BANGOR, Maine — Thousands of Mainers of all ages turned out Monday for the city’s 2011 Memorial Day parade, lining the parade route from downtown Bangor to Davenport Park.
The parade kicked off from the corner of State and Exchange streets shortly after 10:30 a.m. with a solemn honor guard setting a tone of remembrance and respect for Americans who have died in the armed services.
Following the honor guard came a spirited lineup of marchers and floats that included all the branches of the military, several marching bands, firetrucks and police vehicles, scouting troops, ROTC groups and much more.
Military veterans from World War II, Korea, Vietnam and the Global War on Terror marched in formation, drawing enthusiastic applause from spectators all along the route.
The weather cooperated, with a bright sun driving temperatures toward the 80-degree mark in one of the first truly warm days of the season.
Seeking shelter in the shade of the Greyhound bus station was 67-year-old Rodney Porter of Newburgh, who served in the U.S. Air Force in Spain until 1963, when his military duties aggravated a spinal condition that now confines him to a wheelchair.
“It’s a beautiful day for it,” observed Porter, who was accompanied by his son and two young grandsons.
Just down the block, Barbara Cleveland and her friend Terry Sands, both of Bangor, were vigorously waving their small American flags at a marching unit of about 40 elderly veterans from World War II. Tears streamed down Cleveland’s face.
“My dad was always in this parade,” she said, “and now my grandson is.”
Her father, Navy Chief Phillip Whitney, served in WWII, Korea and Vietnam, she said, and once saved the life of a critically injured Bangor man during the Vietnam War by rescuing him from behind enemy lines.
“He was a real war hero,” she said of her father, who died in 2002. Now her grandson Michael Evans, a sophomore at Bangor High School, is a member of the Junior Reserve Officers’ Training Corps.
“I think he loves it,” she said.
Sands, who has cut hair for 12 years at the Center Beauty and Barber Shop on School Street, said many of her best customers are veterans.
“I just felt like I wanted to be here for them,” she said.
Soaking up the sun on the sidewalk was Angela Reynolds of Brewer, who brought her wide-eyed 2-year-old daughter Aaliyah to her first parade.
“I figured it would be pretty interesting for her,” Reynolds said above the wail of a passing fire siren. “But I think she’s a little overwhelmed.”
Back at the bus station, bus driver Cornelius Adams stepped outside to watch the parade pass by before loading his southbound bus. Adams, 40, said he briefly attended Maine Central Institute in Pittsfield in the 1990s and now lives in Providence, Rhode Island. He makes the drive to Bangor two or three times a week.
“I like it here,” he said. “The people are very nice and laid back and the atmosphere is terrific.”
At Davenport Park, as people assembled for speeches and a closing ceremony at the USS Maine memorial, about 70 members of the Bangor Middle Schools Marching Band were making a lot of music as they ended their march.
Band director Stephen Norris said the group began practicing in earnest at the beginning of the month, not only to master the lively Torch of Valor March but to physically manage the bulkier instruments along the long parade route.
Snare drums and the big bass drum, both so critical to a marching band’s repertoire, are the hardest to carry and play at the same time, he said.
“A lot of these kids are not very big,” Norris observed as his students broke ranks and searched for their families in the crowd.
Across the street from the park, well positioned to watch the end of the parade, sat 89-year-old World War II vet Charles T. Bruce of Portland, along with his wife Mary Alice Theriault Bruce, their daughter Jill Gorham of Westbrook, their son William Bruce of Portland and William’s young children Bhavna Scalia-Bruce and Charlie Scalia-Bruce.
Charles Bruce said he served with the U.S. Marines from 1942 to 1945 and was wounded on the island of Iwo Jima while providing medical care to an injured buddy. He later joined the U.S. Army Reserve as a commissioned officer and rose to the rank of lieutenant colonel.
Charles Bruce was born in Bangor and raised in Hampden, and Alice is from Howland. The family maintains a summer cottage in Beddington and come every year to the Bangor Memorial Day parade, connecting with friends and family still in the area.
“This is the first year I haven’t marched,” Bruce said ruefully, “but they always do a good job with the parade.”
After the parade, many veterans and their families gathered at the Cole Land Transportation Museum for lunch, a concert by the Brewer High School Band, and a commemorative address by Maj. Gen. John W. Libby, adjutant general of the Maine National Guard and commissioner of the Maine Department of Defense.