Fate of annual Memorial Day Parade hangs in the balance

GRAFTON-The City of Grafton has become known for their annual tradition of lining the streets to pay respects to the brave men and women who paid the ultimate price for freedom with their annual Memorial Day Parade and observance.
After events and large gatherings were halted because of the spread of COVID-19, community members were left wondering about the fate of one of the area’s most beloved traditions.
According to West Virginia Memorial Day Parade Committee Chairman Scott Willis, organizers will make an official decision on Thursday, April 30.
“We have had an outpouring of questions by residents that we just cannot answer at this time,” he said. “Like others, we are taking this one day at a time to try and figure out what our plan will be.”
He noted that discussions are being held between parade organizers and city, county and state officials.
Although they are not allowed to gather for their meetings, WV Memorial Day Committee members have been meeting through teleconference to discuss available options for the upcoming parade.
“We want the community to know that we are taking this seriously, and we are doing what we can and trying our best to make something happen,” Willis expressed.
Grafton’s parade, now the state’s official Memorial Day Parade, is hailed as the nation’s longest, continuous running parade, and organizers revealed they have a contingency plan in place to allow the celebration to keep its title.
“As of right now, we are unsure what will happen. By April 30, we should have a better idea of when the large gathering bans will be lifted,” Willis commented. “However, if we have to officially cancel the parade, we have a few ideas of how to keep the tradition alive.”
This year, the parade will be commemorating its 153rd year of celebrating and honoring those who have fallen in the quest for freedom.
What began as “Flower Strewing Day” has grown into an event that draws in tens of thousands of people each year.
On May 30, 1869, Mayor William Mallonee issued a proclamation urging citizens to turn out at the Grafton National Cemetery, located on Walnut Street, to decorate the graves of the fallen heroes with fresh flowers. And the birth of the area’s celebration occurred.
The observation held on to its name until 1882, when the Reno Post Number 7, Grafton Unit of the Grand Army of the Republic was organized and adopted the name Memorial Day.
Since that time, citizens have been honoring the brave men and women who paid the ultimate sacrifice for the country with the annual parade and observances at the cemetery.
After its construction in 1987, the West Virginia National Cemetery began hosting observances there, as well.
Although Memorial Day wasn’t federally recognized as a holiday until the 1970s, the parade route that began in 1890 remained the path of travel during each year’s celebration, aside from a few times it had to be altered due to bridge construction.
The West Virginia Memorial Day Inc. was formed in 1980 to combine the efforts of many groups who had been in charge of the parade.
Since that time, dedicated and devoted individuals have volunteered their time to ensure residents and guests will be left with a parade to remember.
And while the outcome of this year’s celebration is still unknown, no matter what the outcome is, Grafton’s tradition will live on.
“It might not be the parade that everyone has become accustomed to, but regardless of what happens, we will have some sort of event so that our long-standing tradition will continue,” said Willis.


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