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Grafton Memorial Day’s 150th celebration honors vets, tradition

By STEPHEN SANTILLI

The Exponent Telegram

GRAFTON, W.Va.  — The longest on-going Memorial Day celebration in the United States was held in Taylor County Monday. The 150th Grafton Memorial Day Parade was held on a sunny day with temps in the mid to upper 70s. Even though the hot sunshine, concrete and asphalt were not cooperating with the thousands of attendees lining the streets of Grafton, everyone seemed to enjoy themselves.

The Grafton High School band takes pride in honoring veterans during the Memorial Day Parade.
(Photo by Steve Santilli)

Children were scampering about, scooping up as much candy as their little hands would allow, while adults sat under umbrellas or quenching a well-earned thirst with cold water. Multiple generations of families were on hand, as well.

Angela Stone and her husband, Robert, attended the parade to watch their son, Elijah, march in the parade with his grade-school classmates. “We’re here to remember those that served our country and laid down their lives for our freedom,” said Angela. Her husband added that they want to teach their children to celebrate Memorial Day and what it is really about: Tradition and remembering the fallen.

The parade route ended at the original National Cemetery in Grafton. Hundreds of school children from throughout Taylor County then placed flowers on each of the graves. It is a tradition that goes back over 100 years.

“I let Elijah pick out which veteran he wants to give flowers to, and I read their name and think about them and thank them for what they’ve done for our country,” said Rebecca Stone, as Elijah and his father laid flowers on the grave Elijah chose.

School children placing flowers on the graves of veterans is one tradition well-known in Grafton on Memorial Day. Another tradition is based more on family.

William McFarland has been attending the parade for nearly five decades. He jokingly said his favorite part of the parade each year was, “The majorettes, of course!” After his family’s laughter subsided, he admitted that the best part was watching all of the “school kids marching and then they put flowers on the graves.” McFarland was adamant about the importance of the children participating in every parade for a century and a half. “This teaches our children and grandchildren about our heritage and how we honor those who served us.” This longing for and faith in traditions is what keeps some many people returning year after year to Taylor County on Memorial Day weekend.

Corrin Lewis, Grafton High School marching band Field Commander, felt the bittersweet sting of participating in her 10th and final parade as a student of Taylor County public schools. “Next year, I won’t have anything to do but sit and clap and reminisce,” said Lewis. “(The marching band) works so hard every year for this event. It’s really important because no one else has anything like this but Grafton.” She enjoys the reunion atmosphere of the parade and that “you see everyone on the street.”

Lewis added, “It was hot and sweaty, but the veterans deserve this recognition. So, we do what we do every year in honor of their sacrifices.”

Cynthia Duda lives in Morgantown and has never attended the Grafton Memorial Day Parade. She was on hand because of a family connection with a veteran. “I heard this was the 150th year, so I thought it would be a great day to see a parade and do something nice to honor my uncle.” Duda’s uncle, Raymond Prudnick, passed away a few months ago and is interred at the National Cemetery in Grafton. “This is my way of paying respects to him and all the veterans,” said Duda.

Amy Price and her family attended the parade, as well. They moved from Richmond, Virginia, in 2015. Her husband, Grant, and her mother, Marian Ellen, were watching the two young children as Amy talked about how impressed she was with the parade. “They have a great committee who is devoted to making this celebration better and better every year and you can so they’ve been working really hard. We love this parade,” said Price.

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