VFW members keep Memorial Day tradition alive

VFW members keep Memorial Day tradition alive

North Smithfield VFW members Farrell McMillan, Ernest Frappier and Dave Thibault stand in front of the veterans’ monument at Town Hall that will be the site of a wreath dedication ceremony during this year’s Memorial Day parade. (Breeze photo by Lauren Clem)

NORTH SMITHFIELD – The North Smithfield Memorial Day Parade will go on this year, with the parade committee and members of the VFW saying residents can expect all the pomp and circumstance they’ve come to love about their annual tradition.

VFW post commander and parade committee member Ernest Frappier said the parade will kick off from the Brigido’s parking lot at 10:30 a.m. on Monday, May 28, and make its way down North Main Street to Town Hall, where veterans and town officials will lay a wreath dedicated to the town’s veterans and those lost during war. As in past years, the parade will include local Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts, police and fire departments and veterans, along with the North Smithfield High School Marching Band.

“Both sides of the street are loaded with families as you’re coming down North Main Street here,” said Frappier. “They love the parade. The community loves their parades.”

The North Smithfield community showed its love for the parade last year when renovations at the former VFW post on School Street, the traditional end site, prompted members to take a year off from the grand parade in favor of a smaller ceremony at Town Hall. Residents, led by local filmmaker Christian de Rezendes, organized a “People’s Parade” to arrive at Town Hall in time for the ceremony, and the parade went on.

The Memorial Day Parade has a long history of honoring veterans and those lost in combat from the town of North Smithfield, where the LeClair Kozlik Logan Bassett VFW post, named for four town natives who lost their lives serving in the military, was founded in 1946. This year’s parade will honor as its grand marshal resident Alan Cote, a recently retired Army Command Sergeant Major who served in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Linda Thibault, a longtime member of the parade committee, recalled her own memories of the parade as a child growing up in North Smithfield.

“I was born and raised in North Smithfield, three generations,” she said. “I marched in those parades, my kids did.”

At one time, she said, the parade traveled throughout the town to lay wreaths at area cemeteries, but as the organization’s World War II veterans grew older and began to have difficulty climbing the hill on Church Street, organizers scaled the event back to the short trek between Victory Highway and the VFW post. Today, the parade has far fewer veterans than it did in its heyday, but continues the tradition of marching to Town Hall to lay a wreath in honor of the town’s veterans, including Thibault’s husband, brother and uncles, whose names are inscribed on a monument there.

“I remember when Jack Reed was in the parade, he said, ‘This is small, it’s like a slice of Americana,’” recalled Thibault. “It’s not the biggest parade in the world, but it’s small-town, it’s what we’re all about in North Smithfield. For me, it’s important that it stays alive so people will see what it’s all about.”

As membership of the VFW has dwindled over the years, so has the parade committee, which currently consists of a small group of dedicated volunteers. Farrell McMillan, a parade committee member and past commander of the VFW post, said he thinks the decline in membership is due to changing expectations of the organization as older veterans pass away and fewer younger veterans return to take their place. Contemporary groups, he said, are less family-oriented than they were in years past, and younger vets are less interested in socializing with other vets, at least in person.

“I think a lot of it has to do with the younger groups are heavily involved with social media and don’t need a group to attend,” he said.

Frappier thinks the shift may also have to do with the change in the reception of veterans by the government and the public. For years, he said, VFW members rallied around traveling to Washington to lobby for their public benefits. Now, with those benefits easier to come by, returning vets are in many ways better off but no longer need the support network provided by a veterans’ group.

“I use the VA hospital myself, and I see a lot more people coming in, the younger generation coming in, and they don’t seem to have much difficulty,” he said.

Despite the smaller membership, VFW members don’t see the parade going away any time soon. As evidenced by last year’s event, town residents are willing to help out to keep the tradition alive, and many others are already active in helping to organize. Scott McGee of Gator’s Pub, and Mike and Lisa Pestana of the Great Road Li’l General, typically organize refreshments to serve at the end of the parade.

“I think that the parade will continue and it probably will involve more of the community. I think you’ll see more of the townspeople step up,” said McMillan.

While Frappier had originally hoped renovations at the former VFW post, the site of a new restaurant space from the owners of Lindy’s Tavern, would be complete enough to host the end of the parade, he told The Breeze this week the parade will not end at the School Street site. On Thursday, Frappier confirmed the parade will instead conclude in the parking lot of The Village Haven, adjacent to the original ending site. Refreshments will be served.

Comments

Thank You to all involved, especially our Military Veterans.