Honoring the war dead: Florence resumes its parade after 2-year hiatus

  • Jeff Findlay and Liam Keefe get the American Legion flag ready for the Memorial Day parade in Florence Monday morning, May 30, 2022. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Bob Mimitz, dressed as Uncle Sam, during the Memorial Day parade in Florence Monday morning, May 30, 2022. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Gene Tacy, the president of the veterans council in Northampton, salutes while holding his granddaughter Dalilah Tacy during a ceremony after the Memorial Day parade in Florence, Monday morning, May 30, 2022. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • John McGough speaks during the Memorial Day ceremony held after the parade in Florence, Monday morning, May 30, 2022. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Mia Lindahn, a Girl Scout from Florence, places flowers on the graves of veterans as part of the Memorial Day ceremony held after the parade in Florence, Monday morning, May 30, 2022. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Matt Fydenkevez throws candy as part of the Polish Heritage float in the Memorial Day parade in Florence Monday morning, May 30, 2022. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Daniel Radu rests as taps is played by Ava Madden and Evan Yurko, members of the Northampton High School wind ensemble, at a ceremony held after the Memorial Day parade in Florence, Monday morning. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Hadley Patrick,6, watches as the Memorial day parade goes by in Florence Monday morning, May 30, 2022. —STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

Staff Writer
Published: 5/30/2022 7:37:02 PM
Modified: 5/30/2022 7:35:01 PM

FLORENCE — Squinting into the sun and jumping up and down on the hot pavement on Monday, Jaedyn MacBrown knew exactly why she was at the 154th annual Memorial Day parade.

“For candy!” she said. Which kind? “Lollipops!”

The parade was the first since the COVID-19 pandemic shut down large gatherings in 2020 and 2021. But event organizers — proud of saying theirs is the oldest continuously run Memorial Day parade in the country — noted that during those two years they still pulled parade permits and held a small parade.

“Everyone in this village and in this community should be proud of themselves,” said Thomas Pease, the president of the Veterans Council of Northampton.

Memorial Day dates back, officially anyway, to Union General John Logan, who in 1868 issued an order calling for a national day of remembrance for those who died in the Civil War. And since then, the village of Florence has held its parade to honor war dead.

As in years past, the event was a patriotic show, with American flags waving and brass instruments ringing out across Main Street as the Florence Community Band made its way past the hundreds gathered for the event.

Many of the children lining the street flocked to Bob Mimitz, who rode a two-wheeled, self-balancing scooter dressed as Uncle Sam, handing out pieces of candy one at a time to those reaching up to him.

“We’re here just to celebrate Memorial Day and our veterans,” said Caroline Ziezulewicz, who said her family would come every year until the pandemic closed things down. They were very excited to be back this year, she said.

Temperatures climbed into the 80s as many of the city’s elected leaders, veteran leadership, police, firefighters and community members gathered at the Park Street Cemetery for reverent speeches about the United States military and those who died in the country’s many wars.

Pease said the day was about “all our fallen comrades,” who fought in wars “so that we may enjoy the freedoms they no longer have.”

In his 1868 order declaring Memorial Day, Logan said the day was meant for those comrades who died defending their country against the rebellion of the Confederacy.

“What can aid more to assure this result than by cherishing tenderly the memory of our heroic dead who made their breasts a barricade between our country and its foes?” Logan wrote. “Their soldier lives were the reveille of freedom to a race in chains and their deaths the tattoo of rebellious tyranny in arms. We should guard their graves with sacred vigilance.”

Historian John McGough, though, focused his speech on the local young people, including one boy of 16 who died in the Spanish-American War of 1898, when the U.S. military invaded Cuba, defeated the Spanish army, took control of Cuba, then annexed and made into colonies Puerto Rico, Guam and the Philippines.

McGough read off the names of the Florence and Northampton troops who died during that invasion, wearing the same military uniform they would have worn back in those days.

The ceremony included music from the Northampton High School Wind Ensemble, the JFK Middle School choral group the JFKeyes and speeches from veteran leaders from across the region.

Dusty Christensen can be reached at dchristensen@gazettenet.com.
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