The weather fit the solemn occasion in East Helena on Monday. A Humvee, a drag racer and a fire truck drove slowly down Main Street as veterans donned peaked caps and marched on in the light drizzle.

The East Helena Memorial Day Parade is an institution. Running for nearly 70 years, the town and outlying areas gather to thank veterans for their service and to honor those who gave the ultimate sacrifice.

About 150 people gathered in front of the East Helena Servicemembers Monument after the parade down East Helena's Main Street to listen to Mayor Jamie Schell and Montana Sen. Steve Daines speak to the importance of service and remembrance.

Schell said he is "honored" every time he speaks at the memorial.

"I'm humbled to speak to these great, wonderful veterans," he said. "This is tradition, it's pride in the community, pride in the people and it honors those who serve."

Lewis and Clark County Commissioner Andy Hunthausen brought his father, Tony to the parade. Tony, 93, is a World War II veteran who got to Europe just as the Battle of the Bulge was ending and the final march into Germany was gearing up. He remained in Germany until the summer of 1946 before he was sent back to the United States to go to college and eventually raise nine children in Lewis and Clark County.

Tony doesn't much like to talk about his experiences. But Andy and his siblings learned more about their father's experiences as they grew older.

"He's a Purple Heart recipient," Andy said. "I'm really proud of this guy .... He's done some amazing things."

Sen. Daines said the East Helena parade was a "reflection" of America and Montana's core values.

"It's a solemn day of remembrance of those who paid the ultimate price," Daines said. 

Tom Johnson, the post commander of VFW Post 10010 in East Helena, said the parade's tradition is tied into East Helena's "old-fashioned and patriotic community."

"It's like watching Mayberry," Johnson said with a grin. 

"It's not just East Helena," Johnson added. "It's York, the Elkhorns, Spokane Bench. It takes a lot of people to make this thing work."

Johnson was unsure if any other Montana communities had such long-running traditions like East Helena's. Raymond Read, an American Legionnaire, said his hometown, Ronan, had a parade, but had changed the date to a more "July Fourth kind of time."

But on Memorial Day in East Helena, as everyone gathered in front of the memorial and as "taps" was played by buglers, it was hard to tell what was rain and what might have been tears.

Get local news delivered to your inbox!

* I understand and agree that registration on or use of this site constitutes agreement to its user agreement and privacy policy.

Crime and Health Reporter

Crime and health reporter for the Helena Independent Record.

Load comments