The Gold Star Mothers commemoration has been held the last Sunday in September since 1936, when a congressional resolution set aside the day to honor veterans of the First World War. The commemoration began with the lighting of luminaries in house windows around the country to honor the memory of fallen soldiers.
The Ridgewood ceremony began two years ago when Maria Bombace went with about a dozen other Blue Star Mothers, a volunteer and support group for parents with active duty children, to light candles in the park in an effort to bring awareness of military families’ sacrifices.
According to Bob Paoli, the commander of the local American Legion Post 53, 22 families in Ridgewood and 11 more in neighboring towns have children serving away from home.
“We have a volunteer service, so it’s very easy for a family who doesn’t have somebody in the military… It’s out of sight, out of mind,” Paoli said.
With the public commemoration in the middle of the downtown, he continued, “The significance is to remind people that there are people out there keeping us safe and sound, because they’re willing and love their country.”
The service has grown since the first two years ago, with the help of local Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts and Ridgewood High School club Project Interact in setting the candles that lined the paths and perimeter of the park.
Village Council members, Bergen County Executive Kathleen Donovan and hundreds of the public were in attendance for the solemn reading of 32 names of nearby service members killed in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The service came only only a week after news that Staff Sgt. Timothy McGill of Ramsey had been killed in combat in Afghanistan, the most recent of 152 lost from New Jersey in the last decade.
“It was grieving mothers extending their hands to one another that began this tradition,” Donovan noted in her brief remarks to the gathering.
"There are not enough words in the English language, or any other, to thank people for what they've given up so we can be here," she said.
For Blue Star Mothers, the tradition has taken on a deep significance. Marjorie Sietsma, of Wyckoff, whose son came home safe from Afghanistan only last month, remembered the 14 wakes she has attended with the group - and the fear of parents that moving forward their children’s sacrifices would not be remembered.
“Our goal is to never let them be forgotten,” she said. “This solidifies the fact that our country is standing behind us.”