I was sitting in my usual spot on Veterans Day. On the wall, corner of Greenwich Cemetery entrance, opposite Eldredge School.
My routine is always the same. Get there at 9:30 and pray and meditate til I sense the parade coming round the corner of Mawney. The routine has been in place since 2008. Before that I used to walk with the parade following the same route that my relatives, almost all gone now, followed since they came over in the late 1800s and settled here. Not blue-bloods or Yankees, but they weren’t thrown out of their country, like I say to the people who claim descendants from the Mayflower.
Then the parade started on the north end of town, forming up in the Bostitch parking lot, and, later on Division and Pierce, but heading south to stop at the War Memorial Stadium to place the wreaths, then across the street to Greenwich Cemetery, where one of the two winners of the Eldredge School recitation contest recited the Gettysburg Address. Then over to St. Patrick’s Cemetery to honor the Catholic dead before wending their way back on Main Street for the closing ceremonies, including another recitation of President Lincoln’s most famous speech. I came in third in the school contest and missed out being a recitee.
As I sat there this year I ruminated, and even mentioned to someone sitting nearby, as I am wont to do sometimes, that at one time I would know everyone who marched by in the parade, everyone who was watching the parade and most of the people who drove by before the parade. Now I know hardly anyone and,to me, in a way, it is sad. Sad to be a stranger in your own hometown.
The parade only goes one way now. People want the quick version of everything nowadays, I guess. Their food, their sports, their news, their entertainment. Going two ways, up and back, allowed the parade’s attendees to visit with one another during the interlude, maybe grab a bite to eat, and actually get another view of the marchers. They saw the left side of the columns as the parade headed south, then got to see the marchers on the right when they returned heading for the finish at the Town Hall.
Simple but brilliant.
Funny thing. I believe the guy who prompted the switch was a town boy, who went away to the service and when he came back he got involved in a lot of town activities and kind of took over a lot of them. Give him credit for his participation but just didn’t agree with everything he did. The changing of the parade route being one.
A few years later, I took over the parade and returned it to going both ways. One year on Memorial Day we had the largest parade ever seen here in East Greenwich for that day. It was so long it wound up on itself going up Friendship Street, with the front end coming back to having to stop til the tail got out of the way. We had Hooters girls, jugglers, dancers, horses, antique cars, all kinds of bands. I loved it.
Of course, this being EG, I did get one complaint. From a fireman, who was also a veteran, who said the parade was too “light-hearted” and frivolous for a Memorial Day parade. I told him the “dead” wouldn’t know and if the soldiers, sailors and Marines had been alive, they would have loved it. Especially the Marines! And especially, they would have loved the Hooters girls!
Anyway when I left to spend more time at my second home, the next group brought it back to one way. Such is life.
I never really liked marching in the parade. I had to as a Cub Scout and Boy Scout, and I did two times when I was chosen Grand Marshall ( though one of them I rode in a convertible throwing tootsie rolls to the kids ( a boyhood dream). As a kid, with some of my “bunch” I used to ride my bike alongside, but as I got older was content to follow it walking the sidewalk from the Post Office all the way to the Catholic cemetery and back to closing festivities. I could have marched as a Volunteer fireman, but the uniform they issued me didn’t fit, I didn’t have the extra money for alterations, so turned it in for someone else. I was content to watch them march.
Just as well.
I couldn’t walk it now anyway and am content to sit and watch the “new kids” and adults march. I would have to ride in a car like the old Spanish American War vet, who used to be a staple of the parade. He is gone now as is the discipline we showed when we marched as Boy Scouts. The older boys were sticklers and we were a sharp unit with matching outfits and in step. God were we in step. It was much looser yesterday and in about every parade I’ve watched over the last few years. Different time.
After the parade passed “my spot” and wound down, I would mount my “war pony” (read moped, almost motorcycle-heavy) and ride the back streets to the Town Hall to catch the speeches and gun salute and the rest of the ceremony. It had never been a problem. I even have a picture of me with one of the mounts, standing alongside praying during the invocation. Might ask the family to display it at my wake.
However lately, the “new boys” don’t allow anyone to come in from the north to go in front of the wall, so the last few I installed over to the side opposite the old New England telephone building. Didn’t like it much so now when the end of the parade comes I do a slow walk back to my car and go home.
I do miss the closing ceremony.
Besides the two parades in East Greenwich (Carl Hoyer and I discussed doing one for another day – Navy Day, The Fourth, or Marines Corps birthday), I used to take my family, then just my kids and then grandkids over to Bristol for their Fourth of July parade, and that was a nice tradition for awhile. But the adults tired of it and the kids grew and got other activities and ideas. I went alone for two years.
Now I watch it on television.
America is changing and not necessarily for the better but I still have hope. I went down to see my older grandson graduate from Officer Candidate School at Quantico, Va. He completed that course and earned his 2nd Lieutenant’s bars. Next he graduated from the Basic School, and is now at Camp LeJeune, N.C. going to Combat Engineers’ School.
Seeing him and the hundreds of competent young men who will be entrusted with the safety of this country – of you and me – gave me some basis for optimism. Now we need some competent leaders to lead them.
I have been in all 50 states and 25 foreign countries. Every time I come back to this country, this state, I thank God I was born here. That I am an American. I love this country. My government I am not always sure of.
But I am proud to be an American and it is these parades, Veterans’ Day, Memorial Day, Independence Day, that constantly renew my faith that we will survive what we are going through right now. That in those fresh scrubbed, marching scouts, high schoolers and the like that we will have some future leaders who will bring this country back. That our leaders on the local, state and national levels will help bring us back to doing what is right for America. What is right for Americans. That people who are coming here are coming so they can grab a piece of that American dream and not here to grab handouts to live off the system. That was not the original promise of this country.
I hope that all enjoy Veterans Day. I always say to veterans I meet: “God bless you. If you’ve been over, I hope you don’t have to go back. And, if you haven’t been, I hope you don’t have to go.”
May God Bless You all. And, God Bless America!
Bruce Mastracchio grew up in East Greenwich, where he experienced those 28-hour days and 8-day weeks that contained the magic that made his hometown so special. Included in all that were the numerous characters that added color to the local life and produced many of Bruce’s remarkable stories.