You may have seen the banners that donned Ridge Road last summer. Each had a photo of a veteran. Each explained the veteran’s military service and years. They were a powerful reminder of all the women and men from North Arlington who dedicated their lives to the service of the United States of America.
Unfortunately, last year, the banner program was curtailed thanks to COVID-19.
But that hasn’t stopped Councilwoman Donna Bocchino from bringing the banners back in 2021. In fact, she’s more determined than ever to make sure the 80 or so banners from 2020 are back up this season — and are joined by 80 or more new ones.
But how did this all come about? We’ve never seen anything like it — at least nearby.
It was all fate, Bocchino says.
“My daughter had a baby — she had the baby in October 2019,” Bocchino says. “So I was traveling between her home and Scranton. So I would take back roads. All of a sudden, I am stopped at a little red light and I see all these banners up. Everywhere. Every town I went into, there were these military banners. So I pulled over and I took a picture. And at that time, I was running for council.”
After grabbing the pics, Bocchino says she approached Mayor Daniel H. Pronti and said she loved the concept and wanted to bring them to North Arlington, irrespective of the election’s outcome in November 2019.
Fortunately, having been victorious, that point was moot — and Pronti concurred — it was a great concept both believed would look great along Ridge Road.
Fast forward to 2020. Bocchino was now on the council. She found a company in Florida called Military Tribute Banners. That company does nothing but the tribute banners like the ones she witnessed on the back roads of Pennsylvania.
She contacted the company — and the rest, as they say, is history.
“They seemed to be a smaller company but that’s all they do,” Bocchino says. “She sent me a sample for my first (council) meetings and boom, it was a hit.
The plan in 2020 was to display the banners from Memorial Day to either the 4th of July or maybe even Labor Day, depending on how well the banners held up with the elements. (They survived quite well, Bocchino reports.)
But then COVID-19 hit. And Bocchino says she and her colleagues couldn’t see asking people to sponsor the banners when so many were out of work, some were sick, the country in the midst of a pandemic, the likes this nation hadn’t seen in over a century.
So it was postponed. And rolled out in July for September display.
“I had said I hoped we’d get at least 30,” Bocchino says. “We got around 80.”
The banners were proudly displayed from around Labor Day in September until just following Veterans Day, Nov. 11. Because the display was truncated, those who got the 2020 banners were promised they’d be up again in 2021 — as they will be — in addition to anyone else who chooses to buy one for the new season of display.
They’ll be up for Memorial Day — where Bocchino says she hopes there will be a parade in 2021, unlike last year — and they’ll remain on display at least through the 4th of July, perhaps longer.
Once the display is over, the banners will be given to their sponsors as a keepsake. And then the process will start over, again, in 2022.
For those who might want to sponsor a banner, but who have no one in the family who was in the military, Bocchino will be able to match those people up with someone who wants to have a loved one memorialized on a banner, but who mightn’t be able to afford the $150 cost.
Anyone may sponsor the banners, for that matter.
Remembering ‘Pete the Marine’
Bocchino recalls Peter Patti, known affectionately as “Pete the Marine,” a longtime North Arlington resident. Pete loved NA, loved the Marines, and Bocchino and Pronti wanted to include him with the banner program in 2020.
Last summer, Bocchino went to Pete’s apartment, and the local GOP club sponsored his banner. She gathered his military photo and other pertinent information.
“He was crying,” Bocchino recalls.
When the banners were ready, the borough’s Department of Public Works hung Pete’s banner right in front of his apartment building on Ridge Road.
“It was just incredible,” Bocchino, seen with Pete in a photo under his banner, says.
Unfortunately, just weeks thereafter, Pete died from complications caused by COVID-19.
As such, in 2021, Pete’s banner will be displayed prominently in front of Borough Hall as a fine tribute to a fine man who sacrificed so much.
And that’s what this program is all about — honoring as many as possible, with a North Arlington connection, who have served (those living and deceased) and those current in service anywhere in the world.
In 2020, it brought such joy to a community reeling from a pandemic.
And it’s hoped the same will happen this year.
And, after NA’s displays of 2020, officials in East Rutherford and Lyndhurst have contacted Bocchino for help on developing similar programs.
“I hope we eventually shoot all the way up Ridge Road,” Bocchino says.
And if the reception in 2021 is anywhere near what it was last year, it may as well go from Ridge Road to Kearny Avenue to Frank E. Rodgers Boulevard and beyond.
Interested in a banner for someone you know? Want to sponsor one? Visit www.northarlington.org. Scroll down and click on Military Banner Tribute Banner and follow the instructions therein. You may also visit www.militarytributebanners.org and then click on “Current Programs — North Arlington.” For additional details, send Bocchino an email at firstname.lastname@example.org. The deadline for competing banners is April 1, so don’t delay — check it all out today.
Learn more about the writer ...
Kevin A. Canessa Jr. is the editor of and broadcaster at The Observer, a place where he has served on and off since 2006. He is responsible for the editorial content of the newspaper and website, the production of the e-Newspaper, writing several stories per week (including the weekly editorial), conducting live broadcasts on Facebook Live, including a weekly recap of the news — and much more behind the scenes. Between 2006 and 2008, he introduced the newspaper to its first-ever blog — which included podcasts, audio and video. Originally from Jersey City, Kevin lived in Kearny until 2004, lived in Port St. Lucie. Florida, for four years until February 2016 and in March of that year, he moved back to West Hudson to return to The Observer full time. Click Here to send Kevin an email.