Flag at Memorial Day parade.

The Memorial Day Parade

Story by Elizabeth Dickinson

“O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave,” Julie, a seventh grader, sings as she finishes playing “The Star-Spangled Banner” on the piano. She ponders the significance of the American flag – that the fifty stars on the blue field stand for each of the fifty states, and the thirteen stripes represent the original thirteen colonies.

In another month it will be time for the Memorial Day parade. Every year several parade groups carry flag staffs proudly bearing our nation’s flag. Julie always looks forward to the Memorial Day holiday, the parade, and the bearing of the colors. Her Grandmother Cooper, a retired nurse, is a veteran of the Vietnam War. As a result of many talks with her grandmother, Julie has developed a special appreciation for the freedoms we enjoy as Americans. Her Grandmother Cooper lives in a nursing home near Julie. While her grandmother’s mind is sharp as ever, her failing physical health requires nursing-home care. Julie frequently visits her, much to the delight of them both.

Just then Julie thinks of how it could be carried in the parade – horizontally – not vertically – with many people holding the borders, marching it down the parade route.

Recently, a local car dealership purchased a very large American flag, flying it atop a very tall flag pole. Julie had never seen a flag that big, and tried to envision it in the Memorial Day parade.

Just then Julie thinks of how it could be carried in the parade – horizontally – not vertically – with many people holdholding its borders, marching it down the parade route. “Yes,” she thought, “that would be splendid, so special. That flag at the car dealership could be part of the upcoming Memorial Day parade.

She calls the dealership, setting up an appointment with the owner, Ms. Green. Julie rides her bike over the next day, astounded as always at seeing the gigantic American flag in all its glory, high above the acres of cars and trucks on the sales lot.

In Ms. Green’s office, Julie explains her vision of having the flag carried horizontally in the Memorial Day parade. Ms. Green likes the idea. She agrees to bring the flag to Julie on the Sunday before the parade.

“Who would carry it?” Julie ponders. A recent newspaper article featured the graduating high-school seniors who had enlisted in the armed forces. Perfect. She would ask the high-school principal about the graduating students carrying the flag.

Julie calls principal Shelby for an appointment, and is soon in his office where they discuss her idea. He gives the idea his OK, saying, “Yes. I’ll ask the students if they want to participate.”

A few days later, Julie has her answer. “They all agree to carry the American flag in the parade, and are quite honored to have that oportunity,” he reports. Their class trip is scheduled for the Friday and Saturday of the Memorial Day weekend – a dream trip to Orlando, Florida – but their return flight is on Sunday morning, so there should be plenty of time to rest up before the start of the parade at ten o’clock Monday morning.

Julie shares her plans with Grandmother Cooper as the holiday approaches. How exciting it will be. This year the Grand Old Flag will be really grand. Large and grand it is.

At last it is Memorial Day weekend. Thursday afternoon the senior class takes off for Florida by air. Bob Clark, Julie’s contact with the flag-carrying contingent, phones her when they arrive in Orlando. He mentions how excited the students are, looking forward to carrying the flag in the Memorial Day parade.

Sunday morning Bob calls to say that storm warnings have postponed their flight out of Orlando. By late afternoon the storm hits. All flights are canceled.

Julie is in a panic. Her flag bearers are stranded in Florida. The Memorial Day parade will start at ten o’clock the next morning. What to do?

Out comes an elderly gentleman, military hat on his head, a huge smile on his face.

She runs to the nursing home in tears, telling Grandmother Cooper what has happened. Her grandmother simply smiles, and then tells Julie, “I’ll help carry the flag in the parade if you will push my wheelchair.”

Julie brightens. “Yes, I could do that. But we need more people.”

Just about then, reporter Ellis from Channel 8 TV comes into Grandmother Cooper’s room to interview her for a segment on the nightly news. Julie and Grandmother Cooper tell reporter Ellis the story, and about the need for help with the American flag. “I’ll mention it during the newscast,” reporter Ellis promises.

While Julie is at the nursing home, Ms. Green from the car dealership stops by her home, leaving the massive American flag with Julie’s parents.

At ten o’clock that night, Julie turns on the Channel 8 News, and as promised, reporter Ellis follows her Memorial Day veterans segment with a request for volunteers to carry the huge American flag next day in the parade. And she adds an unexpected twist to the story. Reporter Ellis explains that Julie and Grandmother Cooper will be carrying the flag – and asks other veterans who are also wheelchair users if they will join them in carrying the flag down the parade route.

Monday morning Julie wakes early, wondering what might happen as a result of the previous night’s newscast. By eight-thirty that morning, Julie is at the nursing home, helping place Grandmother Cooper into the nursing home’s van, with its special wheelchair lift. They unload at the parade send-off site – surrounded by floats, bands, classic cars, and everyone else – all slowly moving into parade formation.

Another van pulls up alongside Julie and Grandmother Cooper. As people open the door to its wheelchair lift, out comes an elderly gentleman, military hat on his head, a huge smile on his face. “If there’s going to be a Me­morial Day parade, I’m going to be in it,” he says – as his family  helps him take a place behind Julie and Grandmother Cooper.

Then, suddenly, a bus appears, with the name “Kensington Retirement Center” proudly displayed on its side. Ten veterans with wheelchairs emerge from the bus to join Julie, Grandmother Cooper, the man with the military hat, and his family.

On and on they come – family vans, nursing-home vans, and retirement center buses. Quickly and quietly people find places around the massive American flag. Some wheelchairs are motorized, and some are pushed by family or friends.

Ten o’clock. The time has come. The Memorial Day parade begins. Fire-engine sirens blast the start. Next come the officials in sporty convertibles. One high-school band, and then another. Three floats in succession, and now it is time for the huge American flag.

Slowly the flag unfurls outward as the flag bearers proceed forward. Soon the flag reaches its full size – its massive size – extended as far it can go in all four directions.

On it glides, gracefully down the street, filling the double-lane highway. Mighty stars. Substantial stripes. An extraordinary American flag representing an extraordinary country.

As Julie pushes her grandmother’s wheelchair, she hears the band behind them concluding our national

“And the rockets’ red glare,
the bombs bursting in air,
Gave proof through the night
that our flag was still there.
O say does that Star-Spangled
Banner yet wave
O’er the land of the free
and the home of the brave?”

“Yes,” Julie says to Grandmother ­Cooper, “yes it does. Indeed, for more than two hundred years, and still proudly counting.”