BALLSTON SPA – Sunshine gleamed off the white uniforms of the U.S. Navy’s Nuclear Power Training Unit as they marched through downtown Ballston Spa singing “Here we go again” for the annual Memorial Day Parade.
Partly cloudy weather with no wind and mild temperatures helped produce a robust crowd for the parade Saturday, which was sponsored and organized by the Veterans of Foreign Wars Post No. 358, American Legion Post No. 234 and Ballston Spa.
U.S. Navy Senior Chief Josh Harton, a nuclear machinist mate, marched in the parade, while his wife Amy and daughters Chloe, 12, and Bella, 8, watched with pride.
Amy Harton, who had a Captain America action figure sticking out of her front pants pocket, said Memorial Day offers an opportunity for parents to teach their children lessons about the sacrifices American military personnel have made. During the parade her daughters asked about the ribbons and medals worn by veterans and active military members. She explained that the awards were similar in concept to merit badges earned for scouting, but they are awarded to people in the military for their service and sacrifices to the people of the United States.
“Memorial Day is about the fallen, so we try to concentrate on those who have been lost in previous wars, and we’re just very honored and privileged to be a part of this Navy community, and for my husband to stand for the things that our forefathers fought for,” Harton said.
Some of the parade participants included the Ballston Spa High School marching band, the Ballston Spa fire and police departments, the Ballston Spa Elks Lodge and Lions Club, as well as other local fire companies, a contingent of area U.S. Navy submarine veterans, and representatives from the Gold Star Mothers.
Members of Ballston Spa’s Boy Scout Troop No. 1 and Cub Scout Troop No. 1 marched in the parade and played a key role in the ceremony held in front of the village’s Soldiers Monument. The scouts read the names of the war veterans from the village and the towns of Milton, Malta and Ballston who died during the Spanish American War, World War I, World War II and the Korean conflict.
VFW member Tim Farnum, a past commander of the VFW, organized the parade. Farnum said the VFW and the American Legion alternate years organizing the annual event. He began the ceremony in front of Soldiers Monument by reading from General Orders No.11 from Gen. John Logan in 1868, which first declared Memorial Day.
“The 30th day of May, 1868, is designated for the purpose of strewing with flowers or otherwise decorating the graves of comrades who died in defense of their country during the late rebellion, and whose bodies now lie in almost every city, village, and hamlet churchyard in the land. In this observance no form of ceremony is prescribed, but posts and comrades will in their own way arrange such fitting services and testimonials of respect as circumstances may permit,” Farnum said, quoting Logan.
The grand marshall for the parade was Navy Capt. Judd Krier who gave the keynote speech at Soldiers Monument ceremony. Krier thanked the village for being great hosts for the sailors under his command.
“I want to thank everyone in our local community for your friendship and support of my sailor and our command. You gladly welcome us into your community and you teach my young sailors valuable skills that they need to become fleet sailors,” Krier said.
American Legion Auxiliary President Billie-Jo Helman-Schweikert placed a blue flower at the monument.
Helman-Schweikert and Farnum both said membership in their organizations have dwindled in recent years, with the VFW having about 160 members and the American Legion having around 150.
Farnum said 10 years ago his VFW had between 280-300 members, but membership has fallen off as older veterans die and the veterans of more recent wars, such as in Iraq and Afghanistan, have formed their own groups rather than joining the VFW or legion.
“It’s sort of like the Vietnam vets did, those guys didn’t really come out [and join the VFW] after that one. And its different with the younger guys — it’s not a draft anymore; it’s volunteer,” Farnum said.
Helman-Schweikert said organizations like the VFW and legion need a new generation of members, but many younger war veterans have a difficult after returning to civilian life.
“A lot of them can’t deal with what went on. We’ve tried to reach out, but there’s a disconnect,” Helman-Schweikert said.