Vergennes Memorial Day Parade Draws a Patriotic Crowd | Culture | Seven Days | Vermont's Independent Voice

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Vergennes Memorial Day Parade Draws a Patriotic Crowd


Published May 29, 2023 at 6:31 p.m.

Excitement at the Vergennes Memorial Day parade - CAT CUTILLO
  • Cat Cutillo
  • Excitement at the Vergennes Memorial Day parade
In 1946, a year after World War II ended, Vergennes held its first Memorial Day parade to honor fallen soldiers. On Monday, nearly 80 years later, throngs of people lined the Little City’s Main Street for this year’s patriotic parade, hailed as the largest and longest-running such event in the state.

Revelers clad in red, white and blue and star-spangled apparel waved mini flags and pinwheels; lounged in camp chairs set up in the beds of pickup trucks; and chowed down on potato chips and ice cream cones.

At Vergennes Union High School, a cacophony of brass and percussion emanated from a patch of grass where elementary and middle school marching band members were warming up. An adult volunteer reminded the young musicians to hydrate in preparation for the promenade through the sun-baked streets. A box of streamers and strands of beads were available to students who wanted to adorn themselves or their instruments for the march.

In the parking lot, Lt. Gov. David Zuckerman chatted with the parade’s grand marshal, Karlene DeVine, in front of the BMW convertible that would serve as her chariot. DeVine, a volunteer with American Legion Post 14 in Vergennes, was born and raised in Ferrisburgh and served for 20 years as a nurse in the U.S. Air Force Reserve. DeVine’s father, Karl, who passed away in 2005, was a veteran and true patriot, she said, who helped establish the tradition of lining Vergennes' streets with American flags on federal holidays.
The parade beginning on Monkton Street - CAT CUTILLO
  • Cat Cutillo
  • The parade beginning on Monkton Street
At 11:01 a.m., parade participants turned left out of the school and began their procession down Monkton Street as Vergennes Union High School's marching band played a syncopated version of “Can’t Stop the Feeling!” by Justin Timberlake. Behind them trailed a seemingly endless stream of fire department personnel and trucks, Boy and Girl Scouts troops, local businesses, antique tractors, and vintage cars.

Members of the Champlain Valley Historical Reenactors, wearing cross-body canteens and wool coats, periodically fired muskets into the air. Art students from the Vergennes-based School of Psychogeographic Arts modeled outlandish papier-mâché masks. Members of the Vergennes Swim Team gleefully sprayed the crowd with water guns. Preschoolers scrambled in the grass for Tootsie Rolls and Jolly Ranchers.
The Vergennes Swim Team - CAT CUTILLO
  • Cat Cutillo
  • The Vergennes Swim Team
As the festivities wound down, several dozen people gathered in front of the bandstand in Vergennes City Park for a lineup of speakers. Father Steven Marchand of St. Peter's Catholic Church gave an invocation honoring those who had lost their lives during military service.

“Never let us forget those who paid so terrible a price to ensure that freedom would be our legacy,” Marchand said, “and though their names may fade with the passing of generations, may we never forget what they have done.”
Art students from the School of Psychogeographic Arts - CAT CUTILLO
  • Cat Cutillo
  • Art students from the School of Psychogeographic Arts
Retired colonel Randy Gates, a 38-year career military officer, said Vermont holds the unfortunate distinction of being the state with the highest number of soldier casualties per capita from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

“It’s not a title we necessarily want,” Gates said, “but we do bear it with honor.”

Following the parade, the American Legion’s Vergennes post opened its doors for a traditional American meal: barbecued chicken, creamy potato salad, a pickle spear and a dinner roll with a pat of butter for $15. Community members spread out at circular tables to enjoy the fare.
Ed and Rosemary Payne in a golf cart, with Arthur Howard behind them - CAT CUTILLO
  • Cat Cutillo
  • Ed and Rosemary Payne in a golf cart, with Arthur Howard behind them
Among them were Ed “Pita” Payne of Bridport and Arthur “Papa” Howard of Middlebury, members of the Rutland branch of Shriners International, a philanthropic organization that supports the network of Shriners Children’s hospitals. They were joined by Payne’s wife, Rosemary, and Howard’s support dog, a rat terrier-Jack Russell mix.

The men said they were tuckered out. Vergennes was their fourth Memorial Day parade of the long weekend. They’d been to Essex on Saturday, Orwell on Sunday and Middlebury earlier on Monday morning.

Now, all that was left to do was dig in.
A parade participant doing a wheelie - CAT CUTILLO
  • Cat Cutillo
  • A parade participant doing a wheelie

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