Memorial Day goes beyond barbecues and celebrations.

Westport’s Memorial Day parade has been a long-standing tradition that dates back to before the 1950s. The parade is a large community event that honors the soldiers and soldiers who sacrificed their lives. However, in recent years, the number of people attending the parade has declined significantly.

As a child, the Memorial Day parade was an important event for me and my family. We had our favorite spots along the route, and my father would tell stories of watching Civil War veterans pass by in his hometown near Yonkers. As my friends and I grew up, riding our bikes by the floats became a rite of passage.

However, in the last decade, the number of people attending the parade has plummeted. A large section of the route stands completely empty, and it’s been years since I’ve seen a boy riding a bicycle. Part of the blame may lie in the weather, as several parades were canceled due to rain in the 2010s. Others may have gotten out of the habit or never got involved in it at all. Many of Westport’s newcomers simply don’t realize how fun and important a Memorial Day parade can be.

Participatory patriotism may also be declining, as it’s easier to put on a flag pin than it is to go downtown on a holiday morning and actually wave it. But that’s the whole idea of Memorial Day. It’s a day to honor the millions of Americans who made the ultimate sacrifice so that we could live the way we wanted to in a country where we are still truly blessed despite our current stresses and rifts.

The Memorial Day parade is still a significant event, with hundreds of children marching and biking with more (and more diverse) group flags than ever before. The Suzuki Music kids are there, too, playing their violins. Politicians and police officers (and women) still walk proudly in front of equally proud veterans. Young people ride fire trucks and sound their sirens happily.

While the parade is important, the ceremony held at Veterans Green across from City Hall is just as significant. It’s a low-key but highly emotional tribute to the fallen that includes one or two musical tributes and a salute to the Generalissimo. This year’s winner is Ben Pepper, a Purple Heart recipient who fought in the Battle of the Bulge and may be the last World War II veteran to hang a Marshal’s sash at Westport. Kids and teens today need to see and listen to him so that decades from now, they can tell their children that they admired military heroes, just as my father remembered Civil War veterans.

In conclusion, the Memorial Day parade and ceremony are essential traditions that should not be forgotten or ignored. While beach parties and backyard barbecues can wait, it’s crucial to take the time to honor those who made the ultimate sacrifice for our freedom.

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