Although Memorial Day parades have been a tradition in Royal Oak for decades, some veterans have stated that they will be absent this year.
At least three veteran organizations that traditionally march or ride on floats in the annual parade have withdrawn due to a modification in the parade route that, according to The Detroit News, will exclude crippled and elderly veterans.
A total of two floats, several vehicles, and more than 60 flag-waving marchers from the American Legion, Veterans of Foreign Wars, and Disabled American Veterans will be lost.
“This is not a political demonstration,” Tom Roth, commander of the American Legion Post #253, stated emphatically. “However, as it became evident that many of our veterans would be unable to march, we decided not to march as a group.”
Due to ongoing Main Street construction, the parade’s customary route was changed two blocks west to Washington and then north to Sherman, with a detour along 11 Mile Road.
Parade participants will be asked to board city-provided buses at the viaduct to be shuttled to events at the new park between city hall and the commercial district due to a viaduct nearby.
Critics argue that the new arrangement will restrict individuals physically capable of boarding and exiting buses, leaving them standing or sitting in the middle of Troy Street during the event.
A US Navy veteran, John “Willy” Williams, is a member of the VFW, DAV, and American Legion.
“People call me ‘March Willy,’ because I’m generally the one urging people to participate and setting things up,” said Williams, who also serves on the city’s parade event committee. “Not this year,” says the speaker.
Williams said he will attend the ceremony at the War Memorial, which honors the 188 Royal Oak men and women who have died in military service since the Civil War.
Roth stated that he and others plan to follow suit. Roth remarked, “We wouldn’t miss it.”
Two veterans groups and at least two community organizations have informed city spokesperson Judy Davids that they would not participate in the march.
“We had 492 people in the procession last year, and we expect even more this year — 518 overall — even without those four organizations,” Davids said. “The only reason I heard was that the parade route adjustment rendered it too short and they didn’t think it was worth the effort,” says the author.
The parade path was changed at the request of the city’s police department for public safety reasons owing to Main Street road work, according to Davids.
Carol Hennesey, the 76-year-old president of the Royal Oak Memorial Society, which oversees the preservation of veteran’s graves around the city, claimed she and her group were in control of the parade until two commissioners told her “I was too old” a few years ago.
When the route change was first announced in March, her group and others were told that other routes would be rejected.
Hennesey remarked, “They didn’t want to hear any other possibilities.”
No-shows, according to Jerry Gorski, a current VFW National Committee of Administration member and former VFW State Commander, will be obvious to anyone familiar with the march.
“There will still be some vets engaged,” Gorski said, “but I expect people to ask concerns if they don’t see honor guards or vets carrying flags down the street.” “This isn’t going to be a typical Memorial Day march.”
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