Grand Old Flags Fly in Clifton

On Memorial Day, Flag Day, Independence Day, the September 11 anniversary and Veterans Day, volunteers plant flags on the lawns of Clifton's sprawling municipal complex, each bearing a nameplate identifying a local vet, living or deceased.

A sea of flags unfurls on Flag Day at Clifton’s municipal complex.
A sea of flags unfurls on Flag Day at Clifton’s municipal complex.
Photo by Erik Rank

Clifton salutes its military veterans by raising a flag to them—2,057 flags, at last count.

On Memorial Day, Flag Day, Independence Day, the September 11 anniversary and Veterans Day, volunteers arrive before dawn to plant poles in neat rows on the lawns of the city’s sprawling municipal complex. Each pole bears the Stars and Stripes and a nameplate identifying a Clifton vet, living or deceased.

The flags fly till dusk, an inspiring sea of red, white and blue.

The Avenue of Flags, brainchild of a local World War II sailor, started with 200 flags in 2002. Most flags are sponsored by family members or friends of veterans; about 10 percent are funded by grants. Joe Tuzzolino, a Vietnam War-era Marine and retired Clifton cop, bought the 10th flag, in his own name. His flag is in a spot near police headquarters and grouped with those of his father, brother and other relatives who served in the armed forces.

Local volunteers install 2,057 American flags five times a year on Clifton’s Avenue of Flags. Each honors a hometown veteran.

Local volunteers install 2,057 American flags five times a year on Clifton’s Avenue of Flags. Each honors a hometown veteran. Photo by Erik Rank

“It’s an honor to be represented but an even bigger honor to be among all these people,” says Tuzzolino, 68, a volunteer for the nonprofit that organizes the project.

The one-time $110 charge covers the flag, pole, nameplate and replacement of the flag when it becomes worn. The Avenue’s greatest growth occurred this year, when a grant from Passaic County funded the purchase of flags in honor of 175 veterans whose names are etched on the city’s war memorial. Those flew for the first time, fittingly, on Memorial Day.

The Navy’s Joseph Sperling, Clifton’s only Pearl Harbor casualty, is remembered on the Avenue of Flags. So is the Air Force’s John Samra, the only Clifton police officer to die in the line of duty.

Joining those two heroes this past Flag Day was Celia Renee Murray, a retired Army nurse who moved to town last year from Virginia to be near her daughter and grandchildren. When she first beheld the Avenue, she decided then and there that she wanted a flag, too.

“Here’s a community that says to veterans, ‘We support you 100 percent,’ ” the 60-year-old Murray says of Clifton’s display of patriotism. “It takes your breath away.”

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