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Our faithful marching band showed up for Raleigh's canceled Veterans Day parade anyway

News & Observer - 11/5/2023

We came toting clarinets and trombones, banjos and trumpets, a snare drum, a saxophone and a glockenspiel -- determined to blare out Sousa marches for the absent audience of a canceled parade.

As proud members of the Oakwood Second Line band, we'd spent two months practicing the Marine Corps hymn, two months honing the Navy fight song, two months learning the triplet patterns in "Off We Go Into the Wild Blue Yonder."

So when the city's decisions led to a nixed Veterans Day parade on Saturday, we came anyway -- a small tribute to the service members Raleigh brushed aside.

While we tuned up on Capitol Square, alongside maybe 50 spectators, one motorist pulled up to the corner in a Nissan pickup and offered this criticism of Raleigh's drastically diminished observance:

"It stinks," he said, then drove away.

To at least some of us, the whole affair felt feeble and cowardly, needlessly bureaucratic, impossibly cautious and pleasing to exactly nobody. Just three days before the parade, Raleigh called its organizers to say the 115 motor vehicles set to roll down Fayetteville Street constituted a public safety risk.

Raleigh's anti-vehicle parades

So the only parade possibility would be for Wake County's veterans to walk the 0.7-mile route from Memorial Auditorium around the Capitol -- an impossible task for the numerous elderly in their ranks, many of whom attend the festivities with the aid of canes.

"My disappointment in all this is why did they wait until three days before?" Richard Spyrison, president of the Wake County Council of Veterans, told the N&O last week. "If they had given us two, three, four weeks on this, we would have been able to change something. To adapt. That's what we do in the military."

The city's decision stems from a horrible day last November, when a runaway truck struck and killed 11-year-old Hailey Brooks during Raleigh's Christmas parade.

St. Patrick's Day parade had vehicles

In September, the city denied a permit for this year's holiday parade "out of an abundance of caution," considering lawsuits and statewide safety legislation that were all still pending. Later, after considerably outcry and criticism even from Brooks' family, the city offered a watered-down parade with no motor vehicles.

This struck our band as craziness considering that Raleigh had already held its St. Patrick's Day parade with cars and trucks aplenty. On that day, long after the Christmas tragedy, we went hunting for anybody official who cared that we carried inspection documents for our truck.

Nobody did.

And now, with the Veterans' Day parade just days away, motor vehicles were to be forbidden out of a sense of "consistency," Mayor Mary-Ann Baldwin told television reporters last week. She referred The N&O's questions to city staff.

Chris Crew, our band leader and trombone player, offered this retort to the mayor as we launched into "The Army Goes Rolling Along."

"This," he said, "is consistency."

The Oakwood Second Line has played in nearly every Raleigh parade for the past decade, and we weren't going to miss this one over this little decree.

"Play with weight and majesty," said our clarinet ace John "J.T." Thomas, only half-joking.

Triangle Blue Star Mothers

And when we finished, I wandered among the small crowd at the Capitol and found the Triangle Blue Star Mothers, who carried large signs bearing their children's faces.

Among them:

Zachary W. Lyon Jr., a Broughton High School graduate killed last year in a motorcycle crash at Tinker Air Force Base in Oklahoma. He now rests in the Field of Honor at Oakwood Cemetery -- three blocks from my house.

Jared Chisholm, Lyon's brother, now serving at Fort Bliss in Texas.

and Trace Langdon, now in the Army at Fort Stewart in Georgia.

"He's freezing his butt off in a shipping container," joked Langdon's mother, Christine. "You can tell we're proud of our boys. We were going to be No. 30 in the parade. We came anyway."

We humble musicians of the Oakwood Second Line hope our tunes gave the ceremony some much-needed reverence.

We thought it was important just to show up.

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