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Annual tradition crosses bridge for heroes

VIDALIA — Helping her grandfather tape red, white and blue streamers to his truck on North Magnolia Street Monday morning, 5-year-old Sakura Saul knew it wasn’t going to be just an ordinary morning of summer play.

“We’re going to do a parade,” she said.

Saul’s father is currently stationed in Biloxi, waiting to ship out to Afghanistan, making her participation in the annual Memorial Day parade as much a show of support for those still living as it was for those who died in the service of the country.

But even as the United States is involved in two long-term, ongoing wars, 10-year-old Jasmine Butler said she understands the importance of remembering the past.

“Memorial Day is to remember the people who died in the Army,” she said.

The local parade celebrates Memorial Day by making its way through part of Vidalia, across the Mississippi River bridge and to the Natchez National Cemetery. It has been forming in the same neighborhood for decades, with successive generations of the same families participating, Vidalian Curtis Randall said.

Sixteen-year-old Trey Hill was a member of one of the successive generations participating in the parade.

“I love the atmosphere of it,” he said. “This is something I have been doing since I was young.”

Likewise, Rhonda Ellis said she wouldn’t miss the parade for any reason.

“We still call it the 30th of May, and I live for this day,” she said. Memorial Day was at one time observed on May 30, but is now celebrated on the last Monday of May.

“It is just a joy getting to walk from here to the cemetery — I love the 30th of May, remembering our soldiers, how they fought and how they still fight.”

Randall said his father, uncles and aunts all participated in the parade when they were young.

“They went across the bridge banging on pots and pans,” he said. “My father would go across blowing on a homemade fife.”

The family had a history of military service, and Randall said even now three young members are active-duty servicemen and women.

When the parade left, the participants weren’t banging pots and pans — instead, the walkers followed a color guard composed of active and retired military personnel, baton twirlers and drummers.

One of those walking in the parade was Jacintha Riley-Galloway of Chicago, who — along with a bus load of 35 others — made the trip to participate in the parade, something she does yearly. She was also in town for a school reunion, Riley-Galloway said.

“Once you come to Vidalia, no matter where you came from, you always want to go back,” she said.

When the parade reached the Natchez National Cemetery, participants had a brief memorial service for soldiers who have died and later laid wreaths on the graves of their loved ones.

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