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VFW gears up for Memorial Day parade in Waterville

WATERVILLE — Daniel Parker fears that younger people will forget the importance of Memorial Day — of honoring those who died while serving their country.

Parker, commander of Forest J. Pare Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 1285, of Waterville, hopes young people turn out May 27 for the annual parade, wreath-laying ceremonies and speeches to honor the men and women who died.

“It’s got to be done, so they’re never forgotten,” Parker, 44, said Monday.

Parker’s sentiments are personal, as well as patriotic. A U.S. Army National Guard veteran, he served 11 years as an E-5 sergeant and was deployed twice to Iraq, receiving a medical retirement after 15 years. He retired as an E-6 sergeant.

He also suffers from post traumatic stress disorder.

He was present at the Forward Operating Base Marez chow hall bombing Dec. 21, 2004, in Mosul, Iraq. He lost friends in that bombing, even holding one man as he died.

“I didn’t get injured, but it was quite traumatic,” Parker said.

In another loss, his best friend, Michael Jones, of Unity, a platoon sergeant who deployed with Parker the first time, died from a medical issue shortly after he returned home from Iraq in 2005, he said. The death devastated Parker, who said he fed Jones his last meal.

Originally referred to as Decoration Day, Memorial Day started after the Civil War and was recognized as a federal holiday in 1971. The holiday falls annually on the last Monday of May.

In Waterville, the VFW is organizing the parade and other activities, which start at 9:30 a.m. with a wreath-laying ceremony in Castonguay Square next to City Hall. A second wreath will be laid at 9:50 a.m. at the Two Cent Bridge at Head of Falls off nearby Front Street.

Afterward, the parade will start at 10 a.m. from Head of Falls, march north on Front St., turn left on Appleton Street and proceed to Elm Street where ceremonies will be held at Veterans Memorial Park. Afterward, lunch will be hosted by the VFW at its post at 53 Water St. for parade participants.

Parker and Waterville Mayor Nick Isgro will speak at the park ceremony. Isgro also will be grand marshal of the parade. Besides VFW members, those expected to march include Boy and Girl Scouts, Waterville Elks, Knights of Columbus, Waterville school bands, the Bourque-Lanigan American Legion Post 5 and others. Parker said anyone wanting to be in the parade may show up at Head of Falls beforehand.

“The more, the merrier,” he said.

The VFW has 268 members but only about a dozen are active, helping to host fundraisers and other events, according to Parker. He said the post welcomes new people, who may apply to become members by visiting the post.

“A lot of the younger people who served in Desert Storm through to the present — they’re just not showing up to participate in the VFW,” Parker said. “I honestly don’t know why.”

The VFW post had more members 10 years ago, but Korean War and Vietnam veterans are passing on, according to Parker.

“They’re falling away,” he said. “In the last four years I’ve been commander, we’ve lost probably six or eight members.”

The post is open 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Friday and Saturday and from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday through Thursday and Sunday. The post hosts functions, and Parker organizes a bike raffle and Christmas activities.

Parker has been VFW commander for four years and will be succeeded in June by Mike Switzer but will serve as quartermaster. He said the post has undergone some improvements over the last year, including getting all new LED lights and ceiling tiles as well as a smoking lounge within the main building. The floor will be replaced soon, thanks to a $5,000 grant from The Home Depot, for which the VFW applied, he said.

Parker noted that a week before Memorial Day, at 11:30 a.m. May 19, a wreath-laying ceremony will be held at St. Francis Catholic Cemetery on Grove Street and a flag-raising will follow at the VFW post on Water Street.

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