May 22, 2024
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Memorial Day Event Models Honor and Respect

I was lucky to attend the Teaneck Memorial Day Service with my children. Held each year on the Township Green next to the library, the Memorial Day service commemorates the soldiers who have died defending our country. It was my second time attending such a service. Last year I attended the Veterans Day service and thought it was excellent. This was the first time I would bring my children to such an event.

Similar to the Veterans Day service, the event started with the Presentation of Colors by the Honor Guard of the Teaneck Police and Fire Departments. All stood respectfully and quietly as the Honor Guard carried the flags across the green. A number of veterans attended, many of whom were wearing uniforms from their time in the service. Despite many being advanced in age, they stood proudly in attention and saluted as the flags passed in front of them.

Next, a local Girl Scout group led everyone in saying the Pledge of Allegiance. I was pleased to see that most of us knew and joined in the recitation. The Teaneck High School Band played the National Anthem in the adjacent tent, and we in joined quietly.

Reverend Valerie Johnson, dean of students at Thomas Jefferson Middle School, led both the invocation and the benediction. Her remarks were nondenominational and she recited a simple prayer to give all of us strength to face the challenges of our day.

In fact, all of the speakers were excellent. John E. McGilchrist, Ltc. (Retired), who is the chairman of the Patriotic Observance Advisory Board, gave the opening and closing remarks. Mayor James Dunleavy spoke on behalf of the Town Council, followed by Larry Robertson, the town historian. Both Dunleavy and Robertson mentioned some Teaneck residents who had fallen. They spoke personally and with feeling.

Dunleavy brought up the story of a 19-year old former resident and daughter of a Vietnam veteran who insisted on serving in Desert Storm in 1991, saying that “I’m not going to let my best buddy go there alone.” Sadly, she died after stepping on a landmine, right after President George H.W. Bush declared a cease-fire.

Robertson, who has been speaking at these programs for the last 25 years, remarked that Memorial Day should not be just one day, it should be every day. He noted that many of us may be living in homes that used to belong to those who had fallen in prior American wars.

Keynote Speaker Jimmie L. Miller, retired commander of the U.S. Navy, picked up on Robertson’s theme. He started by “breaking protocol” (in his words), stepping away from behind the lectern to walk with the microphone closer to the crowd. He noted the presence of the veterans, saying they all felt that they were representing their fallen buddies. He noted that those who had survived the wars were fortunate to have gotten through near-miss episodes in battle.

Miller noted the song “Somebody Prayed for Me” and suggested that on Memorial Day we should all feel that “Somebody died for me” to allow us to live freely in this nation. He urged all of us to “put aside our petty differences and look around us at the event to see young and old, Black and White, Protestant, Catholic, Jewish and Muslim,” and see what we have in common.

The capstone of the event was the Gold Star List Roll Call, in which the Patriotic Observance Advisory Board recited the names of the fallen who were Teaneck residents. The event then closed with an upbeat rendition of “Taps” and “Bugler from the Band” by the Teaneck High School Band, followed by closing remarks and the benediction.

The event took just under an hour. I think my kids got the messages of the day and took in the sadness in a way that they could manage. They were really taken by seeing the veterans in attendance, saying to me in amazement and respect, “They are really veterans?”

I applaud Teaneck and its patriotic observance advisory board for organizing such an excellent event.


Ashrei Bayewitz is a long-time Teaneck resident and a member of Shaarei Tefillah.

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