Cassandra Hotaling / Staff file photo
A Rutland High School musician marches in a previous Loyalty Day Parade in Rutland.
RUTLAND — After nearly half a century of marching in Rutland, the city’s Loyalty Day Parade is arguably more than an event.
It’s an institution and a reflection of the changing times both locally and nationally in the past five decades.
When the marchers step off from their customary launch point on Madison Street at 2 p.m. Sunday, the veterans, school and military bands, vintage automobiles, politicians, police, firefighters and others making up the five sections of the parade will follow in the footsteps of history.
Over the years, the event has attracted a host of political and military luminaries whose names resonate through the years.
In 1972, the parade’s marshal was Brig. Gen. Leonard Wing, a Rutland High School graduate who was wounded and escaped from a prisoner-of-war camp in World War II and later served as president of the Vermont Bar Association.
A host of governors, including Thomas Salmon, Richard Snelling, Howard Dean, Jim Douglas and Peter Shumlin — who will march again Sunday — have also filled the ranks, as have U.S. congressmen and senators including Sens. Robert Stafford, Patrick Leahy and James Jeffords.
On a day described by the Rutland Herald as being perfect for “cut-offs and halter tops” in 1977, then-Rep. James Jeffords gave an address praising “the greatest country on earth.”
Ostensibly a response to the Cold War’s May Day military marches in the Soviet Union, Loyalty Day parades were once common in communities statewide.
Now only Rutland, where marchers first stepped off in 1963, continues the tradition — one not coupled to any political agenda or even its Cold War roots anymore, according to organizers.
“It’s a parade that everyone can enjoy,” said organizer Ron Fairbanks. “You don’t need to worry about someone carrying a ‘Vote for me’ sign or protesting nuclear power.”
What is on display is a brand of patriotism that organizers say recognizes and honors those who serve in the armed forces without getting bogged down in the causes that those men and women are called on to fight for.
For most of the parade’s existence, Gerry Garrow has been a part of it.
The retired U.S. Army and Vermont National Guard sergeant spent years organizing and marching in the parade.
While soldiers stand ready to deploy anywhere in the world, Garrow said, the Loyalty Day Parade has always been about events on the home front.
“The men were proud to do it because they had their families watching,” said Garrow, who first enlisted in the U.S. Navy in 1952. “When kids are growing up they want to see Dad in the parade. It’s the same with uncles and granddads.”
Josie Carroll, president of the VFW Ladies Auxiliary Post 648, said watching the expressions on the faces of veterans marching in the parade is equally satisfying.
“You look at people who served their country, and their eyes light up like a Christmas tree,” she said.
While the emphasis is usually on Rutland or Vermont organizations and military units, the parade routinely recognizes and honors individuals and efforts of a much broader nature.
In 2002, months after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, the parade marshal was Gregg Lawrence, a New York City firefighter. In 2003, a month after the start of the war in Iraq, parade organizer Wally Pratt said the marchers had the troops overseas in mind.
“They have now been put in harm’s way,” he said. “We want to support them.”
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