The Johnstown Veterans Day parade strolled down Main Street on Monday night – a comfortable sight for local servicemen and their families. The procession was punctuated the rattling of high school marching band snare drums and honorable salutes between servicemen young and old – just as in each year past.
One thing that was missing from this year’s march was the parade’s honorary grand marshal, Harry Plows, the 91-year-old World War II veteran who started it all.
“Unfortunately, my father is ill and unable to be here,” said Plows’ daughter, Mary Lehman. “So we wanted to come to the parade in his honor.
“I know his heart is with us today, even though he's in the hospital,” she said.
It was Plows’ civil display that got this 16-year Johnstown tradition rolling. Johnstown’s lack of a formal Veterans Day parade upset Plows and so for five years, he alone marched on Main Street carrying a small American flag.
“He had hoped that he would be arrested and that would cause some attention that would lead to starting a parade,” Lehman said.
Instead, the Conemaugh Valley Veterans and their president, Ed Wojnaroski, got behind Plows and formed the parade committee. The veterans organization remains the chief sponsor of the parade, which drew hundreds of Johnstowners – waving hundreds more American flags – to Central Park.
“I think it’s great,” Lehman said about the gathered crowd.
“I’m very proud of what my dad started, I’m very proud of all the people of Johnstown that come together at this time to honor the veterans.”
And a better time couldn’t have been picked as the night’s high-60s Indian summer temperature was, when coupled with the perpetual cool breeze, “divinely inspired,” as put by USMC Col. Ed Wojnaroski Jr.
He stressed that the communities our veterans call home do the armed forces an important service.
“These men and women not only come back to the community, but it’s (the community from which they come) that we have Marines, soldiers, sailors and airmen for life,” he said.
Lehman said she’s confident her father will be back on his feet soon.
“I’m sure he’ll be here next year,” she said.
And those feet will be ready to march, inspiring new generations of servicemen and women who Wojnaroski Jr. hopes can continue to uphold American ideals when others can no longer.
“They need new recruits in order to preserve the life, liberty and pursuit of happiness that we started over 200 years ago,” he said.
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