For some obscure reason that I can't quite pinpoint, I 've been thinking about my childhood days in a (then) very small coastal town in Florida where I lived for about 5 years back in the 1950s. It was a lazy little, seaside town with not a whole lot of excitement. A typical small town with friendly people, no rushing in hurly burly traffic, a slow-motion town. It was a good town and a great place to be when I was a little girl.
Because not much happened, when things did happen, it seemed like everybody in town was there. A case in point was the 4th of July. Activities went on all day and into the night. Picnics, contests, games, prizes, speeches, all capped off by a fireworks display. But for me the best part of the day was the parade! I marched in the parade a couple of times when I was a Brownie....well, we tried to march. A few of us were still having trouble with left and right (hey, give us a break. We were only in the 2nd grade at the time), so we tended to get out of step fairly often. Pretty soon we got kind of scattered out and we had to stop and re-group and try again! The parade route wasn't that long, only about a mile or less. But that parade lasted for at least an hour! (We weren't the only ones who stopped and started!)
Every club in town had a float or would march along, there were two high school bands, and the fire department drum and bugle corp, the dancing schools (there were 2 in town) each with several different age groups, there was the American Legion or VFW drill teams, some years the Lion's Club had their fun little go carts and they performed patterns as they toodled along the route. Just about every group that was marching (or trying to) would stop at the reviewing stand, and perform something! A dance, a close-order drill, a song, a flag team. I'm sure you know the kind of parade I'm talking about. Just a bunch of our citizenry expresssing their patriotic spirit and love of country.
(Okay, I'm getting way off the topic I wanted to write about! Darn, I hate when that happens.)
The thing that the parade especially brings to mind is that I can remember there being a group of veterans of WWI. WWI had ended 34 years before, so there were quite a few of them still living. They mainly looked like a group of grandfathers, marching in the remnants of their uniforms, and a few in wheelchairs. They always got a big hand!
But the biggest celebrity in our parade for at least two of those years that I recall, was one very old man riding in the back of a covertible waving to the crowd. He was a small little man who could barely be seen. This was around 1952 and 1953, so he was somewhere in his very late 90's. He was a (Confederate) veteran of the Civil War!!! Truly!
He got the biggest hand of all! You must remember that this was a small town in the South, the Confederate South! The Civil War was practically an on-going conflict. "The South shall rise again!", was the mantra that about 2/3 of populace would agree with! The band played Dixie, everybody stood up and sang along and that old man knew that he was a Hero in our town!
I never knew his name but I have no doubt he was a real veteran. Yesterday, I looked up the "Last Survivor of the Civil War". It was a man in Minnesota who died in 1956 at the age of 103. So I believe our veteran was authentic. I was impressed even back then when I was so young. You couldn't help but be. The whole town was very proud of having that Confederate Veteran living in our town and they accorded him his due.
WWI was 91 years ago. Now of course, nearly all of the American veterans of WWI are gone too. All except one. Frank Buckles, of Charles Town, West Virginia. He is currently 109 years old!! He lied about his age to get in the army at age 16, served as a medic, and received several medals, including the French Legion of Honor. Through the intervention of Ross Perot, he will be buried at Arlington National Cemetary, when the time comes for his "Last Farewell".
I hope that Charles Town, West Virginia honors this man at its 4th of July parade as he deserves.
[Check out his story at this link: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Frank_Buckles ]
It won't be very long now, until there will be just a few survivors of WWII remaining. The men of my father's generation are in their 80s and 90s now. Their war was over 55 years ago. And one day they too will all be gone. And that "Last Farewell" will be very hard to say.