With a canon’s boom echoing down East Helena’s Main Street, the 67th annual Memorial Day Parade began.
Sunny skies and light winds welcomed hundreds of parade-goers to East Helena for the traditional 11 a.m. start. It was a day of patriotism and somber remembrance of those who had answered the call of service.
Led by an East Helena Police cruiser, VFW members from the Cory-Dullum 10010 post of East Helena carried a wall of flags across Prickly Pear Creek. Stopping for a moment, a memorial wreath dropped into the water and whipped away downstream.
Following closely behind was the Oro Fino Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution, the Pipes and Drums of the Black Devils, fraternal organizations and local Cub Scout troops.
Handing out Memorial Day poppies was Lucille Stump with the VFW Auxiliary, who called it “an honor” to participate in the annual ceremony.
Cory-Dullum Commander Dave Johnson stood before the veteran memorial in Main Street Park as parade-goers packed in tight. He thanked East Helena for hosting a safe holiday ceremony before introducing the guest speaker, retired Air Force pilot Richard Fox.
“This is our most important holiday,” Fox told the attendees. “All others are made possible by the sacrifices we recognize today.”
Men and women heard the call to duty, honor and country, and answered it, he said.
“They answered full well knowing their lives were on the line. Some made the ultimate sacrifice.”
Fox asked the crowed several times to think for a moment, and reflect. He read the first stanza of Theodore O'Hara’s “The Bivouac of the Dead” with a steady cadence before offering his final message.
“They gave their lives for the U.S. For us. Please ponder this now and every day,” Fox said.
Johnson gave the formal VFW memorial tribute, asking those in attendance for their sincere reverence. Where ever a fallen soldier lies, it is hallowed ground, he said.
Johnson placed an American flag near a memorial wreath, stepped back, and saluted.
“On behalf of a glorious republic for whose integrity our comrades enlisted and served, I place this emblem of the nation,” he said. “The flag of our country is theirs to defend, its glorious colors to wave over them in death as in life for everyone to behold.”
The names of those VFW and Auxiliary members who died in the last year were read to a crowd of bowed heads. Then the Black Devils piped and drummed a haunting rendition of “Amazing Grace.” As silence fell to the last note, a lone bugle player belted taps and seven rifles rose three times and fired for a 21-gun salute, the final crack marking the end of the ceremony.