2014-11-07 / Community

A Window on the Past

Veterans Days remembered
By Craig Skelton
South Portland Historical Society

A parade in 1961 makes its way up Ocean Street in South Portland’s Mill Creek. (Courtesy photo) A parade in 1961 makes its way up Ocean Street in South Portland’s Mill Creek. (Courtesy photo) When you think of Veterans Day, I hope a picture forms of crisply dressed veterans, members of the local VFW or American Legion Post, marching bands, local groups, military vehicles and fire department apparatus filling the street as far as you could see. With all that excitement, you wouldn’t find any of my childhood friends left hanging around the neighborhood. We would have all jumped on our bikes and made our way to the parade route before the band started playing or the fire engines spun up their sirens.

Another part of the fun was trying to make faces at my sister who was marching with the band or another sister on parade with the Rainbows. My sister marching with the band was the harder target because it was like trying to get a London Guard to laugh. At least I could get my sister marching with the Rainbows to stick out her tongue.

Sister Barbara conveyed this memory of marching in the Veterans Day parade with the South Portland High School band. This would have been in the late 1960s and she tells me she was usually in the front row with her baritone. Barbara is now all of 5 feet tall so back then marching between two 6-foot trombone players must have been quite amusing to the people along the parade route. She also remembers it was sometimes quite windy so it was hard to hang on to the little music stand that was loosely clamped on her baritone. Plus it was cold … brrrr.

I found a picture recently of my sister marching in the band. Back then the parade route went from First Congregational Church on Meeting House Hill, down the hill on Cottage Road. I think it was an old brownie camera that I took the picture with and it is a little out of focus.

We are now about a century removed from the so-called war to end all wars. Certainly you have heard on one TV channel or another some mention in the news about the 100th anniversary of war time events. Now might be a good time to review just how the celebration of Veterans Day came about.

World War I, known then as the “Great War,” officially ended when the Treaty of Versailles was signed in France on June 28, 1919. Actual fighting had ended seven months earlier, however, when a temporary cease fire went into effect on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month of 1918. For that reason, Nov. 11, 1918, is regarded as the end of the war.

President Woodrow Wilson proclaimed Nov. 11, 1919, to be the first commemoration of Armistice Day. The war to end all wars was followed by World War II, the Korean War, Vietnam, the Persian Gulf War and continuing related campaigns, and thus the holiday has continued to evolve. Veterans Day is still celebrated on Nov. 11 each year, yet now is widely recognized as a day to honor all veterans, as well as those who gave the ultimate sacrifice for our country. Please join me in celebration of our veterans – and dress warmly just in case.

Craig Skelton is a guest columnist and member of South Portland Historical Society.

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