HOBOKEN - For 121 years, the City of Hoboken had held a Memorial Day Parade. That streak made it the longest-running parade in the entire State of New Jersey—until COVID-19 canceled the plans for this year’s event.
Historically, the parade would take place at 6 p.m. on the Wednesday before Memorial Day Weekend, ensuring optimal turnout before Hoboken residents would typically make their way down the shore or head for the hills to enjoy the holiday weekend. This year was different, in nearly every sense of the word.
Undaunted, Hoboken American Legion Post 107 mustered its troops—along with a handful of dignitaries, local residents and Boy Scout Troop 146—forming up outside City Hall on Monday to march up Washington Street… as they have for all those many years.
“We have to remember those who made the ultimate sacrifice,” said Hoboken American Legion Post 107 Commander John Carey. “Hoboken has been doing this for 122 years, and we need to keep this tradition alive,” he added. “We can never forget.”
Participants lined up in the northbound bike lane of Hoboken’s main thoroughfare, each wearing protective face masks and doing their best to observe social distancing protocols. Statewide, parades are still frowned upon as the COVID-19 pandemic still leaves a lot in question. Thus, given the almost clandestine nature of the parade, crowds were certainly sparser this year than in years past. But those random passersby who did encounter the procession would generally stop, clap and wave—as what looked to be a smile would lift their own facemasks ever so slightly at the sight of this treasured community tradition.
“I’ve been doing this for about 10 years,” said Tige Mauseth, a Boy Scout with Troop 146. “This year is a lot different, but it’s important that we remember our fallen soldiers.”
To get a sense of why it’s important, one need only glimpse into the history of Hoboken to learn just how impactful war has been on our community.
In recent times our beautiful waterfront would most likely see a convoy of strollers docked by a park bench, or a platoon of joggers enjoying the skyline view. But over a century ago Hoboken found itself squarely in the crosshairs of a world at war.
The United States declared war on Germany and her allies on April 6, 1917. Immediately, Hoboken’s German-owned shipping lines were seized, and the ships docked along the waterfront were commandeered to become troop transports. In a matter of weeks, the piers here in Hoboken were converted to serve as the chief port of embarkation for the American Expeditionary Force. General John J. “Black Jack” Pershing famously boasted that his troops would be in, “Heaven, Hell or Hoboken” by Christmas, 1917.
Sadly, Pershing’s promise turned out to be far too optimistic, and by the end of hostilities on November 11, 1918, nearly 2 million U.S. “Doughboys” would have passed through Hoboken, en route to the Western Front. Far fewer would return, as the AEF sustained 53,402 battle deaths, 63,114 non-combat deaths (including the devastating influenza pandemic of 1918) and 204,000 fighting men wounded.
Of those lost in World War I, Hoboken lost 71 sons. The Second World War saw a staggering 263 of our citizens killed in action. In the Korean War, we lost another three. Nine Hoboken men died in Vietnam.
This year, the 122nd Annual Hoboken Memorial Day Parade concluded at the Hoboken Elks Lodge, where the roughly three-dozen participants stopped and observed a poignant rendition of “Taps,” played over a portable speaker. As the trumpets echoed along an empty Washington Street, there was considerable comfort in knowing at least one tradition has been maintained.
“I’d love to buy you all a beer and a hot dog,” Carey told the crowd, after the last note sounded.
Maybe next year. See you for 123.
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