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Pulling Off the Perfect Parade

Memorial Day is all about remembering & honoring the brave Americans who have fought & passed in their service to this fine country. As the quote goes, “Real heroes don’t wear capes, they wear dog tags.” As a Parent Group, this is an important holiday for you to celebrate with your school and presents a great teaching opportunity for students. Memorial Day

Most communities will host a Memorial Day parade and, perhaps, you are a part of that planning process. If so, or even if you are hosting your own, smaller parade for your school, here are some great pointers that we’ve gathered from successful parades around the country.

From huge celebrations in Chicago to small-town parades in New Jersey, these long-standing events offer up some important tips that will help you pull off the perfect parade!

Make History Come Alive

A key part of any Memorial Day celebration is remembering past wars, past reasons for battle, and, of course, past men and women who have fought diligently for this country. Add entertainment and a history lesson to your parade by bringing the rich history of Memorial Day to life.

  • Union Township in New Jersey puts on live demonstrations with Civil War re-enactors, which includes a live cannon fire, speeches, and the playing of taps.
  • The historic Memorial Day parade in downtown Chicago features not only high school marching bands, but also a drum and bugle corps.
  • For the 54th consecutive year, Mackinaw City in Michigan will celebrate Memorial Day with historic re-enactments of the French and Indian War. 
  • In Waterloo, New York, the community kicks off Memorial celebrations by hosting a dinner theatre to portray the history of Memorial Day, including a tea and “Walk Through Time” fashion show.

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Honoring Past & Present Heroes

Don’t let your Memorial Day celebration be side-tracked by focusing too much on food & activities. While yummy meals and fun games are the best part of any event, Memorial Day must be centered on honoring our past and present heroes. Below are several ideas for traditions and ceremonies to incorporate into your parade.

  • Since the parade began in 1870, Chicago has been honoring fallen heroes with a wreath-laying ceremony. The city also honors a living armed service man or woman each year through the position of the Parade Grand Marshall.
  • Every year, the Massachusetts Military Heroes shows remembrance by planting a garden of flags to commemorate each of the Massachusetts service members that has given his or her life to defend the country.
  • Auburn township in Ohio has several traditional ceremonial activities, including the marching of the color guard, laying of a wreath, reading of names, lowering and folding of the American flag, raising of the American and POW/MIA flags, & raising of Armed Services flag.

Focus on a Specific Group/Event

There are so many historical battles, so many sections of the armed services and so many heroic men and women that we remember on Memorial Day. Some communities choose a specific war, branch of the military or hero each year to specifically focus on. This can provide a unique teaching opportunity and to shed the light on some the of lesser known historical battles and unsung heroes.

  • The town of Peterborough in New Hampshire makes a stop at the Post Office during the parade to specifically recall the sacrifice of Sea Veterans.
  • The National Memorial Day Parade in Washington, DC specifically honors the World War II Generation of soldiers, veterans of the Gulf War, and those who lost their lives during the tragedy of 9/11.
  • Several years ago, the Memorial Day parade in Milwaukee specifically celebrated the women who have served in the military.
  • In Jersey City, a local park association honors all our fallen heroes and, specifically, the hero Sgt. Joseph Anthony, from WWII, for whom the park is named after.

Other great Memorial Day parade ideas include raising money for local veteran's groups. Giving back to those who've given all is an amazing opportunity, just look at some communities that host bake sales along with their parades to raise money for veteran’s groups or local American Legion Riders’ chapter, or other groups that invite attendees to a pancake breakfast at the local senior center. The cost for the cakes can go toward local initiatives for veterans and/or for funding the parade and the ceremony each year.