Roaring back – Return of full Memorial Day parade brings crowds to Ironton (WITH GALLERY)

Published 2:50 pm Tuesday, June 1, 2021

When the year began, the nation was at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic and organizers of the Ironton-Lawrence County Parade were tasked with planning in another year of uncertainty.

“We didn’t know yet if we could do this,” Lou Pyles, of the parade committee, said.

Last year, when lockdowns were only beginning to ease, the committee was forced to bar spectators from the event and live stream it, while drastically scaling back its lineup to the core veterans groups who made a shortened route through Ironton.

This year, the committee planned for the possibility that they may have to do it again, but as vaccinations were administered and COVID-19 cases began to decline, they became optimistic.

After meeting with officials from state and county health departments, they were told in April that the parade could return in full, as well as accompanying events, such as Navy Night, which were called off last year.

And on Monday, crowds poured into downtown Ironton to see the event return to its complete scale after two years of waiting.

The parade’s route was packed, down Park, South Third, Quincy and South Sixth streets, with the crowd gathered to watch its 11 divisions, each named in memory of a veteran, go by.

Many of the veterans groups who comprised the event’s lineup last year were in its first two divisions, leading off the event and keeping the focus on honoring those who made the ultimate sacrifice in serving their country.

“We had great weather and a great parade,” Pyles, who served as grand marshal this year said

She said the turnout was down somewhat from a typical, non-pandemic year, but not drastically and was still a strong showing.

She said this could be seen mainly in the areas downtown, typically the most congested, where, rather than five or six rows of people, they were three deep.

“It was still a wonderful crowd and they showed support for our veterans,” she said of the thousands in attendance.

Returning this year were school marching bands, colorful floats and longtime crowd favorites, such as the Yvonne DeKay School of Dance and El Hasa Shriners, who had both their oriental band and hillbilly trucks on hand.

Like them, many in the lineup were repeat participants of many years.

“How many years has it been for you?” a man asked longtime WSAZ meteorologist Tony Cavalier, as he drove by.

“25 years!” he replied.

The parade was preceded this year by fireworks, made possible by a private donor, on Saturday, while on parade day, there were two flyovers.

One, organized by local aviator Bill Nenni, consisted of vintage World War II aircraft, while the other were jets from the 180th Fighter Wing of the Ohio National Guard, out of Toledo and commanded by Lt. Col. Phillipe “Vitties” Brule, said Brent Pyles of the parade committee.

All along the route, families and those of all ages set up lawn chairs and blankets and took the event in, with many dressed in patriotic-themed outfits.

One of those attending on Saturday was Danielle Jackson, of Pittsburgh, who is an Ashland, Kentucky native.

She was in for the weekend visiting family on her first such trip since the pandemic began.

She said she has many memories of growing up in the 1990s and watching the parade with extended family in Ironton.

When she heard during her visit that the parade was making a full return this year, she decided to bring her two sons over to Ironton to let them see it for the first time.

“We just had to come,” she said. “It’s important to honor our veterans and for the tradition.”

The parade has taken place in Ironton every year since its inception in 1868 and gives the city and county the claim of the longest continuous Memorial Day event of its kind.

Pyles said the event and its longstanding tradition holds special meaning for the community and said she had heard many supportive comments during the parade.

“People said they are glad it’s back,” she said. “They said ‘We needed this.’ And that absolutely made my day.”