Jersey City residents Steven Fulop, Jaime Vazquez and Carmine Varano can all call themselves veterans - and they've all got interesting history to share.
Varano spent four years as an Army medic in the fields of northern France and Germany during World War II.
Vazquez was a teenage Marine in the late 1960s in the jungles of Vietnam.
Fulop, a current councilman and rising political star, was a Marine who entered Iraq in 2003.
As Veterans Day (technically Nov. 11) approached, the three talked about the struggles of veterans today, and about an upcoming ceremony to honor them.A primer on Veterans Day
Veterans Day is an American holiday once known as Armistice Day or Remembrance Day, always falling on Nov. 11. That day - the 11th day of the 11th month - is the anniversary of the signing of the Armistice that ended World War I.
On the Veterans Administration website, it explains, "Veterans Day does not include an apostrophe ... because it is not a day that 'belongs' to veterans; it is a day for honoring all veterans."
Armistice Day was changed to Veterans Day in 1954. Then-President and four-star Army general Dwight D. Eisenhower stated, "On that day, let us solemnly remember the sacrifices of all those who fought so valiantly, on the seas, in the air, and on foreign shores, to preserve our heritage of freedom, and let us reconsecrate ourselves to the task of promoting an enduring peace so that their efforts shall not have been in vain."
This Veterans Day, since it falls on Sunday, will be observed this Monday. Remembering David
Vazquez last week was planning a Veterans Day ceremony to take place on Monday.
It will be held at the Heights Vietnam Veterans Memorial Community Center in Pershing Field, in the Jersey City Heights section of the city.
This ceremony will be special in that it will be a tribute to the life of Vazquez's best friend and fellow Vietnam War veteran David Cline, who recently passed away.
Cline, who became an anti-war activist, knew Vazquez since the mid-1970s.
Cline, a native of Buffalo, N.Y. who settled in Jersey City in the 1970s, had served in Vietnam in the U.S Army in the 35th Infantry Division from 1967 until 1969.
Cline was left disabled from wounds suffered in Vietnam, but he went on to work for many years as a postal worker and was a union representative.
He headed the Jersey City Vietnam Veterans Memorial Committee, which in 1998 got the community center in Pershing Field renamed. He also led the city's largest Memorial Day ceremonies.
Cline was also a member of the Vietnam Veterans against the War since the 1970s and was president of the organization Veterans for Peace for six years.
Vazquez said the ceremony, which will take place at 2 p.m., will include the dedication of a metal plaque with two photos of Cline to be placed on the north wall of the community center.
It is for Vazquez a fitting tribute to a man that he said was not without admirers.
"David was the most generous man I ever knew, and he touched everyone he ever met," Vazquez said. "We were all beneficiaries of his kindness and his death; it's not only a loss to our city, but a loss to our country."
Vazquez also remembers a man who would keep his commitments to his fellow veterans even if at the risk of his health.
"I had spoken to him few weeks before he died, and he said had some fluid that was accumulating in his body," Vazquez said. "I told him he had to get lots of rest, and next I know he's traveling to the Veterans for Peace convention in St. Louis."
But Vazquez said even though his best friend may have passed away, he doesn't believe Cline is really gone.
"You only die when someone forgets about you," Vazquez said. "And I expect to see a lot of people at this tribute." Being veterans on Veterans Day
Carmine Varano was honored Wednesday morning as one of 20 military veterans who had graduated from Emerson High School in Union City.
The 85-year old Varano lives in the Muhlenberg Gardens, a senior citizen apartment complex in Jersey City Heights.
There, Varano keeps a sizable collection of audio tapes with recording of Big Band music, a scrapbook of newspaper clips from 30 years ago about getting a harmful solution known as "camphorated oil" taken off the shelves of pharmacies, and most importantly, the nine medals he earned during World War II.
They include a Bronze Star (awarded for bravery, acts of merit or meritorious service on the battlefield), and a Silver Star (awarded in action against an enemy).
Varano said while he appreciates being honored by his alma mater, he still thinks war veterans are for the most part forgotten.
"I wonder if the politicians really respect us, rather than worry about their political lives," Varano said. "They never have enough money to help us, yet President Bush is always saying what a great job we did in serving this country." Less respect
Vazquez also echoed Varano's sentiment, especially as Director of Veterans Affairs for the city of Jersey City. Vazquez helps local veterans get their benefits from the Veterans Administration.
Vazquez remembers a time when there was the annual Veterans Day parade in Jersey City that ran from the Abraham Lincoln statue in Lincoln Park to Journal Square.
Vazquez also remembers the respect accorded to veterans, recalling his father serving as a 25-year Army veteran in World War II and the Korean War.
"We don't even have a parade anymore, and there was a time when you would see thousands of veterans like it was the Macy's Thanksgiving parade," Vazquez said.
"In my opinion, veterans are not as respected as they once were, and now we're losing them by the thousands."
A study released last week by the National Alliance to End Homelessness estimated New Jersey has more than 6,500 homeless veterans, or nearly 2 percent of its overall veterans population.
Vazquez said based on his research, up to 1,500 World War II veterans die every day, although the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs has it at 1,100 veterans.
He said, "When they die, a piece of us dies with them."
Fulop said growing up in Edison, N.J., Veterans Day was just "a day where you just spent a few minutes thinking about the veterans and then you went on with the rest of the day."
But that changed when he joined the Marines in 2001 just after 9/11. Fulop served as part of the 6th Engineer Support Battalion in the early days of the occupation of Iraq. After he returned to the United States in July 2003, he has made a point to meet with his fellow soldiers every year around Veterans Day.
"You definitely gained an appreciation for Veterans Day once you have served, and especially when you serve with people who become like your family," Fulop said. "Especially now when we don't see each other as often, and when many of the guys I served with are being deployed for a second or third tour back to Iraq." Comments on the story can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org