Remembering to Remember – A Hometown Day

Remembering to Remember – A Hometown Day

Journeys into Hackensack

After a couple of years of being apart, this year’s Memorial Day is bringing folks together for what is hoped is a more conventional and traditional day of observance.

The idea of what became today’s Memorial Day started in the aftermath of the Civil War, and at first was called Decoration Day. By the late 1860s, Americans in various towns and cities had begun holding springtime tributes to these countless fallen soldiers, decorating their graves with flowers and reciting prayers. It was named Decoration Day chosen because it wasn’t the anniversary of any particular battle.

It is unclear where exactly this tradition originated; numerous different communities may have independently initiated the memorial gatherings. And some records show that one of the earliest Memorial Day commemorations was organized by a group of formerly enslaved people in Charleston, South Carolina less than a month after the Confederacy surrendered in 1865. Nevertheless, in 1966 the federal government declared Waterloo, New York, the official birthplace of Memorial Day.

On the first Decoration Day, General James Garfield made a speech at Arlington National Cemetery, and 5,000 participants decorated the graves of the 20,000 Civil War soldiers buried there.

Many Northern states held similar commemorative events and reprised the tradition in subsequent years; by 1890 each one had made Decoration Day an official state holiday. Southern states, on the other hand, continued to honor the dead on separate days until after World War I.

Memorial Day, as Decoration Day gradually came to be known, originally honored only those lost while fighting in the Civil War. But during World War I the United States found itself embroiled in another major conflict, and the holiday evolved to commemorate American military personnel who died in all wars, including World War II, The Vietnam War, The Korean War and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

For decades, Memorial Day continued to be observed on May 30, the date General Logan had selected for the first Decoration Day. But in 1968, Congress passed the Uniform Monday Holiday Act, which established Memorial Day as the last Monday in May in order to create a three-day weekend for federal employees. The change went into effect in 1971. The same law also declared Memorial Day a federal holiday.

Locally, memorials and Memorial Day reflect this ambiguous history.

There is a Memorial Statue in Hackensack.

Erected in 1924 by the people of Hackensack in Memory of its soldiers and sailors who fought in the wars of the United States of America. The marker is located is on Court Street, in the center of the Green, just across from the Court House.

It is a sculpture by Charles Henry Niehaus is about eight feet high on a three foot base. The base itself is about four and one half feet in diameter.

There are a number of panels to specifically recall certain wars and those who perished in them:

- Revolutionary War panel: The first panel depicts Gen. George Washington leading his troops at the Battle of Monmouth.

- Civil War panel: The second panel shows Gen. Robert E. Lee surrendering to Gen. Ulysses S. Grant at Appomattox Court House.

- Spanish-American War panel: In the third panel, Col. Theodore Roosevelt leads the Rough Riders in the Battle of San Juan Hill.

- World War I panel: The last panel features a scene from what was then thought to be the War to end all Wars.

Elsewhere in town, there is also a Civil War memorial in the Hackensack Cemetery – dedicated “ TO THE PERPETUAL MEMORY OF THE DEFENDERS OF THE UNION 1861-1865”

We understand that past memorial observances were also at times observed at the U.S.S. Ling, World War II Sub located in the Hackensack River. But that all was stopped after the sub was closed in 2016 when its lease was terminated by Stephen Borg, former publisher of The Record. Earlier in the year, the Hackensack Planning Board approved Borg's plan to subdivide the nearly 20-acre site adjacent to the river-bound vessel into four lots for redevelopment. Through it all, Borg and city officials declined responsibility for the USS Ling, so over time the sub was vandalized and then flooded 2018 – rendering the landmark unusable and turning it into a salvage project.

On a more positive note, we were happy to read that all is not lost for this unique landmark that has become part of the soul of the local community for many.

According to a recent article at, The World War II-era submarine was announced as the area's sole entry on Preservation New Jersey's 10 Most Endangered Historic Places list for 2022. The nonprofit's annual list is designed to raise awareness of threats to the state's cultural and architectural heritage.

Though in the case of the USS Ling, the threats are significant and numerous (according to nonprofit officials), David Prieto, a Bergen County resident who is among those endeavoring to save the 312-foot submarine, said there is hope for its preservation.

"I do envision a future where the Ling remains where it is in Hackensack, integrated into the riverside," he said.

In the meantime on this Memorial Day of 2022 a ceremony is scheduled at the First Reformed Church, Hackensack starting at 11 am. The public is invited to join members of the Bergen County Historical Society in their annual wreath laying to honor Revolutionary War soldiers buried at the church on the Green. Rev. Everritt Zabriskie will to remember General Enoch Poor and other soldiers and veterans resting in the historic burial grounds.

As mentioned, above, the statue at the Green was built to recall the war from the Civil War through World War I. But our history and our hearts include subsequent wars and losses to be remembered as well.

So as we strive to get back to normal, many of us will pause to remember. In most cases we will have never met those honored. But they are part of us – the fabric of our community. As such they merit our attention and thanks in significant ways.

The ranks of our surviving veterans continues to thin out from its peak in the post World War II era. Nonetheless, pride is a strong sentiment among those present for the speeches and wreath laying ceremony

Perhaps in the midst of sun, fun and barbecue during the upcoming weekend return to social interaction, you will recall them all, what they sacrificed for us all, and perhaps say a prayer and a few words of thanks.

Photo acknowledgements and credit: Bill Coughlin (Hackensack War Memorial on the Green); Don Morfe (Civil War Memorial in the Hackensack Cemetery)