"MEMORIAL DAY PARADE"
From the time I was a child, I always loved the Memorial Day Parade. The parade went right by our house in Goshen, CT. It was formed at the grammar school just down the street. After it passed our house, it went about a half-mile to the town cemetery where a service was held. The parade then retraced its route back to the school.
At the front of the parade, the town leadership would walk behind the US and CT flag bearers. The first selectman (head of the town council), the town clerk, and whoever else they considered town leadership would walk in a group. My dad was the Tax Collector in town for as long as anyone in town could remember. Dad didn't go to the school for the start of the parade. Instead, since we lived on the route, Dad would wait at home on the front porch with us. When the parade got to our house, dad would join in. Dad was practical like that. No need to walk those extra steps. The majority of the townspeople were up near the rotary. Dad just didn't see the need in walking down to the school when he could catch it as they walked by. He was practical like that.
After the town leadership came the group of anyone from town who had been in or was currently in the military services. There would usually be 8 to 10 of them, in their "dress" uniform if they had such a thing. It seemed that there would only be a couple from each branch of the military, but they were cheered as they marched by. Both of my brothers were Air Force and would be wearing their blue uniforms when they were home on Memorial Day. The leader of the men and women of the armed forces was a guy in a white uniform wearing a visored hat with gold trim. For the life of me, I can't remember his name. We just referred to him as "THE COLONEL". His house was the only one in town that had an actual flag pole that flew the US Flag every day.
After the service folks came the WAMOGO Marching Band. WAMOGO was the name of the regional high school that served the towns of Warren, Morris, and Goshen. Pretty clever naming, right? *** I had to go check, and the team name is still the Warriors. I'm tickled that my varsity jacket is still valid. *** The band had sharp, beautiful uniforms - red and white - the school's colors. Of course, the marching band had to hit the parades of all three towns, and somehow those towns worked out the logistics so that the band could be at all three. When I marched in the band playing clarinet, I can remember the pride I felt being in such a great group. We didn't just march and play... We had routines like counter-marches where the band would reverse direction at a given signal while playing the Stars and Stripes Forever. We were DARN GOOD. I'm just sayin'....
Cub Scouts, Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts came next, each with their pack leaders, usually the parent of one of the kids whose role was to keep them earning badges and out of trouble. (More stories about scouting in the future).
A fife and drum corps came next. They were from another town that wasn't Warren, Morris, or Goshen. I have no idea why they were a part of the parade. Somehow we tolerated them since fife and drum is relatively patriotic. If I remember correctly, the clapping and cheering for them was nothing compared to the WAMOGO marching band.
The volunteer fire department had the final slot in the parade. The entire membership would turn out for the parade. That would be about 10 people with two others driving the town's two fire engines. One was a fancy "new truck" that was highly polished and had more knobs and gauges than a fighter jet. The other was a dingy old "tanker truck" that brought all the water they'd need (they hoped) to put out any fire in town.
My friends and I would have spent the previous day getting our bikes ready for the parade. We'd wash and wax them, mount American flags to the handlebars, and perform the ultimate decoration of running red, white, and blue crepe paper between the spokes of the front and back tires. We would ride near the firetruck and weave in and out with each other. We'd show off all of our biking skills. Those that could (and I was not one of them) would pop a wheelie and ride it as far as they could, hoping to get the applause of the people lining the streets.
All the townspeople would fall in and follow the parade as it passed, doubling the size of the parade as it entered the town cemetery. Every group had an assigned spot to stand at the cemetary. People would speak, poems would be read and the Gettysburg Address would be read by someone chosen by the town elders.
The one moment I remember vividly from every Memorial Day Ceremony was the moment when four of the military veterans would have snuck off to the tree line and would fire three shots each at the commands: "READY, AIM, FIRE". One member of the Wamogo band would blow TAPS, and if there was ever a moment that a tear came to the eyes of us all - it was that one. You wouldn't hear a sound. Nothing. Even the birds were quiet. In that moment we remembered and grieved the loss of every person who gave their life for our country. There were no divisions of townspeople that day. Especially at that moment. Even the very young were reverent of the sacrifices that have been made to secure our country. I remember my eyes tearing up year after year. There was something in the stillness that forced us to be present.
If I could have one wish it would be that every person living in this great country go back in time and experience the Memorial Day Parade in Goshen Connecticut the way that I did. Maybe. Just Maybe - everyone would be able to see every person here as a daughter and son of this great land. We would see that we're all family. We would appreciate the gifts that we have just to live together in this nation.
Then Maybe - Just Maybe - our Memorial Days could bring PEACE.