SEARSMONT, Maine — Ed Tyler stood at attention Monday morning in the bunting-draped viewing stand of the Searsmont Memorial Day Parade as what appeared to be half of Waldo County filed by below.
The 88-year-old World War II veteran, who volunteered to join the fight as a teenager and served with the U.S. Army for 2½ years in North Africa and Italy, wore his garrison cap and a smile when the parade ended.
“It’s great. I wouldn’t miss it for the world,” Tyler said of the annual event. “You get a lot of applause, and it sure is nice.”
The parade in Searsmont is inclusive. The hundreds of enthusiastic people who lined the community’s streets cheered equally for the candy-throwing Boy Scouts, the Troy Howard Middle School marching band and the arms-bearing members of the Maine Militia.
But organizers wanted everyone to know exactly why they hold the parade, which is the biggest event to take place in Searsmont, a town of 1,400 people.
“It’s all about honoring our veterans,” said Sandra McLellan, the chairman of the parade committee. “It’s not about us — it’s about them.”
Toward that end, she said she is an avid recruiter of participants. The list of those who march is long, and also included a group of game-playing teenagers from The Game Loft in Belfast, a family of farmers who paraded their miniature horse and palomino pony and the Midcoast ATV Club.
“We want as many people in the parade to honor our veterans as we can get,” McLellan said. “I see somebody interesting, I say, I want you in my parade. I’ve been known to chase them down a little bit.”
Her technique works, as far as bystanders Caneel and Anjelika Cheskin are concerned.
“We wouldn’t miss it,” 11-year-old Caneel, of Searsmont said. “I like seeing all my friends in the parade.”
Her 8-year-old sister agreed.
“I like hearing all of the bands, and seeing all people’s talents,” Anjelika said.
Kids sat on the curb in the day’s humidity, waving tiny American flags. Black labs panted on the wet pavement after the early morning thunderstorms and the middle school band members looked serious as they played.
“It’s wonderful,” said John Robinson of Moncton, N.B., who said he came to hear his granddaughter. “I like to see people getting out. Families getting out.”
Mack Page, the state commander of the Maine Militia, looked official in his combat fatigues. The group has participated in the Searsmont parade for the past decade.
“We are very honored to be able to do this for them,” he said. “75 percent of the militia are veterans. And the Searsmont parade is all about the veterans.”
Just after it got rolling, the parade paused in front of the viewing stand, where Searsmont First Selectman Bruce Brierley thanked the vets for their sacrifice.
A minister spoke, a young man sang the national anthem with a country music twang and scouts raised the American flag and then lowered it to half mast.
Then, Robinson’s 13-year-old granddaughter Grace Bagley of Belfast played taps, the notes pure and clean and hanging crisply in the damp summer air.
For those moments, the parade’s bustling activity, cheers and pelting of candy all stopped.
The crowd paused, men with their hats removed, children with hands over their hearts. And then, with noise and laughter, the biggest parade in a small Maine town rolled back into motion.