Wildwoods plan new patriotic festival for Memorial Day weekend

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PHILADELPHIA — The Wildwoods will host a new patriotic-themed festival over the Memorial Day weekend, the resort announced Tuesday from the birthplace of American democracy.

A Celebration of Heroes, from May 25 to 27, will be dedicated to military veterans and first responders. It will feature a military parade, a USO-themed variety show and a recognition ceremony at the city’s Vietnam War Memorial.

Wildwoods officials and business leaders announced plans for the festival at the National Constitution Center across from Independence Hall.

“There are people who are out there protecting our rights every day. This is an opportunity to show our gratitude back to them,” said John Siciliano, director of the Greater Wildwoods Tourism Improvement and Development Authority.

The city is billing the event as the nation’s largest Memorial Day tribute outside Washington, D.C.

Singer Bobby Rydell, whose crooning of “Wildwood Days” is the unofficial soundtrack of the Wildwood Boardwalk, is scheduled to perform along with the emcee, comedian and New Jersey native Joe Piscopo.

Piscopo, who said he has been coming to Wildwood all his life, worked the crowd Tuesday and poked gentle fun at festival organizers.

“This is so Jersey. You have to go to Philly to get the word out. We get no respect, no respect at all,” he joked. “Where is the press conference? Wildwood? No, Philadelphia.”

New Jersey is a regular target of some comedians, including New Jersey natives Jon Stewart, Jay Mohr and Bill Maher. Piscopo said it’s OK when New Jersey comics make light of their home state.

“If you’re from Jersey, you can make jokes about Jersey,” he said. “It’s the same with Italian jokes. If you’re Italian, you can get away with it.”

Several Cape May County veterans, public officials and celebrities attended Tuesday, including two-time Stanley Cup winner Bernie Parent, who has a home on Lake Avenue in Wildwood. Parent is a former goaltender for the Philadelphia Flyers.

The National Constitution Center is paying tribute this month to another South Jersey native, singer Bruce Springsteen, who grew up in Monmouth County’s Freehold.

Wildwood Mayor Ernie Troiano thanked the people of Philadelphia for supporting his city’s local summer economy.

“Kids come down and renew old friendships. You talk about kickball, stickball, dimpleball, wallball, stepball,” he said of traditional street games. “You’re talking Philadelphia. Why is this (news conference) being done in Philadelphia? It’s a natural. We come up here just to get a sandwich.”

The festival will begin May 25 with a motorcycle caravan. That Saturday, the resort will host family events including beach volleyball, soccer and other games with live music and food at Fox Park.

On Sunday, the resort will host a military parade with participants from bases in New Jersey, Delaware and Pennsylvania.

The island’s hotels, restaurants and attractions will offer discounted rates to police, firefighters and paramedics, and current and former members of the military.

The Greater Wildwoods Convention Center is already home to the annual New Jersey State Firemen’s Convention, which draws thousands of first responders to the island every fall.

Organizers said the new festival has the endorsement of First Lady Michelle Obama, who is leading a program called “Joining Forces” that helps veterans and their families as they resume civilian life.

Joyce Raezer, director of the National Military Family Association, said the sacrifices of military families often go unrecognized in their communities.

“Military families don’t wear uniforms. That military mom might belong to your church. Military kids play on the same soccer and baseball teams with your kids,” she said.

She thanked event organizers Tuesday on behalf of the families who are expected to attend in May.