Memorial Day weekend. Time to fire up the grill if you haven’t already. Spring is coming to an end, the last frost is past and the gardens are going. And when I was a kid in Youngstown, we would make our way downtown to the Memorial Day Parade along what we then called Federal Street.
We usually found a place near the Home Savings and Loan building. The challenge was working your way in front of the tall people so you could see all the action.
Probably the most fun was to see and hear all the marching bands from the local high schools with the drum majors and majorettes twirling (and dropping) batons as they made their way down the street. There was lots of John Philips Sousa. Nothing says patriotism like his marches such as Stars and Stripes Forever.
There were the various veterans posts with men marching in their uniforms carrying American and veterans post flags. Of course this was fitting on a day when we honored the service of our military and those who died. Many of these were World War II and Korea veterans only fifteen to twenty years or so after these conflicts. My dad, who was an Army veteran from World War II would always stand a bit straighter, almost as if he was at attention. Maybe it was just pride.
Interspersed with these groups would be our local celebrities–the mayor and other local politicians riding in convertibles, and other local leaders. I always remember the pretty girls who would be perched on top of the back seats waving at the crowds.
As a small kid, it was always cool to see the police come by in both police cruisers and on motorcycles. And the fire department would always have at least one of their trucks in the parade sirens blaring.
There would be a mix of other groups as well. You would have dance groups dancing their way down Federal Street. There would be union locals with union officials in more convertibles, always carrying a sign with the local number and some slogan. There were ROTC units from Youngstown University and ethnic groups in costume
All this seems pretty tame fare by modern standards. But it was a great way to begin this day where we remembered those who served, and especially those who gave all for their country. Our patriotism was yet to be tempered by cynicism over our country’s involvement in Viet Nam. Our parents were members of “The Greatest Generation”.
We didn’t talk a great deal about those wars. Then as now, wars were terrible things and the most vivid memories were not ones easily revisited. But after the parade, we often went to a cemetery, to lay a wreath, to place a flag at a veteran’s grave, to remember. Years later, when my son was involved in Boy Scouts, his troop would place flags at all the graves of veterans at a local cemetery. When we finished, the place was abloom with flags. So many served.
But then it was often off to my grandparents until grandma passed in 1965. Cousins and uncles would be there for a big picnic in their big backyard. I remember how good the hot dogs were off the grill with relish and mustard. Then there was my grandmother’s potato salad. We topped off the day with the first fireworks of the summer at Idora Park. We’d often watch from Rocky Ridge, where we could see the fireworks over the trees.
School was almost finished for the year and Memorial Day got us thinking of all the fun things we liked to do in summer. Good memories of a simpler time.
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