Memorial Day Marks 150 Years of Remembrance in Denville

Memorial Day Marks 150 Years of Remembrance in Denville

By: Rick Mouzon

The 150th Annual Memorial Day Parade and Remembrance Service is scheduled to kick off at 11 a.m., on Mon. May 27.

This year, there is a major ceremony scheduled for the event. All three towns, Rockaway Borough, Rockaway Township, and Denville will assemble, on Beech and Main, in Rockaway Borough at 11 a.m. in commemoration of 150 years of celebration. One big parade will consist of three ceremonies as a joint effort, as Denville had begun its parade in the 1930s; Rockaway Township in the 1950s; and Rockaway Borough, the oldest, having begun its parade in 1869. This year, unlike past years, Denville and Rockaway Townships, and Rockaway Borough, will assemble as one. All three mayors are also scheduled to appear, at which there will be a speech commencement.

Jim Vialard, a Vietnam Veteran who is a longtime Denville VFW and American Legion member, will coordinate the event. “The intent is to return [the parade] to its original route,” says Vialard. “From Beech and Main Streets to the First Presbyterian Cemetery.” His wife, Phyllis, also a coordinator, has been involved with the Memorial Association for many years, serving Rockaway and Denville Townships and Rockaway Borough.  

Many Denville area residents, who fought and died in the American Revolution, are buried in First Presbyterian Cemetery. There are estimated to be 48 Revolutionary War veterans buried here. Revolutionary War Brigadier General William Winds, who directed armies alongside George Washington at the Battle of Monmouth (NJ), is buried at First Presbyterian—which also has a church that he himself founded and financed. Also, Stephen Jackson, a colonel in the U.S. Army, is buried in the cemetery, says Vialard.

Also at the cemetery are 20 veterans of the War of 1812; 135 Civil War veterans; 13 Spanish American War veterans; 87 World War I; and to date, 142 World War II vets. Also, 25 veterans of the Korean War; and 8 Vietnam War veterans. When asked why the committee feels to keep the tradition alive, Vialard stated, “It’s the history of the area…many who were from this area served—many made it out, while many others never made it back home; during the Civil War, they became POWs and contracted illnesses—smallpox, cholera, typhoid—and died of the illnesses. Those POW’s and others were buried in mass graves away from this area, while others are buried at Presbyterian.”

Vialard also has shown Memorial Association minutes from 1869 to date. There are also written journals of minutes from past American Legion and VFW meetings, such dating back to 1869. There also programs dating back from 1890, commencing through modern date. “These were men who served in all wars,” he says, “The Revolution, Spanish American, 1812, both world wars, Korea and Vietnam. These are actual signatures.” At this time, he further stated, a new generation of books is being added. Moreover, there is also a collection of pictures that were owned by a late Rockaway resident, who was a World War I veteran. “But the people in charge of [the veteran’s] estate would not surrender the pictures.”  

Tony Ramirez, a Rockaway Borough resident, is a U.S. Navy veteran also involved in the upcoming parade. He says that he is “involved in anything for the betterment of veterans.” Ramirez says further that he does not like the way Hollywood has glorified war; he feels that TV and film actors “put opinions out there that are too politicized”.

“No one thought of politics during service time,” Ramirez further stated, “Wartime or peacetime, we just did what needed to be done.”

Denville Township, known as the “Hub of Morris County”, was formed as a township in 1913, seceding from Rockaway Township. It is said to be named in honor of Daniel Denton, a purchaser of the Elizabethtown Tract in 1664, who led an expedition into the area of Northern New Jersey, while Rockaway Township was incorporated in April 1844 by an act of the New Jersey Legislature. Portions of the township were taken to form Rockaway Borough in 1844.  

Vialard shared a story with those gathered about John Logan, a young man from Illinois who became a congressman. He left his congressional seat to enter the Civil War. When he was in the south, he noticed the women decorating the graves of soldiers. When he returned to Illinois, he was instrumental in organizing the Grand Army of the Republic. The Grand Army of the Republic was the first veteran’s organization in the United States.

Vialard noted the many name changes that Memorial Day went through before it officially became known as the holiday. From “Decoration Day” to now Memorial Day, Logan had a plan that those who died serving the country would never be forgotten.

“John Logan had hoped that the day of remembrance and the day of paying tribute to the war dead would be a healing time for a nation torn apart. In his orders, he hoped that American’s would keep up with the tradition. I don’t think he has anything to worry about because here we are 150 years later,” she said.

The 150th Annual parade will return to its original route—from Beech and Main Streets, commencing to the First Presbyterian Cemetery, at which many veterans are laid to rest, as are POWs and local residents from the American Revolution.  “Many POWs are buried here,” Vialard stated, “Many died from various illnesses of the time.” Vialard comes from a family of veterans; his father was a Denville resident who served in the U.S. Army during World War II; his brother in the Navy during the Korean war, while his grandfather served in the Navy during World War I. Both the American Legion and VFW will participate in the parade, which will include surviving veterans of all wars.

There will also be a display of World War II cartoon drawings depicting American soldiers, as drawn by the late cartoonist and Pulitzer Prize winner Bill Mauldin, who served in the National Guard during World War II and was a sergeant of the 45th Infantry Division’s press corps. Mauldin’s drawings were viewed by soldiers throughout Europe during the war and published in the United States.  

The upcoming parade is said to be the first joint effort since 1930. The Rockaway, Marcella and Denville Borough Association was organized in 1869. The procession will commence to the Monument at the cemetery, at which a service will be held, followed by flag placement and paying homage to the war dead.


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