “John Pacifico was the epitome in all facets of leadership.”
Father John Rozembajgier, priest at St. Ann’s in Raritan, said, “As proclaimed in MICAH 6:8, Deacon John chose to walk with the Lord and in his relationships with others aspired to do what was right and good.”
Pacifico was also a big baseball fan. At the funeral service in the church, Father John introduced a Yankee hat that was made in memory of Pacifico. It said on the front “Hats off to Deacon John” and on the back it said “MICAB 6:8.” Dozens of hats were given out to family and friends.
The funeral procession that left from St. Ann Church first stopped at his childhood home where his children put a Raritan baseball cap on the steps. Then, they stopped at the Basilone statue where a Basilone hat was placed. Finally, they stopped at Pacifico’s home at 256 Weiss Terrace, where they left his baseball glove and a Yankee cap.
John Pacifico will be missed.