GR commemorates Memorial Day with moving ceremony

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GLEN RIDGE, NJ — Glen Ridge’s annual Memorial Day parade couldn’t make its way down Ridgewood Avenue this year because of the COVID-19 pandemic and the resulting stay-at-home orders, but that didn’t stop the borough. A livestreamed ceremony from Glen Ridge Congregational Church was followed by the Glen Ridge High School marching band’s virtual parade, a video posted shortly after.

“Please keep in mind that many of those who we are here to remember once lived in the same houses where we now live,” Glen Ridge Kiwanis Club member Jim O’Grady said at the ceremony. “Their children played on the same fields and attended the same schools as our children do today. The people we are here to remember paid the ultimate price in service to our country. We honor them each year on this day so that they will not be forgotten.”

Mackenzie Johnson sang the national anthem and the Rev. Jeff Mansfield offered a benediction before Mayor Stuart Patrick spoke at the ceremony.

“Although the service members we honor today came from all walks of life, they shared several fundamental qualities,” he said. “Courage, pride, determination, selflessness, dedication to duty and integrity — all the qualities needed to serve a cause larger than oneself. Many of them didn’t ask to leave their homes to fight. Many didn’t even volunteer. They didn’t go to war because they loved fighting. They were called to something bigger than themselves. They were ordinary people who responded in extraordinary ways.”

Patrick explained that Memorial Day, which was originally called Decoration Day, came out of the Civil War.

“The war’s unprecedented carnage and destruction was on a scale not even imagined years earlier,” he said. “It changed America’s view of war forever. Although there are different versions of how Memorial Day began, one story goes that grieving families, both northern and southern, began decorating the graves of their lost soldiers with flowers and wreaths.”

In the mostly empty church, Patrick acknowledged the war of a different type that’s being fought now: coronavirus.

“Our observance of Memorial Day 2020 would not be complete without noting that today, we are once again engaged in a great global war against an extremely deadly, invisible enemy,” he said. “In only five to six months, this enemy has killed over 97,000 people and harmed more than 1.6 million others just in the United States alone, bringing our economy to a virtual halt. This battle is not being fought by our men and women in uniform, but rather by civilian first responders who share all the qualities of the service members we honor today. As we pay homage to our service members, let us also pay equal homage to our first responders who are sacrificing their lives, health and well-being, and serving a cause greater than themselves.”

O’Grady read the names of the 47 Glen Ridge residents who lost their lives in combat, and, after Andrew Dick played taps, four wreaths were placed in front of the memorials by the Glen Ridge Public Library and Ridgewood Avenue School.

Garrison Huddleston, a GRHS senior and the marching band’s drum major, introduced the virtual parade that was posted on the Facebook page. The 20-minute long video showed parades past, the GRHS band marching up and down Ridgewood Avenue and playing the music they normally would.

“We’ve decided to do the next best thing and share video performances with you,” Huddleston said. “The work on these recordings is meant to honor the residents of Glen Ridge who have died in military conflicts, and in particular this year, to celebrate the strong, resilient and caring community that is Glen Ridge.”

Photos by Amanda Valentovic

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