After more than 25 years, the annual downtown Saratoga Springs Memorial Day parade is throwing in the towel this year.
The decision to cancel the parade wasn’t an easy one, said Jim Coyne, who has affiliations with the three organizations that sponsor the parade: the American Legion, VFW and Italian American War Veterans.
It was a combination of tight finances, dwindling participation and waning recognition of the holiday as a day to remember fallen soldiers. Coyne said the decision to cancel the parade was “facing reality.”
For a complete list of Capital Region Memorial Day parades, click HERE.
The parade was usually held on the Wednesday evening before Memorial Day and drew good crowds from North Broadway to Congress Park. But as far as local parades go, the evening holiday parade was historically overshadowed by the city’s Flag Day parade in June.
The American Legion Post 70, VFW Post 420 and Italian American War Veterans Post 35 split the $1,500 cost of putting on the parade each year three ways. Every three years, one of the organizations would be the “host post” and fund an open house after the parade that included refreshments.
“The American Legion has been in financial difficulty for a while now for various reasons,” he said. “We even had a fund set aside so that if the organizations couldn’t pay that year, we would be able to keep them on as a sponsor, but we had to dip into that, too.”
The parade budget was basically used to bring in marching bands, said Coyne. The organizations would donate $500 to each of the bands that came out, including the St. Johnsville High School and Johnstown High School marching bands and the Union Fire Co. Marching Band, made up of Ballston Spa firefighters.
But Johnstown lost its marching band to school budget cuts and St. Johnsville could no longer afford to transport its band from the small Montgomery County village to Saratoga Springs.
“I’m sure we could have negotiated with them to help cover that, but it would have been another additional expense for us,” said Coyne. “And our finances have become strained just by the increased cost of heating our buildings and keeping up the buildings. We’re basically slaves to our homes, as they say.”
He contacted Galway High School about bringing in its marching band, but it already participates in the Scotia Memorial Day parade on that Wednesday.
In addition, the couple dozen veterans who used to march in the parade have become less mobile. With most Vietnam veterans now in their 60s, Korean War veterans in their 70s and World War II veterans in their 80s, the posts had to arrange for more cars to transport them in the parade.
As for the younger veterans, most of them are still deployed, he said.
Finances and participation are key to putting on a successful event, but Coyne said that the culture surrounding Memorial Day and its various events has changed.
“If you asked a kid if they know what Memorial Day means, they will tell you, ‘Yeah, the pool opens that day,’ ” he said. “I saw a boy with a baseball uniform that said ‘VFW.’ [I asked] what it meant and he had no idea. It’s just changing times.”
Coyne said the posts plan to put more of an emphasis on the ceremony in Congress Park on Decoration Day — Wednesday, May 30. The ceremony will be held at 7 p.m. and will feature speakers and a performance by the Racing City Chorus.
Coyne said it’s not in veterans’ nature to solicit money to keep the parade running. They examined their options and thought about changing the parade date to maybe a weekend day. But it ran its course, he said. They hope to eventually bring it back, but in the meantime, there are no hurt feelings.
“It was just a reality check,” he said. “We have no complaints. It was just getting to be too big of a nut to crack.”