ARVADA, Colo. | Memorial Day parades are staging a comeback.
In the years after the Vietnam War, the number of parades dwindled as pride in the nation’s military and troops waned. Dozens of small towns saw their Memorial Day parades fold as enthusiasm dwindled and volunteer organizers became harder to find.
About a decade ago, with more troops serving in the Middle East, the parades suddenly became relevant again, especially to those with relatives and friends in the military.
“I think Memorial Day is really, hopefully, making a comeback,” said Tim Holbert, program director of the American Veterans Center, which presents the National Memorial Day Parade in Washington. “I think you’re really seeing it in this current generation. A lot of them have friends who have gone overseas, and a lot of these soldiers don’t look much older than high school students.”
In the Denver suburb of Arvada, nestled up against the Rocky Mountains, the Memorial Day parade is “a big deal,” said parade organizer Dave Shuker.
The event is called the Glen Close Memorial Day Parade, named for the Vietnam veteran and Purple Heart recipient who founded the parade in 1997.
Mr. Close launched the parade as patriotism and parades were starting to come back into vogue, and it showed. The parade lasts for hours and features about 150 groups, including the Westernaires, a performing horse troupe, and a 30-by-50-foot American flag, which takes about 40 people to carry down Marshall Street.
Every year, said Mr. Shuker, the crowds get larger and younger.
“There’s a lot of young ones, what with Iraq and Afghanistan troops starting to get involved,” said Mr. Shuker, commander of the Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 4331, which puts on the parade. “These guys coming back from the Middle East - there’s some pride there. There wasn’t any pride with the guys coming back from Vietnam.”
The Glen Close parade is among the nation’s newest Memorial Day parades. The oldest continuously running parade may be the Ironton-Lawrence County Memorial Day Parade in Ohio, which can trace its lineage to 1868.
Originally a procession of Civil War widows, the parade now boasts 12 divisions, nearly 2,000 participants and 30,000 onlookers.
The parade draws its crowds from throughout Southern Ohio, Kentucky and West Virginia. Many people plan their family and high school reunions around the parade, said parade committee member Lou Pyles.
Despite the festive atmosphere, she said, the committee keeps the parade’s focus on remembering those who served.
“It’s not about the beginning of summer. It’s not to honor a business or a baseball team. It’s about the sacrifices they made,” said Mrs. Pyles, who has served on the parade committee for 31 years. “Some came back, some didn’t, but they all made sacrifices.”
Even when other parades were fading, she said, the Ironton parade remained popular. The only recent difference is that there are more young people participating.
Ironton isn’t the only community to claim the mantle of “oldest Memorial Day parade.”
Other communities - including Portsmouth, Va.; Alton, Ill.; and Malvern, Pa. - say their parades are either the oldest or the oldest continuously running, but Mrs. Pyles isn’t buying it.
When it comes to the biggest parade, however, there’s no competition.
The Little Neck-Douglaston Memorial Day Parade in Queens, N.Y., advertises itself as the nation’s largest such parade, and it’s hard to argue with that.
“It’s New York. What do you expect?” said parade chairman James J. Rodgers.
The parade draws up to 80,000 spectators and includes more than 30,000 participants. The budget for the 2009 parade is between $85,000 and $95,000, which includes the stage, bleachers, banners, trophies and honoraria for the marchers.
Fundraising is a year-round activity for the parade committee, which is a private, nonprofit corporation.
“One reason we may have morphed into the largest parade is that the other parades in this area didn’t have the ability or weren’t able to raise the funds,” said Mr. Rodgers.
The parade has never had a shortage of spectators, he said, although there’s been an infusion of younger people in recent years. The parade committee also puts on an essay contest, a veterans’ assistance fund and a war-monument restoration effort.
When it comes to parade time, the focus is on those who served.
“It’s not about whether we’re the biggest. It’s all about paying homage to the men and women who served our country,” Mr. Rodgers said. “We take a little corner of Long Island and northeastern Queens and morph it into ‘Mayberry, RFD’ for a day.”
Valerie Richardson covers politics and the West from Denver. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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