SUMMIT, NJ - On a day which honors those individuals and their families who have made the ultimate sacrifice for America -- laying down their lives to protect the Nation's freedoms all hold so dear -- the Hilltop City gathered to remember, salute and celebrate the members of the Armed Forces, including those from or who hold a connection to Summit -- for their courage, bravery and service to the Country.
Summit's traditional Memorial Day festivities began with the always-popular parade -- again featuring police, fire and military vehicles and rousing sounds from the 'Pride of Summit': the Summit High School Marching Band -- which matriculated to the Village Green, where the program included solemn words, poems, presentations, the placement of wreaths, the playing of "Taps," and a 21-gun salute.
Bringing the day and all it symbolizes even closer to Summit's front door was the formal unveiling of the inaugural 'Hometown Heroes' program, which celebrates the service of 100 local veterans by placing their likenesses on street banners currently adorning DeForest Avenue light poles and which will remain in place through July 4.
After welcoming the crowd which appeared to fill the entire Village Green, Summit Memorial Day Event Co-Chair Henry Bassman introduced Summit Mayor Nora Radest, who noted that the meaning and impact of sacrifices made by Armed Forces members and their loved ones is not lost on a nation and world "that still depends so much on American men and women in uniform for its security."
During her remarks Radest, in part, said:
"I am honored and deeply humbled to be here with you, to honor the memory of those who made the ultimate sacrifice in service to our country.
I would like to take a moment to acknowledge any of those among us who have lost a loved one in the line of duty to this country. We will never stop striving to be worthy of their noble service and sacrifice.
Our nation also owes a debt to you and your families.
We know we lack the words to do justice to what you feel on this day. We can never fully know. But we do know what your sacrifice means to us, to this nation, and to a world that still depends so much on American men and women in uniform for its security.
More than a million American service members have died for this nation since the first colonial soldiers took up arms in 1775. Each person who died during these conflicts was a loved one cherished by family and friends. Each was a loss to the community and to the nation.
There are names forever etched in stone on memorials on our Village Green, and on parks and greens across this country. These names are also forever etched onto our hearts. There have been far too many of them, and we hope and pray that a time comes when we no longer have to lose our beloved mothers, fathers, sons and daughters to the scourge of war.
Memorial Day is not just another summer day. It is a sacred day of shared memory, a thread in our calendar that connects us all to one another, and to the very origins of our nation. This day binds us as a community, as we come together to mourn the fallen.
But as we honor the service and sacrifice of our fallen veterans, today we are also honoring our local Summit hometown heroes, men and women who served our country at home and abroad as active members of the military. We remember not just those who lost their lives, but also the sacrifice all our veterans made and continue to make to serve our country.
Wars themselves are complex and troubling things. But the service of the women and men who have dedicated themselves to preserving the ideals of our democracy is a continuing source of pride. Let us celebrate that there are men and women among us who have answered, and continue to answer, the call to duty. Let us celebrate the lives of those who fought and have fallen so that we may live in a free country.
Let us also remember our fallen peace officers who have passed away in the line of duty in service to our communities. In two days, it will be one year since we lost one of our own, Detective Matthew Tarentino. He and others like him serve every day to protect the innocent and keep our communities safe. They too are the best of us.
As I have said on past Memorial Days and remind you again today, please take time to laugh and play. Spend time with loved ones. Be grateful for every ounce of freedom you enjoy. When you go to bed at night, and you feel safe, secure and unafraid, please remember why."
Bassman returned to the podium to formally introduce the 'Hometown Heroes' program and thank Michael Arlein, who brought the idea to Common Council for approval and who served as chair of the program committee. Bassman also relayed the stories of select 'Hometown Heroes' 2018 honorees who were representative of the countless stories of heroism found throughout the inaugural group of 'Hometown Heroes'.
Two youngsters -- Max Hendrix of Brayton Elementary School and Abby Kane of Washington Elementary School -- read "Names of Value: A Poetry of Names," and :"Flanders Field," respectively -- before Bassman told the story of Summit's Robert Max and invited him to the stage to accept the 'Summit Memorial Day Veteran's Achievement Award' from Radest.
During the latter stages of World War II, Max was captured by the Nazis and forced into slave labor. His story of the horrors of captivity, his escape and prolonged convalescence has been immortalized for future generations in his memoir, "The Long March Home: An American Soldier's Life as a Nazi Slave Laborer."
Delia Hamlet of American Legion Post #322; Lori Hagerman, Beacon Fire Chapter, Daughters of the American Revolution; and Bonita Peacock, Elks Lodge #1246, then each placed commemorative wreaths prior to a 21-gun rifle salute from the Summit Police Department Honor Guard and the playing of "Taps."
The day's proceedings closed with the Hilltopper Marching Band delivering a stout version of the "Armed Forces Medley."