CHESHIRE — Usually, when the members of the Cheshire Memorial Day Parade Committee meet in January, the agenda is pretty standard.
A theme for that year’s event is picked, conversation is had about what may or may not have worked the prior May, and preparations are made.
But this year, according to Leslie Marinaro, a member of the parade committee and the Cheshire Veterans Council, when the group convened just after the first of the year, no one knew exactly what to do.
“Everything was up in the air,” said Marinaro. “We didn’t know what the restrictions would be (in May), we didn’t know who would want to sign up to take part, and we needed to make a decision ahead of time.”
Without the luxury of having to wait for weeks, or even months, to see how the pandemic would unfold in the early going of 2021, the committee came to two decisions: The event would not happen as per normal, with a full parade complete with marching bands, fife-and-drum corps, and floats, but it would not be canceled either.
That’s when it was decided that the Memorial Day Parade in 2021 would be a motorcade, specifically for veterans.
“We knew that was something we could do,” said Marinaro. “We began to email (veteran participants) and the response was very positive.”
On May 30, beginning at 1:30 p.m., a motorcade of veterans and their families or drivers will leave from the green in front of First Congregational Church and make its way throughout town. Whereas the traditional parade route runs from the Police Department past Cheshire High School along Route 10, this year’s motorcade will pass through several neighborhoods, giving people ample opportunity to come out and wave, cheer, and honor both the veterans taking part and all those who have lost their lives in service of the country.
“If they come out on their front lawns, wonderful. If they get together as a neighborhood, while maintaining all COVID-19 (safety) protocols, that’s fine as well,” said John White, a member of the parade committee and veterans council who also serves as parade marshal. “It’s not a complete return to normal, but even in its reduced form, it’s important to continue the tradition.”
White spoke of how, during discussions with the town about this year’s event, it was made clear that the expectation was certain restrictions would be lifted by the time Memorial Day arrived later in the spring.
However, echoing Marinaro’s sentiments, White reiterated that, without knowing exactly what restrictions would remain and which would be lifted, the parade committee had to be cautious in ensuring that safety would be maintained.
“There were so many question marks hanging over our head,” he said. “But we felt confident something would be done.”
Motorcades, or “drive-by” events became popular throughout the pandemic, and were used as a way to celebrate all variety of celebrations, from birthdays to anniversaries. Marinaro herself participated in a few, and raised the idea of turning the parade into a motorcade for this year, as it was not only proven to work with regard to maintaining safety protocols, but also attracting participants.
As of May 6, the parade committee had received confirmation from 30 veterans who plan to participate, which, ironically enough Marinaro explained, is actually more than what is common for the parade itself.
“We have a lot of new names that we don’t normally see, so in that respect it’s been really positive,” said Marinaro.
The fact that the parade was canceled last year due to the pandemic may be driving interest in participation, but White also believes veterans such as himself see it as their “civic duty” to try and teach the next generation about the “price of freedom.”
“Ronald Reagan once said that many of the (soldiers) who died for our country were young, and that they sacrificed two lives: the one they had and the one they were going to live,” said White. “There’s nothing we can do to bring them back, but what we can do is make sure they are honored.
“We’ve built this nation on the highest value — freedom,” he continued. “Without that, everything else is unattainable. To appreciate freedom, people have to be trained to understand the cost of that freedom, starting at a young age.”
While Marinaro and White urge everyone to maintain social distancing and pandemic mitigation protocols, their hope is that the streets are lined with people waving flags and thanking the veterans. That, ultimately, is the point of Memorial Day.
“We want everyone to be safe, to follow smart (protocols), but we hope the community really turns out,” said Marinaro. “This is a special day and we are happy (the event) is back, and hopefully next year we’ll have the usual parade, just like in past years.”.