Honoring the service and the sacrifice
● By Steven Hoffman
The real reason for Memorial Day was on full display as the community came together to honor the service and sacrifice of U.S. military veterans during the Kennett Square Memorial Day Parade on Monday.
Large crowds waving American flags gathered along the parade route – Union Street, Cypress Street, North Broad Street, and State Street – to enjoy the parade of bands, military vehicles and community groups that stretched out for more than 95 minutes. The festive event led to a time of reflection about the real meaning of Memorial Day during a ceremony at the Union Hill Cemetery that included a speech by State Rep. Steve Barrar, himself a military veteran.
The parade featured everything from the Delaware Military Academy Band and the U.S. Naval Cadets to Revolutionary War and Civil War re-enactors, and marching bands from Kennett High School and Unionville High School. Veterans rode in antique convertibles or military vehicles.
“Thank you for your service” was a sentiment heard throughout the day.
“This is to honor all those who made the ultimate sacrifice and to remember all the vets who have passed on,” said Mike Pralle. Commander of VFW Post 5467.
Don and Mary Drinker, residents of Kennett Square, attended the parade to thank the veterans. Don was holding a “thank you” sign along the parade route. He said that he saw a little girl holding a similar sign during a Memorial Day event that was shown on PBS a day earlier, and he wanted to do the same.
Kennett Square's parade attracts a large crowd of spectators, and approximately 1,500 participants. Parade participants came from far and wide – The Joseph A. Ferko String Band of the Philadelphia Mummers, The Pipes & Drums of the Chester County Emerald Society, and the 1812 Maryland Militia Rifle Company Aisquith Sharp Shooters among them. There were Boy Scout troops, numerous fire companies, several martial arts academies and schools, and community groups such as Kennett Area Community Services and and Family Promise of Southern Chester County.
Thomas Nale III and Mario G. Lorenzut, both Korean War veterans, served as the grand marshals for this year’s parade. Ralph Doss and Raymond Natale were featured after being selected to serve as the grand marshals for the 2016 parade, which was rained out.
A light rain fell during part of this year’s parade.
“I was amazed. I didn’t think this many people would turn out because of the weather,” said James Armstrong, a past commander of American Legion – William W. Fahey Post 491 in Kennett Square. Armstrong served in the Army’s Second Armored Division from 1970 to 1972. His father, James C. Armstrong, who is now 91, served during World War II.
The Kennett Square American Legion and VFW Post led the ceremony at the Union Hill Cemetery, where Nale, Doss, and Natale took part in the wreath-laying. The names of military veterans from the area who passed away during the last two years were read, including Anthony DiFabio and Horace Brown, who were to be honored during the 2016 event.
The Kennett High School and Unionville High School bands performed the National Anthem.
Jim Mundell, the associate pastor of the West Grove Methodist Church, offered the prayer. Leon Spencer sang “God Bless America.” Bagpipers, the fife and drum corps, and the high school bands played a medley of patriotic songs.
While Memorial Day has become the unofficial start of summer, State Rep. Steve Barrar emphasized the need to remember the service of veterans, especially those who made the ultimate sacrifice. Barrar said that generations of Americans have been willing to serve to protect the freedoms that we all enjoy. He said he grew up during the Vietnam era, when the horrible details of the war were broadcast each night for Americans to see.
“War is sobering and harsh,” Barrar said, explaining that it's important to always remember military veterans and their sacrifices. “Serving our country is an honor,” he said.
The ceremony concluded with a trumpeter and a trombone player performing “Taps.”
Bill Taylor, the chairman of the Kennett Square Memorial Day Parade Committee, and the staff at Taylor Oil were lauded for their efforts to organize the parade. The Kennett Square Memorial Day parade dates back to World War II, and is now one of the largest Memorial Day parades in Chester County.