They came here every year, although the meaning of the place became more significant this year, as each man stared vaguely passed the boulder with the plaque towards the vacant space just to their right where two towers stood up until three months ago.
For each aging veteran, the meaning of Dec. 7's became more focused again, as America forgot over the last sixty years what it means to be attacked on our home soil, and the tragedy that American soldiers have once more gone overseas to fight -- this time in a remote region called Afghanistan.
Bill Van Wie, a past commander, of American Legions 107, has attended every Pearl Harbor ceremony in Hoboken for 50 years. At 84, he still recalls his duty during World War Two in which he participated in seven landings, three of which were spearheads.
“A spearhead landing means we were the first to go in,” he said.
Born and raised in Hoboken, he remembered spending Christmas in Naples, Italy during a German bombardment, and how he helped rescue people from the attack.
Van Wie served under General George Patton and feels a strongly about supporting the American troops currently fighting in Afghanistan.
Tom Kennedy, commander of the American Legion 107, is a retired Hoboken Police officer, who served in the U.S. Marine Corps from 1953 to 1956. He said he was lucky. He was just entering boot camp when the Korean War ended.
Ceremonies on Dec. 7 honoring those victims of the Pearl Harbor attack started in 1947, although they were not always held near Pier A.
A boulder with a plaque honoring American Veterans was sent to Hoboken from France after World War I. This has become one of the symbols of veterans here, and veterans gather around it for this and other ceremonies.
“Every soldier that went to Europe in the First World War passed through Hoboken,” Kennedy said. “This is the reason why France honored us.”
A photo display is also posted near the boulder showing veterans of the past.
“Just before one of the last battles of the war, General Pershing told the troops that they would wind up in heaven, hell or Hoboken, when the battle was over,” Kennedy said.
He said the boulder took new meaning after Pearl Harbor, and indeed, has become even more symbolic of the nation’s debt to veterans with the events since the World Trade Center disaster. People gathered here at Pier A after the planes struck on Sept. 11.
Kennedy said the location of the boulder and the ceremonies at Pier A hold a special meaning for him, since he worked as a long shoreman here before becoming a police officer.
Then, even after the ceremony ceased, after the politicans vanished, after their duty was done, many of the men remained, staring for a time again at the space where the Twin Towers stood, as if in the haze of that twisted metal and crumbling buildings they could see the entire history of war, and the cost it had in lives.