By LIZ BUTTON
After a hiatus of about 50 years, Rye’s Memorial Day parade returned to Purchase Street on Monday.
“This is a wonderful crowd. It’s by far the biggest I’ve seen in the 12 years I’ve been doing this,” said Commander Thomas M. Saunders of American Legion Post 128, which sponsored the parade with the help of its ladies auxiliary. “This parade is the first one we’ve had since the early 1960s and, from the looks of this, I think it’s going to be institutionalized.”
Local marching organizations, bands and Rye’s own war veterans took to the streets to honor those who died in wars fought by American soldiers. Members of the Rye Historical Society and the Rye Chamber of Commerce, Rye Girl Scouts and Boy Scouts, Rye Girls Softball players, drummers from Rye High School, a fleet of vintage cars and members of the Rye City fire and police departments traveled from Station Plaza down Purchase Street and ended up on the Village Green for the city’s traditional Memorial Day services.
In leading his first Memorial Day services as holder of Rye’s top elected office, Mayor Joe Sack took the opportunity to congratulate American Legion 128 Auxiliary president Robin Phelps-Latimer for her work to resurrect the long-dormant parade.
“I am told the Memorial Day parade is an old Rye tradition that somehow went away, but you all are living, breathing, marching proof the patriotic fervor and the community pride that once made the parade so great was still coursing just beneath the surface of our town,” Sack, a Republican, said, “All it needed to come gushing forth once again was the inspiration and dedication of a few good neighbors with strong links to our past.”
Sack also thanked auxiliary member Nancy Collins and Legion members George Szczerba and Dan Somma, and the rest of the Legion for its effort, which began when it presented the idea to the City Council last year.
A number of local officials, as well as state and county representatives with Rye roots, were in attendance at Monday’s festivities, including City Council members Julie Killian, Richard Slack and Richard Mecca, county Legislator Catherine Parker, state Assemblyman and former Rye Mayor Steve Otis and state Sen. George Latimer, husband of Robin.
As guest speaker for this year’s ceremonies, Sheri Jordan, executive director of the Rye Historical Society, described her experience putting together the “Rye in World War II” exhibit currently open at the Square House Historical Museum, which she said gave her a unique experience to understand the histories of Rye’s departed soldiers. “Memorial Day is about remembering those who have given their lives fighting in the uniform of the United States Armed Forces in wars near and far,” Jordan said. “For most of us though, this remembering remains abstract. It’s something we do reflexively without stopping to think why, like saying amen at the end of a prayer.”
Talking to World War II veterans from Rye, recording their histories and collecting their artifacts and memorabilia helped bring home the gravity of their sacrifices as it never had before, Jordan said.
This year, the Legion awarded its annual Americanism Award to residents Chris Maloney and Daniel Kelly, a veteran, for their work on RyeWW2.org, a website they created to gather information and solicit biographies for the “Rye in WWII” exhibit, which opened last Memorial Day.
The Legion also gave out awards to the winners of the annual John M. Kingery Memorial Essay Contest. Rye High School student Kana White received first place for her patriotic essay and students Madeleine Albanese and John O’Keefe were named runners-up. Three Rye Eagle Scouts—Evan Clark, Jacob Nurik and Harrison Steins—were also recognized for their achievements at Monday’s ceremony.
At the program’s conclusion, WWII veteran and Legion member John Carolin, 98, gave the annual reading of the Roll of Honor, the names of Rye citizens who died in World War I, World War II, the Korean War and the Vietnam War.