PHOTOS: Thousands Line Main Street for Memorial Day Parade

The New Canaan community turned out in droves for the annual Memorial Day Parade, which made its way from St. Mark’s Episcopal Church to Lakeview Cemetery Monday morning.

True to its theme of remembering “with gratitude and honor the proud men and women who gave their lives while serving in the U.S. Armed Forces to protect and preserve a life of freedom for all Americans,” the parade was led down Main Street by members of the Exchange Club. who passed out thousands of flags, ensuring plenty of stars and stripes along the route for the nearly 30 groups parading after them.

Following the parade, lifelong New Canaan resident Brian Vander Heyden served as the guest speaker at the ceremony in Lakeview Cemetery.

A graduate of NCHS class of ‘65, he and four fellow New Canaanite teenagers, Raymond Peterson, Gerald Spiegel, Dennis Taylor and William Genovese, enlisted in the Marine Corps the following year. By 1967, they were all on the battlefield in Vietnam.

“Today, throughout our nation, heads are bowed out of respect for our nation’s war dead,” he said to those gathered in the cemetery. “It is their unselfish sacrifice that has made it possible for the New Canaanites to enjoy the enviable lives that we live. When the bugle sounded, they did not respond with excuses, they put the uniform on and responded with their lives.”

In Vietnam, Vander Heyden served as “point man” and survived over one hundred patrols in its jungles including the 1968 Battle of Hue, part of the Tet Offensive and one of the longest and bloodiest battles of the war. His heroism resulted in several awards including the Marine Corps Combat Action Award, two Presidential Unit Commendations, a Vietnam Service Medal with Four Bronze Stars and a Meritorious Unit Commendation Award.

A member of an extensive Marine Corps family, he recognized the impact of war on families. Vander Heyden’s voice cracked with emotion as he spoke of his own mother, “Mothers are the true recipients of the horrors and consequences of war. My mother exemplifies a large percent of our nation’s mothers whose lives have been touched by war. Off to war Mother sent her cousins, her brother, her husband, her sons, and her grandsons. And mothers do it with a grace and a courage that only mothers are capable of.”

As he spoke, Vander Heyden was flanked by fellow veterans and members of New Canaan’s VFW Post 653, where he has been a member for 50 years. The ceremony featured the Girl Scouts singing “God Bless America,” a 21 gun salute, Taps and a wreath laying.

After the ceremony, the community continued to celebrate with free ice cream courtesy of Baskin Robbins and free hot dogs at the firehouse.

One thought on “PHOTOS: Thousands Line Main Street for Memorial Day Parade

  1. Absolutely amazing speech given by Mr. Vander Heyden. Very emotional and heartfelt and it brought tears to my eyes. He is a true American hero and I am sorry he wasn’t given a well deserved welcome home when he returned from Vietnam. Thank you for your service Mr. Vander Heyden. You are a true hero and today you reminded me exactly what Memorial Day is all about. Semper Fi.

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