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99th is represented at Memorial Day parade years ago

A recent edition of the VFW magazine published answers to a question, "Do you think Americans care about Memorial Day?"

Most of those who responded said that people no longer care, that Memorial Day is merely a time for barbecues and goofing off.

Not so entirely in Washington, D.C.

Thanks to the work of James Roberts, president of the World War II Veterans Committee, an arm of Radio Forum of America, there was a Memorial Day parade here in this city last year and this.

Roberts asked me last year if I could pull together a unit of the 99th Infantry Division to be a part of the parade. I did. There were six of us, gathered on short notice. One has since died.

The parade route went from the National Mall, west of the U.S. Capitol, and west along Independence Avenue from 3rd Street to 12th Street.

True, there were not great crowds last year along the way in this city of a half million people; but the cheers were loud and shouts of "thank you" were music to our ears.

This year, thanks to a notice in the Checkerboard, I received lots of inquiries about the parade. In addition, I used the Checkerboard directory in the second issue, 2004, to locate and invite those who live close enough to be able to make this a day event.

Lacking the wherewithal to find housing for those who live at a distance, and due to the poor health of a number who would like to have participated, only 14 took part, but we made a good showing!

There were 170 units in the parade, which included a number of veteran outfits representing different wars, high school, college, and military bands, a contingent of the Rolling Thunder, Boy Scouts, and ethnic groups in costume such as American Indians, Brazilians, mounted units, and so on. There even was a Confederate-looking unit from Virginia, complete with Stars and Bars!

Our 99th Infantry Division group began its day in the parish hall of St. Mark's Episcopal Church on Capitol Hill, where we had coffee and Danish and got acquainted. From there we were shuttled to the assembly area in genuine Willys Army jeeps supplied by friends of mine in the swing dance community.

At the step-off time 10 of us walked, four needed to ride in the jeeps. We were led by a ceremonial American flag, loaned to us by the Nash Post #8 of the American Legion located on Capitol Hill, and carried by Col. Carlo Biggio's son, Brad.

Then came the 99th Infantry Division banner, supplied by Carlo Biggio and carried by some youths dressed in genuine ODs, followed by the 10 good-looking 99'ers!

Behind us came Dave Perlman carrying a 99th Infantry Division banner loaned to us by Jack Rue, who could not join us but was enthusiastic about the enterprise.

Two jeeps flaunting American flags took up the rear. One was owned and driven by a collector named Miles Hamby of Alexandria VA, the other owned and driven by Roland Blue of Leesburg VA.

The crowds along the avenue were much larger than the year before. This promises to be an annual exercise, so we can expect even more spectators next year.

An observer told me after the parade that we 99'ers were given louder cheers than any of the other units. (See, I told you we are good looking!)

As we marched along in a strung-out line, at route step, I would see a veteran along the sidelines and run over to shake his hand. (I could tell from the battle or ship name on his baseball cap or the VFW or American Legion on the overseas cap.) Miles Hamby drove his jeep close enough to the curb so that Kenneth Myers and Paul Tolovi could reach out and shake hands with eager, appreciative citizens.

On one occasion, as I was shaking a veteran's hand, the dad in a little family sitting on the curb, reached up to shake my hand and say, "Thank you." As I looked down, there was the face of a little boy smiling up at me and the grandfather in me flowed. I shook his hand and, unbeknown to me, a Washington Post photographer took a picture of it.

That picture appeared on page one of the Washington Post above the fold the next day! Unfortunately the picture was shot of my right side and did not show my Checkerboard patch. However, the 99tn was mentioned in the caption.

When we reached the dispersal point we were shuttled back to the church hall for lunch. Volunteers (including my wife, Lilian) prepared a fine table for us and were eager to do so. Each one told me it was a way for them to say, "Thank you."

After the meal I asked each 99er to tell about a memorable experience they had during the war. It was a blockbuster! Some stories brought tears.

Everyone will remember Joe Prola's account of having to take off a friend's legs, whether due to gangrene or shrapnel I do not recall; but it was a heavy hit.

Kenneth Myers told about his effort to preserve the life of George Serkedakis against orders; for "Serki" was in critical condition with a head wound that was caked with ice from lying in the snow. It worked. George is alive to this day. Hearts pounded heavily as the story was told.

Sid Salins a few weeks later told me some stories I wish he had told then. What each man said, though, was an honored memorial. (A friend arranged for a local cable TV station to videotape the after-lunch remarks. I hope to get a copy of the same.)

Charles Biggio, son of Carlo Biggio took some pictures of the parade, as did my wife and Oliver McKee's son-in-law.

Memorial Day celebrations are not dead. Sam Lombardo, who was with us in the parade last year, was named grand marshal of a Memorial Day parade in Boiling Springs PA, near Carlisle where he lives. Harry McCracken was in a parade near Pittsburgh. Danny Dalyai of Frederick MD, was in a parade in Sharpsburg. In addition, the World War II Memorial on the National Mall was thronged on Memorial Day.

David Krashes of Princeton MA, was honored in a Memorial Day celebration at the dedication of Krashes Field, a park given to the town by David and his wife for the enjoyment of young and old alike.

It was a great day, and members of the 99th Infantry Division scored some high performance points for helping our citizens remember.

Members who marched in the parade included Morris Aefsky A/393, Charles (Carlo) Biggio C/372, Charles Brockway A/324, Oliver McKee 393, Patrick Morris L/394, Kenneth Myers Q/394, David Perlman C/394, Joe Prola 4MED, Sid Salins H/393, M. "Buck" Shelton G/393, Bradford Tatum 5th Platoon, Arnold Taylor Hq. MP, Paul Tolovi S/099, Wilbur Young C/372.

A Memorial Day parade in Washington, D.C., is planned for next year. If you would like to participate, contact Arnold Taylor now so he can shop around for housing for those who need it. His address is 507 3rd St. SE, Washington D.C. 20003.

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