The tears rolled down our collective cheeks, pride swelling in our chests as we saw Dad riding in the Camaro convertible with the sign on the side, “World War II Veterans”. As the car slowly rolled down the parade route, people stood and clapped, cheered and saluted these three brave men from the greatest generation. Most of our family was there, cheering him on, homemade signs telling the world he is a loved Pop-Pop. Shirts that were red, white and blue with stars and stripes to let everyone know we were together and we were proud!
We cheered, took pictures, video clips, whistled and told him and everyone we met, how much he was loved and is our hero. The look of pride, awe and surprise on Dad’s face showed us how much he was humbled by and enjoyed the attention. He kept saying that “this was the most beautiful parade,” and “the best parade he had ever been in.” Of course, we are comparing the 145th Freehold Memorial Day Parade to the Fords Clara Barton Baseball League opening day parades! Not really a comparison, but the only one he could express. He really was surprised by how people reacted to him and what he represented.
The parade is the longest consecutive Memorial Day Parade in the state. It kicks off with a horse drawn carriage, carrying a flag draped “tomb” of an unknown soldier. The lone sad sound of a bugle playing Taps marks the beginning of this tribute to those who sacrificed their lives for our country. Those who came home are also a part of the celebration. To see the streets lined with people, kids waving flags, and dogs sporting red, white and blue bandanas, made me realize just how important this event was to my dad and family.
The entire collective community was celebrating him and his generation. There are so few of these brave servicemen left, we must celebrate them for all they bring to our world. Yes, they are heroes and should be thanked and celebrated for that. They also possess tremendous wisdom, they have lived a long life. We should be asking them their thoughts about life, about decisions they wish they made earlier, to lessons they have learned along the way. Their reflections can help shape our future if we listen, if we ask questions and are open to the answers. We have limited opportunity to really learn from them, to glean knowledge.
My dad was a Seaman second class, combat medic and gunner’s assistant aboard an Amphibious Ground Communications ship, the USS Catoctin. After standing on Omaha Beach in April and then watching him be celebrated for Memorial Day, I am filled with emotion. My heart is bursting with love and pride for a man whose love and loyalty to me and our family has never wavered.