2020 Basilone Motorcade a Success
By Bruce Doorly
As the scheduled date for the Basilone Parade approached it slowly and painfully became obvious that the parade would have to be cancelled due to Covid-19.

The parade had been held every year since its start almost forty years ago in 1981. But this year an event of that size was simply prohibited. So, the announcement was made that the parade, like most other annual events in the dreaded year 2020, would not happen.
But members of the parade committee, of which this author is a member, wanted to do something so that we would still honor John Basilone. Every year following the parade a ceremony is held at the Basilone Statue. Thus, several members of the committee voiced that we should still have that ceremony.

Raritan Librarian Mary Jane Paese noticed that a small motorcade of vehicles drove around Raritan to celebrate the graduation of the local high school seniors, perhaps we could try that. In addition, Parade committee member Joni McKelvey pointed out that Manville had just held a motorcade for Memorial Day that was quite successful.
Thus, the Parade Committee decided to meet to decide on a substitute for the parade. Most of our meetings were held outside in the garden at the Raritan Library. We all spread out on the many benches available there.

We came to the consensus that we would have a motorcade go through the town. That would be safe since each person/group would bring and stay in their own vehicle ensuring limited contact with others.

That motorcade would end at the Basilone Statue where a shorter version of our usual ceremony would be held. People there would be asked to social distance.
But would our idea for a motorcade/ceremony be fine with the town officials who at times must answer to higher authorities and comply with the ever-changing list of rules dealing with the coronavirus.

A few quick calls outlining our thoughts on the motorcade/ceremony went out to Mayor Zack Bray, Police Chief Ray Nolte and Fire Chief Brian Kredatus. Within just 15 minutes the Parade Committee had approval and was offered help with the motorcade. That sign as you come into Raritan that says Patriotic indeed rings true !
Setting up the motorcade would be a challenge. While the parade committee, through years of experience, has the logistics down pat to run a smooth regular parade, this year would be a whole new ballgame.

It would be a new type of lineup and a new route would be needed.
To add pizazz to the motorcade a good decision was made to have a brass band lead the way playing patriotic music from the back of a trailer.

The motorcade would move at regular parade speed - which is fast walking speed. (As those watching do not want the motorcade to zip right past them.) Also, some vehicles in the motorcade such as the band need to move slow.
A long wide street to line up the vehicles would need to be identified. Prospect Place by the Washington School Park, right off First Avenue, was found to be an ideal location.

The route would need to cover a good portion of the town, but still needed to finish in an hour (or so). After much deliberation and test drives a route of 4.5 miles was decided on.

Since we wanted to cover both halves of the town, North of 202 and South of 202, and finish at the Basilone Statue, it was necessary to start north of 202 since it would only be practical to cross the highway once.
The parade committee put out the word to the public about the motorcade. It would be held the same day and time as when the parade was scheduled, Sunday, September 20th at 1 PM.

For the motorcade we were asking for military vehicles and vehicles with military personnel in it. We told the public to watch from their lawn or at the closest location that the motorcade came by their house.
The parade committee realized that too many vehicles could be a major problem. For on the day of the motorcade the Raritan Police would be temporarily closing roads and letting vehicles through traffic lights similar to what is done for funerals. But we mistakenly thought that our problem would be too few vehicles as opposed to too many. Thus, in our communication sent out to the public by email, social media, and the local newspaper we were not organized enough to properly control the number of vehicles who wanted to take part.

Thus, as the date of the motorcade approached the reservations kept coming in. We first exceed 40, then 50, then 60, and even 70, and finally over 80. Panic set in. There would be more vehicles in the motorcade than the regular parade. Each day that week the police chief Ray Nolte was informed of the increase. He confidently reassured a nervous parade committee that they can handle it.
On the day of the motorcade it was an amazing site at the gathering point at Prospect Place. All sorts of military vehicles and decorated cars arrived. They just kept coming, all shapes and sizes with various patriotic designs.

One horse arrived - did anyone know it was coming? Then an old Civil War cannon on wheels showed up. There were many elected officials and veterans. Due to the large turnout the Raritan Police had to improvise their initial plan to move the motorcade safety and intact through the streets.
In case the motorcade in route became separated each vehicle was given a map of the route. Also signs with arrows were placed at the corners where turns were to be made. (You can never be too careful.)

Along the route many people were standing to cheer on the motorcade. Several houses were decorated in red, white, and blue.
A special location along the route was the property where Basilone House once stood. That is where the Shell Station is today, at the corner of First Avenue and Route 202.

We told everyone to sound their horns and sirens as they passed that location, and they did. On that spot was a banner with a photo of what the Basilone house looked like – it was knocked down in 1961. Several Basilone Family members and their friends were standing there waving to the motorcade. (Perhaps a plaque could someday be placed at that location, but that is a story for another article.)
The motorcade made its trek without incident through Raritan. It ended on Canal Street by the Basilone Statue.

Orderly parking for the many vehicles arriving for the ceremony was planned and executed flawlessly by Bill Cunningham.
As people got out of the vehicles for the ceremony there seemed to be a wonderful spirit in the air. For that uplifting patriotic event that we thought would not happen this year had indeed still happened, even if it was in a different way. The Covid-19 Grinch had not stolen our cherished holiday after all.

The ceremony was highlighted by a short speech about John Basilone, a wreath laying, a 21 gun salute, and the always emotional playing of taps.
Click to read Speech about Basilone that was given at ceremony
Everyone came together to make the best of a bad year, the Parade Committee, the Raritan Police, the Raritan Fire Department, and the Public Works Department. Thanks to all !
Click for Photos - all photos by Dawn Wilde
Photos at Ceremony at the Basilone Statue
Photos of People
Photos of Kids
Photos of Vehicles
Photos of Police and Fire
Photos of Groups
Photos Others Part 1
Photos Others Part 2