Towanda Parade Honors Veterans
By David Keeler
Towanda’s Main Street was lined with spectators last Friday who’d shown up to view the community’s Independence Day Parade that offered special tribute to World War II veterans. The parade was part of Towanda’s First Friday event, which brings special events to downtown Towanda on the first Friday of each month.
Dozens of veterans traveled the parade route in convertibles, including Howard Kerr, a World War II Marine Corps veteran who was the parade’s grand marshal.
The parade wasn’t the only attraction. Along the sidewalks, vendors set up booths and while the crowd awaited the beginning of the parade, a 20-year-old acrobat named Raymond Groagan drew a round of applause when he did repeated handspring somersaults down the center of Main Street in front of the courthouse.
Some of the spectators stopped to have Bonnie Bell Baker Hilfiger add a touch of artwork to their faces and others dipped into their pockets and gave Lena Manning and Nancy Brown a donation for their project to send care packages to servicemen and women. Lena was decked out in a colorful red, white and blue hat.
The parade was supposed to have been preceded by the Fire Cracker Fun Run down Main Street but that didn’t happen.
An American Legion Color Guard led the procession along Main Street. The veterans waved and greeted people. There were dozens of colorful floats, all with a patriotic theme. Towanda businessman Jay Cory, dressed as Ben Franklin, walked the parade route and informed spectators that his Ben Franklin Crafts store had a nice selection of products that were made in the USA.
The salute to veterans didn’t end when the parade concluded. Speaking at a podium set up on the courthouse steps, Towanda Mayor Garrett Miller presented the Key to the City to Howard Kerr. Miller asked veterans in the audience to raise their hands and called for a round of applause for them. “It’s my honor and privilege to dedicate this evening to our World War II veterans,” Miller said. “Let us never forget what these veterans have sacrificed for our country and our freedom.”
“Howard Kerr knows a thing or two about sacrifice,” Miller said. “He lost two brothers, Jimmy and George, during World War II, and he was severely wounded himself and received the Purple Heart.”
Presenting an honorary Key to the City to Kerr, Miller said he would like him to accept it on behalf of all veterans.
Frances Walker of Ben Franklin Crafts presented Kerr with a colorful red, white and blue American Valor Quilt. Walker said she was presenting it on behalf of the Ghent Hill Quilt Club, Carols Creations and Ben Franklin Arts and Crafts. “It’s for all you have done for your country,” Walker said to Kerr. “Thank you so much.”
State Representative Tina Pickett, who came to present certificates of appreciation to the World War II veterans, said, “It’s truly a humbling experience to be here with so many people who have given great sacrifices to our country.” She explained that while the evening’s program was to specially honor World War II vets, she also wanted to honor all veterans who have served their country. “We cannot thank you enough.”
Pickett presented Certificates of Appreciation from the Pennsylvania General Assembly to each of the World War II veterans. “It’s to let you know that we the people of the Commonwealth are very grateful for your service,” she said. Pickett asked people in the audience to send her the names of World War II veterans who were not able to attend the ceremony so she could send them a certificate.
The certificates stated: “We salute Pennsylvania’s World War II heroes. This certificate is presented as a token of appreciation, recognizing the great personal sacrifices made during your service to this great nation during World War II, one of the most trying periods in the history of the world. Let us never forget these sacrifices and keep alive the legacy of your generation. Only through the dedication and heroism dedicated by you and your comrades do we remain a free country.”
Pickett invited the veterans to come to the front and accept their certificate, and for those who were unable to come to the front, Pickett took certificates to them.
Other highlights of the event included Towanda Business Association Vice President Joel Crayton reading the entire text of the Declaration of Independence and Jay Cory handing out copies of the Declaration to veterans and others.
The program concluded with Joe Doherty speaking about progress on creating a Towanda Veterans’ Memorial Park and also offered more praise for the World War II veterans. Doherty said he was nine months old when World War II broke out. “I was protected by heroes whom I never met and most of whom I never will. I’m convinced to the core of my being that it was through their courage and sacrifice that our nation persevered through some of the darkest times in our history. So from this veteran of a later time, I raise my voice, I raise my salute, I give you my praise and I offer my thanks to each one of you.”
Doherty went on to say that World War II veterans are dying at the rate of 1,100 per day. “It’s getting late in the day for proper tribute to these heroes called the Greatest Generation,” Doherty said. He said that he and his staff are creating Bradford County’s Veterans’ Memorial Park as a fitting tribute. He added that the Memorial would be a state-of-the-art tribute that would stand forever in Towanda and that the memorial would also pay tribute to veterans from other wars as well. He urged people to support the memorial project. “This is the time to act,” Doherty said. “Tomorrow is promised to no one.”