There were colorful bands and classic cars, and marching alpacas and bleating sheep, herded along Speedwell Avenue by dutiful dogs.
A home-grown Marine thundered overhead in a transport plane. Dignitaries included a World War II bomber commander–centenarian Bob Vaucher— and a pair of former political adversaries, Congresswoman and Navy veteran Mikie Sherrill and state Assemblyman and local resident Jay Webber.
In all, nearly 90 groups participated in Saturday’s Memorial Day Parade in Morris Plains. On a glorious, sun-drenched May morning, they gave thanks to the servicemen and women who have defended our nation’s freedoms.
They also came to honor the man at the head of the parade. Frank Druetzler, known to generations as “Uncle Frank,” retired last year after 32 years as mayor.
On Saturday, he donned his Uncle Sam costume one last time, as Grand Marshal of the parade he started in 1987.
“It was a lot of fun today,” Druetzler said afterwards at the VFW, where veterans served hot dogs and birch beer, children rode ponies, and people like Gary and Marsha Windt flocked to say thanks to the retiree.
The Wendts are proud parents of Skip Windt, the Marine Corps major who piloted a KC-130T Hercules plane over the parade.
In his first Memorial Parade speech, Mayor Jason Kaar paid homage by borrowing Druetzler’s famous line, “It never rains in Morris Plains.”
Slideshow photos by Katharine Boyle. Hover/click on images for captions:
Rattling off a litany of his Republican predecessor’s accomplishments, Kaar, a Democrat, said he spoke for everyone in the “Community of Caring”–another Dreutzler legacy catchphrase– in offering “our sincerest thanks and gratitude.”
Parade organizer Steve Welsh suggested the Uncle Sam uniform should hang in the borough museum. Druetzler confirmed he won’t be needing the suit anymore–he plans to enjoy next year’s parade from the sidewalk.
Other perennial favorites in Saturday’s line of march included the Denville String Band, the Orange High School Marching Tornadoes Band, and Shriners clowns and go-karts.
For the first time, the Friendly Sons of St. Patrick of Morris County–co-organizers of the St. Patrick’s Parade in Morristown–joined the festivities, marching with their giant American flag.
The day was full of life. But the solemnity that underlies the holiday was marked eloquently by Robert “Chip” Leiher of VFW Post 3401.
As featured speaker at the Roberts Garden wreath-laying ceremony preceding the parade, Leiher remembered the 1.3 million Americans who have perished in the country’s wars.
Slideshow photos by Kevin Coughlin. Hover/click on images for captions:
“These numbers are truly humbling, as they represent people: Individuals who were brothers, husbands, wives, mothers, sisters, uncles, aunts and friends. And they were people who were woven into the fabric of the communities across the nation, and in Morris Plains,” Leiher said.
“It is all too easy for those who have not suffered such losses to pass the holes that were left in communities like Morris Plains. That is human nature.”
Yet Leiher reminded the gathering, from the Morris Plains Borough School Band to the 100-year-old WWII commander:
“We are able to be here today thanks to those who are not.”
The best way to honor the dead, Leiher said, is to care for the living.
“It could be driving a veteran to a medical appointment. Befriending a veteran who lives alone or in a nursing facility. Or reaching out to a veteran just returning from military service. Please, find ways that you can engage and be part of the effort to care for those who serve.”