SPARTA, NJ – It turned out to be a great day for a parade. White Deer Plaza and Mohawk Avenue were crowded with parade-goers watching and waiting. Finally, the Blue Knights rolled along to start the 47th annual Memorial Day parade sponsored by the Sparta VFW Post #7248.
Scouts of all kinds marched; boy scouts, cub scouts, daisy and brownies. The Sparta High School marching band provided a soundtrack. Sports teams were also represented: Sparta softball and lacrosse teams, Kings ice hockey and Black Diamonds figure skating teams even the Ski Hawks proudly marched and threw candy to eager children waiting on the curb.
The Sparta ambulance squad marched accompanied by ambulances. The firefighters marched, also accompanied by two of their fire trucks. Sparta police were stations all along the route and had a car in the parade as well.
Sparta’s township council members rode in Jeeps donated to the Sparta VFW by Sussex Auto Mall. Newly crowned Miss Sparta Caitlyn Lyons rode in a yellow sports car.
Brigadier General Patrick Burden and his daughter, along with Hu ' Dene B. Wright, Command Sergeant Major were driven by Ryan Grant along the parade route to the Memorial Service at Dykstra park immediately after the parade.
Sparta VFW’s commander Pete Litchfield made welcoming remarks reminding those who were gathered that it was a day “to honor the memory of our fallen brothers and sisters.” He spoke of the “brave men and women who have answered the call to protect our borders and our freedom abroad.”
Litchfield spoke of the improvements made to the VFW, not just the facilities but also the membership. He said they had “received a citation for being in the top 10 percent of posts in the country that have brought in new members.”
Thanking Grand Marshal Jerry Carter Litchfield said when he first approached Carter, the teacher balked saying he only had three years of service. Litchfield said they wanted to honor Carter for his continued service as a teacher. He said, “It’s not about the length of service but that you have served.”
Father Tom Fallone of Saint Kateri gave a moving invocation, ending with Abraham Lincoln’s infamous words first uttered at Gettysburg establishing the tradition of honoring the nation’s fallen.
Burden, Senior Commander at Picatinny Arsenal is responsible for the operations of the base as well as providing ordinance for all branches of the military. He addressed the crowd, first saying to Carter “Thank you for your service in the Army and service for life as an educator.”
Burden said, “Those who serve realize our profession will call onus to make sacrifices, even the ultimate sacrifice.” He continued “Fallen heroes transformed the ideals of our founding fathers so our nation might endure.”
Speaking about the traits of those in the military, “Character of our service members stays strong. Today’s service members are willing to risk everything so Americans can live a life without fear.”
The way to honor “the debt of the fallen” is by remembering and respect. “Let us pay tribute today and give thanks.” Burden encouraged those in the crowd to take a moment to recognize those who have served our country. “Tell them you understand their depths of service and say thanks.”
In closing Burden said, “Mankind should live free.”
Members of the Civil War 39th Regiment gave a salute. the Sparta High School Band played a medley of the anthems from each branch of service. The VFW, 39th Regiment, town council and Sparta police each placed a memorial wreath on the stage. Boy Scouts and Cub Scouts presented bouquets of flowers.
Litchfield invited everyone back to the post for a barbecue. Many who participated in the ceremony and parade took him up on his offer and enjoyed hotdogs and hamburgers. Under tents in the parking lot boy scouts sat, ate and talked with Burden.
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