Westport's Memorial Day Parade will return this year

WESTPORT — The Memorial Day parade will return May 31 after it was canceled last year because of COVID-19.

“We know it will be different this year than in years past, but we are glad we are able to have a parade and in-person ceremony again this year to honor and celebrate our fallen heroes,” said Jennifer Fava, Westport’s parks and recreation director.

Town officials are still working on the details for the parade based on additional guidance from the state, but will follow all of the pandemic guidelines already in place.

The town made the decision to hold the parade a few weeks ago when Gov. Ned Lamont began discussing the state’s reopening and saying parades could be held this year, Fava said.

The parade is a long-standing tradition in town.

“I graduated from Staples in 1948 and I marched in it,” said William Vornkahl, President of the Westport Veterans Council.

Vornkahl, who has been involved in the planning since 1954, said the parade has been held every year except for during World War II, and he was “very sad” when it had to be canceled last year because of health concerns.

Last year’s theme, “Honoring Women Veterans,” will still have a chance to be celebrated — it will be this year’s float theme.

Certificates will be awarded for best development of theme, best youth organization float, most creative, best community organization, most colorful and the best overall float.

“We haven’t really honored the women,” Vornhahl said.

The theme was also chosen to coincide with the 100th anniversary of the 19th amendment’s passage, which gave women the right to vote.

Patricia Wettach, a World War II veteran, was set to be last year’s grand marshal but she died in January at the age of 97. She enlisted in the United States Navy, where she served in Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service, or WAVES, from 1943 through 1945.

Nicholas Rossi will be this year’s grand marshal instead, the town announced Friday.

Rossi, 99, was born in Oyster Bay, N.Y., in 1922. As a high schooler,he lettered in football, track, baseball and basketball. He enlisted in the Army Air Corps after graduating from high school and flew multiple bombing missions as a B-17 technical sergeant during World War II, serving from December 1942 through March 1945 in Europe.

“Rossi was discharged from the Army in March 1945 but remained in Liege, Belgium, after the war for several more years. As a civilian, he was employed by the government to work with the American Graves Registration Command for the purpose of locating and identifying unrecovered dead military personnel,” a news release announcing the choice read.

Rossi recently relocated to Westport, and now lives with his son Paul, daughter-in-law Marguerite and his three grandchildren.

Vornhal said he hopes COVID-19 won’t deter people from coming to the parade, though officials expect there to be fewer spectators and participants.

He estimates more than 1,000 people normally participate in the parade, spread out among 60 to 70 organizations.

“It’s not just the parade, it’s honoring the veterans,” he said. “It’s honoring those who gave their lives for their country.”

He said the town really comes out for the event.

“The ones who aren’t in the parade, are watching it,” he said.

Officials are still finalizing the participants’ list, including some of the bands.

The parade will begin at 9 a.m. starting on Riverside Avenue, continuing east on Post Road East to Myrtle Avenue to Main Street and ends at Parker Harding Plaza.

Following the parade, Memorial Day Services will be held on Veteran’s Green.