Crowd gathers for parade, visits cemetery

Published 12:01 am Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Ben Hillyer/The Natchez Democrat — Jalan Abron waves her American flag as the annual Memorial Day Parade makes its way down Magnolia Street in Vidalia Monday morning.

NATCHEZ — The annual Miss-Lou Memorial Day Parade thrived despite worries that the number of participants might drop due to the flood, Parade Coordinator Eddie Coleman said.

“I’d say we had upwards of 1,000 people,” he said.

At 8 a.m. Monday, a community band made up of youth and adults from Natchez, Vidalia, Ferriday and Fayette led the procession from the Grand Army of the Republic Post No. 23 at 604 North Magnolia St. in Vidalia to the Natchez National Cemetery.

Ben Hillyer/The Natchez Democrat — Cathé James holds a rose in front of his mother Margaret Hamilton’s grave marker at the Natchez National Cemetery Monday.

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The Memorial Day Parade is a long-held tradition — it began in 1867, today’s organizers say. A group of soldiers marched to the Natchez landing and crossed the river on a steamboat to land in Vidalia, according to information Coleman provided.

Natchez locals have their own traditions, too.

Christine Bassett, 56, said she’s gone to the cemetery every year on Memorial Day since her sister’s boyfriend died in 1993.

“She knew him for years,” Bassett said. “She met him in high school when she was probably about 16 years old. They went their separate ways and then reconnected.”

Delbert Wayne Harris, a Specialist Fourth Class in the Army, died in a car wreck after he returned from the Persian Gulf War.

“My sister was in Hawaii at the time, so she didn’t get to go to his funeral,” Bassett said. “She asked me to put flowers on his grave, and I do every year.

“He was so sweet and he would smile all the time,” she added.

Ben Hillyer/The Natchez Democrat — A large crowd marches in the annual Memorial Day parade across the Mississippi River bridge from Vidalia into Natchez Monday.

Bassett’s 14-year-old son, Kurston Green, said even though he didn’t know Harris, he still understands the importance of the tradition.

“It still means something because he was special to my family, even though I didn’t get to know him,” Green said.

Jennie Hardin, 54, said she’s come to the cemetery and watched the parade since she was born. Now, though, she also puts flowers on her father’s grave; he fought in World War II.

“It means a lot,” she said. “I come here every year; I never miss it.”

Hardin said she has memories of the Memorial Day Parade from when she was 2 years old.

“I remember when they had ice cream trucks and people frying fish and barbecues,” she said. “It was really nice.”

After the parade festivities, the Natchez Visitor Reception Center hosted and honored veterans from all branches of the military.

Tech. Sgt. Robert Doucet spoke about the importance of revering those who are currently in the armed services, as well as veterans and those who have lost their lives.

“Americans who have never served should be thankful to those who don’t have a tomorrow for giving them a tomorrow,” he said of those who died in combat.

“Many sacrificed their lives and many returned,” he said in his speech.

Amid activities such as barbecuing and going to the lake, Doucet said, it’s important to remember what Memorial Day is really about.

Wendy Paul, 27, does both. She’s been involved with the parade for 25 years, either as a majorette, a clarinet player or as a citizen who makes the trek from Vidalia to Natchez. But after the parade, she enjoys grilling out and spending time with her family.

“Before it’s over with, there are going to be about 50 people here,” her cousin Keywan Johnson said seated at a picnic table in Vidalia.

Paul said they have relatives who are in the Army and the National Guard, and they’re sure to keep them in mind throughout the day.

Doucet said Americans should feel blessed.

“It’s absolutely an emotional experience, and it’s a heartfelt experience,” he said of taking part in the program at the visitor center. “Every American should feel the drama of today.”