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Fairfield 375: Fairfield's Memorial Day parade is a true community salute

EDITOR'S NOTE: Fairfield, established in 1639, is one of Connecticut's oldest communities. From its settlement 375 years ago by English colonists on "four squares" of land that Native Americans called Uncoway to the vibrant town of nearly 60,000 residents that it is today, Fairfield's history is a chronicle of compelling events and colorful characters.

The Fairfield Citizen will highlight vignettes from that rich history throughout this 375th anniversary year on a regular basis.

One of Fairfield's signature holiday events each year is the annual Memorial Day parade that has crowds competing for curb space every year along the line of march through downtown and ending at the historic Town Hall Green.

The first "official" Memorial Day parade likely took place in 1923, according to the Fairfield Museum and History Center.

Veterans and marching bands have been part of the parade since the early years, but now regular marchers also include the barefoot Ancient Mariners and their canon, the children of Stratfield School who assemble a large map of the U.S. in the blink of an eye, the burnished cadres from the Police and Fire departments, and scores of Boy and Girl scouts, Little Leaguers, schools, clubs and community groups of all sorts, supplemented by floats, bands, vintage vehicles and scores of flags.

Through the years there have been special Memorial Day parades such as the 1935 tercentenary parade marking the state's 300th anniversary, and the 1976 parade celebrating the U.S. bicentennial. The town's first selectman at that time, John J. Sullivan, spoke at the post-parade ceremonies that bicentennial year. In 1976, the theme for the town's parade float was the marriage between John Hancock and Dorothy Quincy at the original Burr Homestead in 1775. The homestead was subsequently burned by the British in July 1779 and later rebuilt where it still stands on the Old Post Road parade route.

In 1966, the post-parade speaker was newsreel editor Charles Peden who created a controversy when he criticized draft-card burners, beatniks and Vietnam war protesters. The first time a woman chaired the parade was in 1984 when Vera Nosal, who had served as an aviation machinist mate in World War II, led the parade.

Probably the most sentimental event in the parade's history was in 2000 when the parade was halted so Firefighter Joe Rainis could propose to his sweetheart Jennifer Bambus -- she said yes.

Today, from military jets roaring overhead to sprightly high school marching bands, the town of Fairfield honors those who made the ultimate sacrifice in service to the nation with a heart-felt community salute that many believe may be the largest Memorial Day parade in Connecticut.

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