PATERSON, NJ – The service of African Americans from Paterson and Passaic County, was held at Veterans Park at Hayden Heights on Thursday. Regardless of where or in what capacity those soldiers served, it was said, all risked, and many gave, life and limbs to protect our nation’s freedom, life, and liberty.
“Why are we here?” Tony Vancheri, president of the Paterson’s Veterans Council asked at the outset of the event. “We don’t need a special day, or week, or even a month to honor our brave men and women here at Veterans Memorial Park. Why? Because they are honored every day of the year at Veterans Memorial Park’s, ‘Hill of Heroes.’”
For Vancheri, who served as a combat medic with the US Army for four years in Vietnam it was important to point out that those who served around him, and in every war and conflict since the nation’s fight for independence, have been “brave men and women soldiers are from every nation, culture, religion, and every color.”
“That’s why we are here today to show solidarity, not with just Paterson but with all America. We must be all brothers and sisters if we are going to make America,” Vancheri continued, punctuating his point with an emphatic “the greatest country in the world.”
“And this is why we are at Veteran’s Park, to raise the Africa American flag together, as President Biden said, ‘We are all Americans.’”
Offering a bit of a lesson was Paterson historian Jimmy Richardson who, through meticulous research, has discovered the history of 18 African Americans from Passaic County that served in the Civil War. Richardson was also able to locate discharge papers for 11 of the soldiers, including those of George Walker and Robert Smalls.
“George Walker was originally from the same town, Beaufort, South Carolina, that Robert Smalls was from,” Richardson recounted. “Smalls was a slave, but 30 days after President Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Declaration, he enlisted in the Union Army. Smalls became the first African American in history to be the captain of a military boat which ferried ammunition and supplies.”
Richardson said that Smalls garnered national fame for his service, and believes that Walker and Smalls may very well have known each other because they were from the same town and both fought in the war.
Walker moved to Paterson at the conclusion of the conflict and lived at 52 Jersey Street until his death in 1881, at the age of 62. Walker is buried at Laurel Cemetery, in Totowa.
Richardson said that from historical records available, he can account that six of the 18 soldiers were originally from out of state and is unsure how many, besides Walker, resided in Paterson. 12 of the Army servicemen are buried in Laurel Grove Cemetery, in Totowa, four in Cedar Lawn Cemetery, in Paterson, and two in Holy Sepulchre Cemetery, in Totowa.
The red, green, and black striped banner was unfurled and triumphantly waved in the wind, courtesy of two Department of Public Works employees, Carlos Pieveschi and Stacy Ward. Pieveschi, stationed in a movable cup that was attached to a work truck, was lowered to the proper height and able to reach and secure the flag to the flagpole.
“The red of the African American flag represents the blood of soldiers that was shed, the black represents solidarity, and the green represents the wealth that is had by the continent of Africa,” Mayor Andre Sayeth stated to conclude the ceremony.