Grand Marshal Breslin: Lifelong Reverence for Memorial Day

by | May 25, 2024

Above: Col. Joanne Breslin, commander of the Varnum Continentals Militia and vice president of the Varnum House Museum. Submitted photo 

By Lillian Ranney

The grand marshal for this years’ Memorial Day parade is Joanne Breslin, a commander for Varnum Continentals Militia. Breslin has participated in numerous Memorial Day parades before, and is thrilled to enjoy “yet another perspective” of the event. In her words, the grand marshal of a parade (often a military person, local business person, or celebrity) “sets the tone” for the occasion. 

The Varnum Regiment is one of 13 historic militia groups in Rhode Island, and it is a chartered militia that dates back to 1775. The unit has not been in continuous operation but the charter was revised around the bicentennial in 1976. The regiment marches in honor of James Mitchell Varnum, who was a “brilliant jurist” and founded the Kentish Guard. In addition to being the commander for Varnum’s regiment, Breslin is the current vice president of the Varnum House Museum, located in downtown East Greenwich. She and others are working to make the house a “more viable and exciting place to go.” The house is a rich historical location, and according to Breslin, paints a complete picture of what colonial America was like. She is absolutely “blown away” by the amount of history present in East Greenwich and is extremely devoted to preserving and educating the community on it. 

Joanne Breslin in the yard of the Varnum House Museum.

When Joanne Breslin was young – “quite a long time ago,” she joked – before Memorial Day was a federal holiday (in 1971), she still observed the holiday – remembering the significance of the date but still “having a great time with family” by watching her local parade (in which her sister waved an American flag) as well as holding a BBQ. Her mother would always wear a cloth poppy in remembrance of the soldiers who gave their lives, and she would take a trip to the nearby military cemetery in her hometown of Chicago. 

“I was always really moved by the fact that people put themselves truly in harm’s way so we could feel safe,” she noted. “Memorial Day is as much of a celebration of life … and the freedoms that we have … as it is a remembrance of people that gave their lives.” 

After moving to Rhode Island about 35 years ago, Breslin said she found the quality and beauty of military tributes here was an “eye opener.” She happily noted that it was quite nice to know that people took the holiday experience seriously. The first time she saw East Greenwich’s Memorial Day Parade for the first time, she “stood there weeping” by the time a student recited the Gettysburg Address. After all these years in EG, “this is home, there is no doubt about it,” she said.

The East Greenwich Memorial Day Parade, on May 27 this year, steps off from Academy Field at 10 a.m. Closing ceremonies take place at Town Hall at around 10:40.

Lillian Ranney is finishing her freshman year at East Greenwich High School.

Value the news you get here on East Greenwich News? As a 501-c3, we depend on reader support. Become a sustaining (monthly) donor or make a one-time donation! Click on the Donate button below or send a check to EG News, 18 Prospect St., East Greenwich, RI 02818. Thanks.

Notify of

1 Comment
Newest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Bruce Mastracchio
Bruce Mastracchio
May 27, 2024 6:24 am

Congratulations to Colonel Breslin!


Newsletter Sign Up

* indicates required


Latest Streaming