Traditions and history matter to Seymour.
That is why, for 71 years, residents have gathered for the annual V-J Day Parade.
So on Sunday afternoon a small but faithful crowd showed up along the parade route which marched up Second Street, made a left on Walnut Street and then took another turn west onto Fifth Street back to Community Drive.
V-J stands for Victory over Japan, and V-J Day is conducted in recognition of the end of World War II when Japan formally surrendered to the U.S. aboard the USS Missouri in Tokyo Bay on Sept. 2, 1945.
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Seymour’s V-J Day Parade, organized by Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 1925, is believed to be the only one in the world that has been celebrated continuously since fighting ended with Japan on Aug. 15, 1945, said post commander John Schafstall.
The parade is conducted to honor veterans, especially those who fought during World War II. But there are some people who believe the parade is offensive to Japanese residents and shouldn’t be conducted at all.
Joan Gorbett, 82, of Brownstown said she has never missed a parade and is proud to show her patriotism and respect for U.S. veterans by standing and cheering.
“You can’t rewrite history and pretend it didn’t happen,” she said.
Her father served in World War I, her brothers fought in World War II and her friend, Kenneth Holloway, 92, who attended the parade with her, served in the U.S. Navy during World War II.
“I’m just military-minded, and I support the veterans,” Gorbett said. “Things are getting kind of mixed up in the world today, and I just think we need to do what we can to show respect to our veterans.”
Holloway, who served in the U.S. Navy on the USS Minneapolis cruiser, never touched land for a year and four months.
“I never did get eight hours of sleep,” he said. “We worked four hours on and four hours off.”
Watching the parade makes Gorbett feel both proud and grateful.
“It’s because of these men here that we’ve got what we’ve got today,” she said.
Every country has its problems, and there are things that need to be corrected, Gorbett said.
“But we’re still the greatest land in the world,” she said.
The parade itself was smaller this year, with only about 25 entries. In the past, there have been 100 or more marching units, floats and other participants.
Most noticeably missing was the Seymour High School Marching Owls. The band canceled its appearance because of the threat of rain.
The rain never fell, however, and the parade marched on.
Leading the procession as parade grand marshals were Russell Byrkett, Murrel Trapp and Ervin Stuckwisch. All three are World War II veterans. They were being escorted in a new bright yellow Chevrolet Camaro convertible courtesy of Bob Poynter GM.
“It’s truly an honor to drive these gentlemen around,” said Chuck Brackemyre, a member of the local VFW.
Byrkett, 90, started his military career by serving in the U.S. Army for four years, then was moved into the U.S. Air Force, where he served another two years before he rejoined the U.S. Army. He retired from the Army after 24 years of duty.
As a former post commander of the VFW, he was in charge of the parade in the mid- and late-1990s and can’t remember a year he wasn’t organizing it or marching in it.
Byrkett said he appreciates the recognition the community gives him and other veterans by coming out for the parade.
Many of those sitting in lawn chairs or standing on the sidewalks waved small American flags as the parade went past.
“It means a lot to see that,” Byrkett said. “It shows a lot of respect.”
Trapp, 95, agreed and said he’s proud to have served his country in the Army.
He’s worried, however, that people, especially kids, don’t understand why Seymour even has the parade or what V-J Day means.
The parade is a way to make sure people don’t forget the sacrifices made by veterans such as Byrkett, Trapp, Stuckwisch and Holloway.
“The younger generation today isn’t learning enough about what happened,” Trapp said. “I guarantee there are some kids who can’t tell you a thing about World War I or World War II.”