No one knew quite what to expect on Monday morning around 8:15 a.m. when the new Memorial Day Girl Scout parade pushed off from the parking lot of Welsh’s Funeral Home on Broadway.
There was a healthy crowd of participants waiting to take the first march down the City’s main thoroughfare – the first time a parade has been staged for a holiday in many years.
City leaders, Chelsea veterans, Parade Marshall Mary McKenzie (the City Nurse and also a veteran) and a plethora of local Girl Scouts filed down the street with many other organizations in tow – including the Boys & Girls Club, Project REACH, the Kiwanis, Chelsea Youth Basketball and Chelsea Pop Warner to name just a few.
The uncertainty of something new soon turned into a very positive vibe as neighbors along Broadway came out of their homes one by one taking in the march, singing along with the Scouts and waving American flags.
All were smiling.
By the time the group hit St. Rose Church, a rock band made up of students from the St. Rose School had set up and were playing familiar tunes.
It seemed that the City had found a new tradition, and more importantly, one that led to a much larger attendance at the official City Hall exercises.
Just about every age group and every walk of life was represented at the exercises, and it was standing room only as the Chelsea High School (CHS) Orchestra, under the direction of Shannon Sullivan, took the stage and welcomed participants to the front of City Hall with Patriotic music.
“I think this is definitely a tradition,” said Eileena Teixeira, a leader of the local Girl Scouts. “We would certainly like to do it again.”
It was summed up appropriately at the outset of the exercises by Chelsea Veterans Agent Francisco Toro – who said the parade reminded him of days past in Chelsea.
“I haven’t seen a parade in many years, but it was beautiful and reminded me of when I was a child and watched the Memorial Day parade come down Broadway,” he told the assembled crowd as the official exercises began. “It reminds me of what Memorial Day really means. Memorial Day is not about the start of the summer, about BBQs or the three-day weekend. Many of the children with me years ago watching the Memorial Day parade on Broadway ended up serving and some of them are not here today. We are here to honor them and remember them.”
CHA Senior Wendy Chung sang a rousing rendition of the National Anthem, which was her second time singing the song this week, as she was the featured singer at the Soldier’s Home exercises on Thursday in Woodlawn Cemetery.
After a warm welcome by City Manager Jay Ash, School Superintendent Mary Bourque presented Clark School eighth-grader Yesenia Melendez. She recited the poem ‘Home of the Brave’ by Roger Robicheau.
Nearly every elected official was in attendance, including most every City Councillor and School Committee member.
State Sen. Sal DiDomenico and Reps. Gene O’Flaherty (D-Chelsea) and Kathi-Anne Reinstein (D-Revere) also gave remarks, with O’Flaherty commenting on the parade.
“To the Girl Scouts that helped organize the parade, you have brought an exuberance and an excitement to Memorial Day,” he said. “This is the largest parade and the largest crowd at City Hall we’ve had in years.”
Added Reinstein, “I have not seen Patriotism like this since right after 9/11. This was great.”
Council President Leo Robinson recalled the Tuskegee Airmen from World War II and the racism and discrimination they faced, only to win over a lot of their fellow soldiers with their brave and dedicated service.
Chelsea elementary students also got into the spirit of remembrance, with Hunter Dias (Grade 4 Hooks Elementary), Cassidy Chhoeun (Grade 4 Berkowitz), Nayeli Lebron/Javier Solares (Grade 4 Kelly) and Christina Nowicki (Grade 4 Sokolowski) explaining the story of veterans whose names adorned their respective schools.
Grand Marshall Mary McKenzie told those in the crowd about how her mother and father had served in World War II, and then had come to Chelsea to settle down and raise their family.
“People don’t think so when they go to the airport, but we do have freedoms that other countries don’t enjoy,” said McKenzie. “So many died for these freedoms. We have to also remember we’re here today to remember those who were killed in the line of duty and those who came back home.”
The ceremonies, however, were highlighted by a special presentation to World War II veteran and City Historian George Ostler. Rev. Sandra Whitley (Retired Lt. Colonel/Air Force) presented Ostler, who served in the European theatre from 1942 to 1945, with a proclamation from Gov. Deval Patrick.
“George F. Ostler loves this City and recalls everyone being treated as brothers and sisters,” said Whitley. “He is a family man and today we’re honoring him also for his service.”
Then, as CHS Senior Karolyn Moni played taps, PAV Commander Walter Wiechec, DAV Commander James Malachowski and DAV member Charles Centruillo placed the wreaths of remembrance upon the memorials in front of City Hall.