John Houston holds a photo of himself and his wife, Marilyn Mae Houston, from his Army days in the 1950s. Maria Skillings / The Times Record

The Brunswick-Topsham Memorial Day Parade Committee has chosen Army veteran John Houston, 92, to be this year’s grand marshal. Houston said he is excited to cruise the streets of downtown in a Jeep to pay respect to his country, the fallen soldiers and all who serve.

The parade will start at 8:45 a.m. at the Topsham Town Hall, pause for a wreath-laying ceremony on the Frank J. Wood Bridge and then head toward the Brunswick Mall, where observances will start at 11 a.m.

Last year was the first time the parade had been held in person since before the COVID-19 pandemic. Parade committee member Pastor Mark Rockwood said it’s an important tradition to keep alive and that the committee chose Houston as the grand marshal because of his patriotism.

“Not to be cliché, but freedom is not free; it comes at a price,” Rockwood said. “Our veterans and their families have (sacrificed) and continue to sacrifice their lives and comforts for the well-being of not only our country but many people around the world. Mr. Houston has served our country faithfully and has been a constant supporter of veterans and a vital member of our community.”

John Houston with his prize-winning 1922 Ford Gray in the garage he built. Maria Skillings / The Times Record

Houston served in the Army from 1952-54 and was stationed in Bamberg, Germany, where he trained as a radio operator, sending and receiving messages in Morse code. Happy to return home to his wife, Marilyn Mae, after two years away, he said it wasn’t until his honor flight in 2017 that he felt truly appreciated by his country for his service. Greeted by 300 people when he landed in Baltimore, Maryland, Houston said his bus ride to D.C. left him “floating high.” He said his son-in-law, Rich Kowalczyk, a Navy veteran, joined him on the trip where they were treated to beautiful meals, heartfelt ceremonies and a chance to visit war memorials. Houston said it was a trip he would never forget.

“It was just so doggone interesting,” he said. “I could have stayed there all week. It was an awful good trip.”

He said he hopes parade goers will continue to honor their country, remove their hats when they see the flag and always stand for the Pledge of Allegiance wherever they may be. He will spend the weekend visiting nine cemeteries to lay flowers on the graves of fallen soldiers alongside his daughter, Mary-Beth Kowalczyk.  

Retired from a 32-year-long career as a machinist at the Pejepscot Paper Company in Topsham, Houston now spends his time tinkering in his garage, prepping his four antique cars for shows held across the country. Houston lost his wife 20 years ago but said he has three children, four grandchildren and one great-grandson to keep him company.

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Brunswick Police Color Guard process in during a ceremony at the 2022 Memorial Day Parade. Maria Skillings / The Times Record file photo

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