Eighteen years ago, 21 units began to march and ride down Main Street in Marion, as a group calling itself Veterans on Parade.
"It didn't really seem like a parade," said organizer and President Ed Davis, "but the four veterans who worked on planning it said from day one that if only one other veterans came out to participate, we would march right alongside him or her with great pride."
We are now heading into our 18th year, and last year we had more than 140 units parade down that same Main Street, Davis said, "showing their colors and accepting the thanks of family friends, neighbors and strangers for their sacrifice."
Veterans on Parade is a southern Illinois event, inviting all military personnel from throughout the region.
While it's true we are losing veterans each year who marched in previous parades, new faces step up to add to the ranks of marchers and riders.
"This is a very special parade for many reasons," said Wain Taylor, vice president of the parade committee, "because it has become a tradition to honor these men and women and their families, for the many sacrifices they have endured during difficult times."
Gold Star Mothers, who have lost sons or daughters in combat, are the parade marshals each year. A special "honorary Grand Marshal" will be named closer to the event, honored for a special project that this individual planned, organized and completed in Marion.
Blue Star Mothers and Families, who have sons and daughters currently serving, also have a special place in the parade.
Veterans on Parade also features a touching Picture Brigade, wherein families carry photos of their veterans who have passed away.
Local first responders lead the parade each year, as a reminder of the Sept. 11, 2001 attach that took the lives of so many police officers, firefighters and EMTs. These professional men and women willingly put their lives on the line, every minute of every day, to insure our safety. Community lifesavers have been a part of the parade since its inception and Veterans on Parade is honored to have them participate in this great patriotic event.
All area medical personnel are once again invited to be part of this year's event, for the excellent work they performed during the COVID-19 pandemic. They can walk/march in groups or ride in their own vehicles. Family members are also encouraged to participate, by either walking/marching or riding.
Participants who want to march in this year's Saturday, Sept. 10 parade should assemble no later than 9:15 a.m. at the Marion Junior High School on Main Street. Participants who would prefer to ride should assemble by 9:15 a.m. at Marion High School on Carbon Street.
We are once again looking for high school bands to be part of the big event.
The parade will begin at 10 a.m. and move east on Main Street to the Williamson County Fairgrounds, ending with a memorial ceremony for all our fallen heroes.
Davis said the ceremony is actually the highlight of the event, "since we acknowledge and honor those men and women who gave their lives for the liberties and freedoms we enjoy every day."
All participants are asked to register ahead of time. Do this by reaching out to Ed Davis, at (314) 375-7170 (home); (618) 967-9415 (cell) or email to email@example.com.
Also, donations to Veterans on Parade, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, are welcome. Contact Davis if you care to give.