MORRIS PLAINS – The pouring rain and wind chills in the 1930s were not enough to dampen the patriotic spirit that summoned large audiences for the borough’s annual Memorial Day ceremony at Robert’s Garden.
The pandemic ended the ceremony and the county’s largest Memorial Day weekend parade in 2020, but the parade committee did not allow time to call for a second year.
“We made the decision to go ahead despite the rain,” said parade chairman Steve Welsh. “We’re not going to have as high a turnout from groups as we wanted. But it will still be representative representation.”
“A little rain is a small sacrifice for the sacrifice our men and women have made to us,” said Mayor Jason Karr. “That’s what it is. We’ll improvise, we’ll get through it, and we’ll have the best time we can.”
Karr has taken over the hosting duties from former mayor and parade founder Frank Druetzler, who was appointed Grand Marshal on short notice in 2019 after his retirement.
Using Druetzler’s famous line, “It never rains in Morris Plains,” Karr insisted that it “never rains in Morris Plains. It just rains on Morris Plains today.”
Druetzler’s turn as Grand Marshal was facilitated by Alice McGreevy, owner of the popular Arthur’s Tavern, who had earlier been named Grand Marshal for 2019, but agreed to lead the 2020 parade instead.
McGreevy’s turn was delayed for a second year by the pandemic, and she attended this year’s rain-drenched parade as she recovered from surgery. Instead, she watched the parade from inside her tavern, across from the train station on Speedwell Avenue, where the parade grandstand is erected every year.
Her spot in the reduced parade was taken by her daughter, Alyse Moore-Puentes, and grandchildren, Daniel, 8, and Ava, 6.
“We’re very excited and ready to go,” Moore-Puente said, snuggling with her children under plastic sheeting in a white horse drawn carriage.
The scaled-down 40-minute parade featured just a few marching bands, including the Palisades Park Fire Department Band and Morristown High School Colonials, as well as the borough’s usual lineup of fire trucks, ambulances and classic cars. .
Only one group of young people walked. Shunned last year for its 90th birthday, Boy Scout Troop 39 carried a banner proclaiming “over 90 years” of scouting in the borough.
The ceremony at Robert’s Garden followed its traditional course, despite waves of heavy rain.
Jay Webber, MP for District 26 and resident of Morris Plains, beamed with pride for his neighbors who braved the storm to honor the nation’s heroes.
“What a magnificent performance,” he said. “It’s a tradition in town that we missed last year. Bringing out a few hundred people in the pouring rain to remember our dead is just a tribute to the community we have.”
Some have gone out out of habit, including Preethi Ganapathy and her 5-year-old son Jayenth, who live across from Robert’s garden.
“I know it rains and it rains, but we like to keep traditions,” she said.
Others come from family obligations.
“My daughter is part of the group,” said Joe Stavisky, a resident of the borough.
Featured speaker, VFW Post 3401 Chaplain Plummer Williams, was scheduled for release last year but was suffering an eight-week recovery in hospital due to COVID complications when the ceremony was called off.
“Today we honor these no matter where they fall on the spectrum of color, gender or religion,” said Williams. “No war in human history has really solved anything. We are all children of God, and it’s time to put aside the foolishness we call war.”
Other speakers included Representative Mikie Sherrill of Montclair, which represents the 11th Congressional District which spans most of Morris County.
“On such a horrible day, it is a wonderful tribute to all the men and women who gave their lives in the service of our country,” said Sherrill, a Navy veteran, who was scheduled to attend another holiday event later that day at Veteran’s Field Memorial Park in Hopatcong.
Governor Murphy honors deceased veterans
Elsewhere in New Jersey, as Memorial Day weekend started out cold and wet, Governor Phil Murphy, speaking at a ceremony in Wrightstown, reminded listeners of the sacrifices the National Day is meant to honor.
Celebrations are welcome after “all we’ve been through in the past 15 months,” said Murphy, “but let’s never forget the true meaning of Memorial Day. It’s not a party. This is a commemoration. Our celebration is in the lives, memories and service of those we remember. Without this – and without their sacrifice and that of their families – we would not have a nation.
Col. Lisa Hou, a doctor Murphy appointed last October as commissioner of the State Department of Military and Veterans Affairs, also acknowledged the many veterans who died during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Join me to remember… [the] soldiers, sailors, Marines, airmen and coast guards who survived bullets and bombs in places like Korea and the Mekong Delta to be taken by a microscopic enemy, ”she said . “We mourn them and say prayers for their families.”
Hou was appointed to lead the department in a jolt after 156 residents and two staff died from confirmed COVID-19 infection at New Jersey veterans homes in Paramus, Menlo Park and Vineland. Another 47 “probable” deaths in homes have been attributed to the virus. After Medicare inspectors found lax infection control practices and other failures, the state attorney general’s office launched an investigation.
Murphy and Hou, joined by U.S. Representative Andy Kim, a Democrat representing the 3rd District of New Jersey, spoke during a service at Brigadier General William C. Doyle Memorial Cemetery in Burlington County.
Lindy Washburn contributed to this report.
William Westhoven is a local reporter for DailyRecord.com. For unlimited access to the most important news from your local community, please subscribe or activate your digital account today.