For the first time in 75 years, Tunkhannock will be without a Memorial Day parade.
Gone is the American Legion color guard, the veterans, Triton’s ‘Old Glory,’ the marching bands, the floats, the fancy cars carrying politicians, the pickup truckloads of Little League ballplayers, and even the unit marching through town carrying hundreds of helium-filled balloons for release later in the afternoon that introduced controversy in 2019.
“Even with its minor flaws, it was true America, and we will miss it,” Wyoming County Commissioner Tom Henry said Tuesday. “It’s a darn shame.”
In the early days of the coronavirus response, Frank Gaus, spokesman for the Dennis Strong American Legion Post in Tunkhannock which has organized a parade there since one was held just weeks after victory in Europe was declared near the end of World War II in 1945, said, “It was just unimaginable that the pandemic could or would last this long.”
He added, “We made a decision over a month ago when it seemed unlikely schools would reopen - which would have given the band a chance to rehearse its routines - and we just had to make a decision to cancel it. It was a terrible spot for us to be in.”
Tunkhannock Mayor Stacy Huber, a member of the Strong post, said the action of cancelling was regrettable, but should not be lost because of the sacrifices made over the generations.
“I sincerely hope others will join us in honoring these individuals on this important day so their service is not forgotten.”
Although the parade through town, starting at the old armory or later at the high school, running down Tioga Street, and ending first at Sunnyside Cemetery and in more recent years at the county courthouse, began in 1945, a ‘Decoration Day’ for Tunkhannock, however, dates at least to 1871.
On May 30 of that year, memorial crosses in the Gravel Hill Cemetery “for the absent ones” were decked with “the sweet flowers of spring.”
According to a newspaper account of the time, the ceremonies were conducted by a division of the Grand Army of the Republic, assisted by the Patriotic Order Sons of America, a brass band, clergy and citizens.
By 1883, Decoration Day was becoming known as Memorial Day, and in Tunkhannock at least, a different sort of parade was evolving.
That year, for instance, groups like Triton Hose Co., Sunday schools, the Junior Battalions of the GAR, GAR units themselves and the Tunkhannock Cornet Band, etc., would march from the courthouse to the Gravel Hill Cemetery where graves of soldiers would be decorated.
An oration at the cemetery given by a visiting dignitary usually followed.
In 1920, when separate morning Memorial Day services were held in 12 of the county’s cemeteries, a parade would assemble at 2:30 p.m. at the Reynolds GAR Post hall on Tioga Street in Tunkhannock and head to Sunnyside Cemetery for what the Tunkhannock Republican and New Age called “the usual GAR memorial service.”
The vehicles didn’t exactly parade as today, but rather carried the oldest of the veterans from the GAR Hall as well as children with flowers on selected veterans’ graves.
Since 1945, the Memorial Day Parade in Tunkhannock became the domain of the Dennis Strong American Legion Post but the parade route eventually missed Sunnyside Cemetery altogether.
Units participating in the parade would gather at the shoe factory grounds (former armory) on West Street, and then march down Tioga to McCord, north on McCord, and then back west on Second and Church streets to the Courthouse Green.
Next Monday, May 25, it was supposed to happen one more time.
But not this federal Memorial Day.