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A Milestone In Service American Legion Post #14 And The Vergennes Memorial Day Parade
photo by Karlene Devine
photo by Raini Gray
photo by provided
Tuesday May 23, 2017
By Cookie Steponaitis
People from all over have packed up the kids, brought over the float, shined up the tractor and marked the calendar for the beginning of summer and the Vergennes Memorial Day Parade for the last half of a century. When asked why they travel or stake out their seats on the parade route the day before, locals and visitors alike just grin and remark, “to see the bands, celebrate the holiday, be together with family, get my favorite barbecue chicken” or a simple response of, “because we have always done it.” Some families are in their fourth generation of attending the parade, marching in it or being on the park to hear the VUHS band, the haunting echo of TAPS and the words of speakers including veterans, leaders and young people. Memorial Day and the Little City of Vergennes are a tradition for thousands and a cornerstone of life in the Champlain Valley.
Behind the parade, steadfast and quietly working all year are the members of American Legion Post #14, who have provided the funds and people and have grown the Vergennes parade for the past fifty plus years into Vermont’s largest celebration honoring Memorial Day and veterans. Created in the aftermath of the Civil War to honor those who had fallen and commemorate the bravery of all U.S. military veterans, the parade is a solemn reminder of those who have sacrificed their lives for freedom and a festive gathering of friends, family, food and fun. While the date of the first Vergennes Memorial Day parade is not historically known for sure, it is agreed upon to be over fifty-five years ago; a fact grounded in the determination, dedication and community advocacy of American Legion member Henry Broughton. A Korean War veteran, Broughton has held almost all offices the American Legion has in it, some even a couple of times. Yet of all his fifty-nine years of service to Legion Post #14, it is Broughton’s fifty years at the helm of planning and execution of the parade that has him lauded by the entire community. This year as the parade commences at 11:00 am as usual, it will be Henry Broughton’s 50th time at the lead of the parade, a volunteer position he holds with both pride and passion.
What goes on for eleven months behind the scene is an orchestrated agenda with a group of people working to make Vermont’s parade appear seamless. Whether it is the coordination of 1800 flags being placed on graves in the surrounding areas, hundreds of pounds of chicken being ordered and barbecued with a secret recipe, lining up the over thirty volunteers that will guide, lead, cook, prepare, serve, place, coordinate or host the events in the parade, events in the park, or events at the annual Legion Chicken Dinner, the Legion is on the job all year preparing for the day when Vermont comes to visit Vergennes. Besides the thousands of minuscule details that the Legion pays attention to, the parade itself costs around $10,000 a year. The funding comes from fundraisers done during the course of the year and is only one of the many civic programs associated with life in the county funded by the Legion Post.
One individual is selected whose life story is linked to the Armed Services through direct involvement in the military or through community service to others to serve as the Parade Marshall each year. This year the honor was given to Ronald Hadley who served in World War Two and was assigned as a junior officer to an attack transport of 900 army men and twenty landing craft destined for the invasion of Normandy. While sailing across the Atlantic the group was threatened by U- Boats. Hadley was in charge of the third wave on the beach and his second set of orders took him to the Mediterranean to relocate troops and participate in the invasion of Southern France. His next set of orders assigned him to the Pacific Theater where he took part in the invasions of Iwo Jima and Okinawa dealing with the Japanese Kamikaze which Hadley remarked, “were so many they were like flies.” By the end of the war Hadley had earned the rank of full Lieutenant USNR and was the ship’s navigator.
As Memorial Day draws closer and there is a run-on barbecue supplies and people dig out the grill, wash off the lawn chairs and plan the menu for the best barbecue ever the American Legion Post #14 members are hard at work and will be all hands-on deck. The bands will play, flags will fly high and the warmth of sunlight, the green hues of the manicured lawns and the presence of generations will again bring Memorial Day to all. While at the parade or perhaps at the barbecue, please pause and send a prayer of thanks for the freedoms we enjoy and those who are not there to celebrate and have gone to their final rest or are on duty around the world keeping us safe and free.
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