SARATOGA SPRINGS — On a picture-perfect day in downtown Saratoga Springs Saturday, no one was left out during the annual Saratoga-Wilton Elks Lodge #161 Flag Day parade.
Korean War veteran Larry Ernst was one of the five grand marshals honored during the parade. He said he considers it a great honor to be named a grand marshal and thought this year’s edition of the parade was excellent, and he ought to know because he’s been to most of them.
Ernst said he and his brother carried the banner for the annual parade for “40 years straight”, and he was glad to see the event return to full form, after two years of being disrupted by the coronavirus pandemic. He said the red, white and blue of the American flag represents all of the people of the United States coming together as a unified whole.
“It’s something everybody should start paying attention to,” Ernst said, and then added, “something we need to remember.”
Flag Day is officially celebrated on June 14, and is a holiday that was born out of multiple traditions in the 19th century but was first officially declared a holiday by President Woodrow Wilson in 1916. Flag Day chiefly celebrates the adoption of the 13 red and white striped flag of the United States with 13 white stars in five rows on a blue background on June 14, 1777, by resolution of the Second Continental Congress. That date is also the “birthdate” of the U.S. Army.
The Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks has celebrated Flag Day since at least 1907, and allegiance to the American flag is a requirement of every member of the organization.
Saturday’s parade was the first Saratoga-Wilton Elks Lodge #161 Flag Day parade since before the coronavirus pandemic. In 2020, the parade was canceled due to the spread of COVID-19 and in 2021 it was postponed and combined into a Sept. 11 parade for the same reason, making this most recent edition of the tradition either the 53rd or 54th parade — depending on who you ask.
The parade featured a diverse lineup of organizations, old and new, that came out to honor the the American flag, as well as other flags honoring service and championing inclusiveness. Hundreds of U.S. flags, big and small, were flown throughout the parade and by many of the people watching from the sidewalks as the parade marched down Broadway.
Among the other flags flown during the parade were the “Gadsden Flag”, which depicts a black snake on a yellow field with the words “Don’t Tread on Me”, several older versions and variants of the U.S. flag including the “Betsy Ross flag” with 13 white stars arranged in a circle, the flag of New York state, several Cub Scout troop flags, several “Thin Blue Line” flags that include either a black and white American flag with one bright blue stripe or a dark blue and white color scheme with one brighter blue stripe, each of which honors the “Blue Lives Matter” movement honoring police, the black and white POW/MIA flag honoring prisoners of war and missing soldiers, the black-and-white Black Lives Matter flag and rainbow colored LGBTQ+ Pride Flag.
Notably absent was any appearance of the “Trump Flag,” with its red lettering on a blue field, which has usually appeared at least somewhere in the crowd at most local parades since 2016.
The parade featured elected officials of both major parties, including Republican State Sens. James Tedisco, R-Glenville, and Daphne Jordan, R-Halfmoon, and Democratic U.S. Rep. Paul Tonko, D-Amsterdam.
Kendall Hicks, chairman of the parade committee and the Exalted Leader at Frederick William Allen Lodge on Beekman Street in Saratoga Springs, said the planning for the event was a “long haul,” but came off without a hitch.
“This was a beautiful day; there was rain in the forecast, but we were fortunate because it didn’t rain, and this was one of the best days we’ve had in a long time for a parade,” Hicks said. “We had some new participants this year, which was great. There was a small coalition, group of individuals that joined in the parade this year and recognized that we honor our flag and we honor our community. It really came together, and the community circled around this parade. I don’t know whether it was that we haven’t been able to get together since COVID, or the community is simply coming together.”
The parade included five divisions, which had many different groups represented including most of its traditional participants including local fire and police departments such as the Union Fire Co. #2 Marching Band, the Fyfes & Drums of Olde Saratoga band dressed in Revolutionary War garb, VFW Post 358 of Ballston Spa, the Oriental Shriners & Keystone Cops, some driving miniature race cars, the New York State Police Mounted Unit. some of whom could seen ‘high-fiving’ young children as they rode bye on horseback, several local Boy Scout, Girl Scout and Cub Scout troops, musical groups like the Galloway Gaelic Pipes and Drums, school Marching bands from Saratoga County as well as Mayfield Central School in Fulton County, the Saratoga Springs Lions Club, the Friends of Grant Cottage and singing organizations like the the Racing City Chorus and the Uncle Sam Chorus.
Some of the newer participants included the Saratoga Peace Alliance, Saratoga Pride, Create Community Studios, Saratoga Black Lives Matter and MLK Saratoga. Some of the loudest applause during the event could be heard for the Saratoga Pride group and the Saratoga BLM chapter.
Paul O’Keefe, the commander of Adirondack Chapter No. 60 of the Korean War Veterans Association, gave the keynote speech during the parade. O’Keefe, age 90, paraphrased Gen. Douglas MacArthur’s famous turn of phrase when he said “old soldiers never die, they just fade away.”
“I’m old, and although soldiers may live to old age, their lives and accomplishments fade into oblivion,” O’Keefe said. “The beautiful and precious American flags that we fly this afternoon, it is not the wind that causes it to wave; it is the last breath of each man and woman who did not get a chance to take off their uniform and paid the ultimate sacrifice for it.”
The parade concluded with music from the Avant Garde Alumni Group, a 35-horn and 36-drum marching band organization that was the 1975 World Open champions and won multiple state championships in the 1970s.
“We only do this once a year, and all of our people come from all over the country,” said Joe Anderson, who serves on the group’s board of directors. “We only do this for Saratoga, once a year, for the Elks. Most of our people are all trained musicians, and we do this for free. We raise money and every year we give away about $3,000 to $4,000 to high school bands.
The Avant Garde Alumni Group played a number of patriotic standards including the “Battle Hymn of the Republic,” as well as a stirring rendition of “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” and Chuck Mangione’s “The Land of Make Believe.”