PORTLAND — John S. Hammonds could hardly have picked a better day for his first experience as a grand marshal.

Hammonds, 90 and a Pearl Harbor survivor, rode down Congress Street under sunny skies in a convertible at the head of a lineup that included a bagpiper, a marching band, a contingent from Veterans of Foreign Wars, police and fire trucks, Slugger the Sea Dog, even a hot rod and tow truck.

Hammonds and other dignitaries got out a half-block before the end of the parade route at Monument Square to watch the vehicles roll by, with Hammonds standing at attention and snapping off a smart salute each time the American flag was carried by – plus a smile and wave for passing Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts.

Hundreds of people lined the parade route and many stayed for the ceremony that followed, which included a wreath-laying at the statue in Monument Square and speeches by politicians.

Memorial Day was begun to honor those who died while on duty in the military, but has since expanded as an occasion to thank veterans and those on active duty. In Monday’s crowd for the march and ceremony were dozens of active-duty personnel and veterans like Robert Earles of South Portland, who proudly wore a cap declaring him a former Marine.

Earles said he served in 1956 for two years, after Korea and before Vietnam. He said Memorial Day, along with Veterans Day, helps remind him and others that their service was appreciated, and he turns out for the parades in Portland on both holidays.

Hammonds took it all in from a seat next to the speaker’s podium, but he didn’t say anything.

He said he, like many World War II veterans, don’t speak of their experiences.

“I never talk about it,” he said. “It brings back what you went through and the horror of it.”

But the Navy’s citation for Hammonds’ action at Pearl Harbor tells plenty, lauding him for many rescues of sailors from the oil-covered water around sunken battleships.

Hammonds was born in Kentucky and enlisted in the Navy in 1940. He was stationed at the U.S. Naval Air Station at Ford Island when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor.

Staff Writer Edward D. Murphy can be contacted at 791-6465 or at: [email protected]