Memorial Day traditions big and small celebrated across the Philly region

Memorial Day was celebrated with events across the Philadelphia region Monday.

In Glassboro, NJ the annual Memorial Day Parade was full of floats, free bubble gum, brass bands and even fighter jets.

The South Jersey tradition dates back more than 100 years, according to its website. Monday drew hundreds with lawn chairs and snacks.

For many in attendance, the parade is an opportunity to remember loved ones who served in the military.

“We’re either teachers, preachers or servicemen,” said Susan Gant Morse of her family.

Gant Morse’s father is a 90-year-old, World War II veteran who took part in the parade. Gant Morse’s brother is a Vietnam-era Air Force veteran and her son is currently wrapping up a deployment in South Korea.

Gant Morse said the parade is a way “to be behind our veterans” and she comes because “we need to be behind them 100 percent.”

Jacqueline Dickens moved to Glassboro 13 years ago and has attended every parade since.

“We have the freedom where other countries can’t do what we can do and I think it’s a privilege,” said Dickens.

Dickens said she thinks the country is blessed “to go anywhere we want to go — go shopping, go to the beaches, go everywhere.”

Donna Pfeil-Mickle has attended the parade for more than 70 years to support the town, which pulls out all the stops, drawing string bands from across the state.

“Our church has a float and walkers this year, there’s other churches that march– it’s just a fun time,” she said.

This year Pfeil-Mickle got her friend Agnes Jones from Williamstown to come.

Williamstown had its own parade Monday, but Jones said she wanted to see something new.

Jones said she looked forward to the free candy marchers toss to the crowds.

“I’m a big kid,” she said.

Changing traditions

Across the river in Port Richmond, a smaller ceremony drew only a couple of dozen people who tried to keep what’s left of a longstanding tradition.

The neighborhood used to host a parade until a decade ago, when costs became too high and attendance dwindled.

“We didn’t want to do nothing for Memorial Day,” said John Rajca, a Vietnam veteran who is now the acting commanding officer of the Korean War Veterans Chapter 38.

The ceremony typically runs less than an hour.

“We have a shorter ceremony because a lot of the veterans are older,” said Susan Ongirski, secretary of Friends of Campbell Square, which helps organize the event.

The event featured Polish string band music and veterans laid wreaths on plaques honoring soldiers who died in the wars in Vietnam and Korea.

A third plaque honored Private First Class Stanley A. Gogoj, a Port Richmond native who was the first soldier from Pennsylvania to die in the Korean War.

Theresa Romanowski took note of how few young people attended.

She acknowledged that, for many, Memorial Day marks the unofficial start of summer. Even if plans are made around parties or beach trips, she hopes people take time to contemplate the larger purpose of the holiday.

“I think you should remember somewhere on the day to remember these men and women because they did give their lives for our freedom,” she said.

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