SOUTH PORTLAND — Children in Radio Flyer wagons waved flags, teens on bikes stopped to watch the South Portland High School band, and people of all ages applauded the passing veterans.

South Portland’s mile-long Veterans Day Parade on Tuesday morning included the traditional sights and sounds of a community paying tribute to men and women who have served our country in the military.

But as hundreds of people watched the 40-minute-long parade – including scenes that could have been the subject of a Norman Rockwell painting – some spectators lamented that an all-ages commemoration of Veterans Day is a tradition that seems to be waning.

“A lot of people made sacrifices for our freedom and I think people are losing sight of that,” said Dan Silliman, 71, an Air Force veteran from Scarborough. “When I was growing up, the (Veterans Day) parade was two or three hours. Then we’d go to the (veterans) center. It was nearly an all-day thing.”

The tradition continues in South Portland, where a parade on Veterans Day has been happening since 1946, and where turnout was heavier than usual thanks to clear skies and temperatures in the 50s. Several people crowding the sidewalks along Broadway said they came out Tuesday because their own towns did not host a Veterans Day event, or at least not one as vibrant and well-attended as the one in South Portland.

John and Virginia Stoltenborg of Scarborough sat on a curb across from Holy Cross School near the corner of Cottage Road with their two young sons, waiting for the parade to begin. Both said they had grown up with the tradition of a Veterans Day parade, and wanted to share that tradition with their sons.

“We have friends who are vets and we are here to support them, but we mostly come for the kids,” said Virginia Stoltenborg, holding 7-month-old Walter while 2-year-old Hendrik sat nearby.

The parade, and a ceremony at the Veterans Monument in Mill Creek Park afterward, included hundreds of participants. It was organized by American Legion Post 35 and the Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 832.

About 60 Coast Guard members, stationed just around the corner from the parade route on the South Portland waterfront, marched in the parade and handed candy to children.

Youth groups who marched included Boy Scouts and the U.S. Naval Sea Cadet Corps, as well as the high school band. Police cruisers, vintage cars, firetrucks, a snow plow and groups of veterans all shared Broadway as well. Bagpipes and truck horns could be heard throughout.

The parade route ended at the city’s Veterans Monument, which has a red metal flame on top and was decorated with red, white and blue bunting. The band played “The Star-Spangled Banner,” a prayer was said, and the Pledge of Allegiance was recited.

Four veterans standing in the back of the crowd surprised some with a loud four-gun salute, in memory of fallen servicemen and servicewomen.

The most dramatic moment of the ceremony came when about 12 members of the Sea Cadets performed a ritual passing of an American flag while one of their fellow cadets, 17-year-old Zachary Taylor of Portland, read the poem “My Name Is Old Glory.”

The cadets started by standing in a line, each facing the back of another cadet. The first cadet held the flag with one hand on top and one hand on the bottom. Then he turned on a dime to face the cadet behind him. The trailing cadet saluted, very slowly. Then the first cadet passed the flag, and saluted. The passing continued for several minutes while Taylor read the poem, which includes the line:

“I have been a silent witness to all of America’s finest hours. But my finest hour comes when I am torn into strips to be used for bandages for my wounded comrades on the field of battle; when I fly at half mast to honor my soldiers; and when I lie in the trembling arms of a grieving mother at the graveside of her fallen son.”

“It was emotional for me,” Taylor said after the ceremony. “My father was in the first Gulf War, my great-uncles were in Vietnam, and (other relatives) were in World War II. All of them were running through my mind.”


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