Annual Memorial Day parade celebrates 150th anniversary

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, May 31, 2016

NATCHEZ — Hundreds who marched from Vidalia and more who joined them sat surrounded by thousands of unknown heroes at the Natchez National Cemetery Monday in honor of Memorial Day.

National Cemetery Administration speechwriter James Theres spoke to the group, encouraging them to appreciate their surroundings and what they meant.

Theres praised the Natchez community for its annual Memorial Day commemorations, including the parade that marches from Vidalia to the cemetery, which Theres said he believed was the oldest continuously running Memorial Day celebration in the U.S. at 150 years after Monday’s service.

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He said some other communities started parades earlier, but they have petered out.

“I was talking to (a historian) and I said I think the folks in Natchez have been marching for more than 100 years,” Theres said. “I called Shelia Smith (Natchez National Cemetery supervisor) and she said they have been doing it since at least 1995. I called Eddie Coleman (Miss-Lou 30th of May Support committee director), and he said it’s been going on for a long time.”

Theres used newspaper research to back his claim that the Natchez parade is 150 years old, two years older than a parade in Ironton, Ohio, which claims to be the oldest.

Theres said he’s been sharing the story of Natchez in Washington, D.C., and he was even filming a documentary of the historic 150th march.

“What you are doing here in Natchez is special,” he said. “You ought to be very proud of this event because it is very unique and special in this country.”

Willie Minor, who served in the military for more than 30 years and attended Monday’s ceremony, said he thought the service was great.

“I think it is important we hold on to Memorial Day as a reminder to the young people, who don’t know the sacrifice that was made for them,” he said. “Even those who served in times of peace made a great sacrifice in being away from their family.

Dan Buck, 15, a Natchez Freshman Academy student and JROTC member, said he enjoyed the service.

“It is a great way to show respect and to celebrate Memorial Day,” he said. “We have to show respect for all of the veterans and all who have died.

“If they had not served and sacrificed, the country would not be what it is.”

Over the United States’ more than 240 years of existence, 30th of May committee member Douglas McAllister said the country has been involved in 83 conflicts. From the small missions to the big wars, he said every sacrifice has been important.

“To the men and women on the front lines, there are no small conflicts,” he said. “When there are bullets flying and people dying, it’s war.

“God bless each and every soldier. We will remember and commemorate your service. God bless the USA.”

Navy veteran Frank Williams, who is a committee member and former American Legion Sidney Shorter Post 590 commander, said he’s proud of the event.

“It was a beautiful day and service,” he said. “Good God almighty, celebrating 150 years is wonderful. I’ve been doing it for 60 years myself.”