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Thursday, May 23, 2024

The Way I See It – Parade memories

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As a kid growing up in Naperville, the month of May was my second favorite of the year. December, with Christmas and my birthday, was tough to beat, but May marked the beginning of my endless summers. There was still a little school left in June, but for all practical purposes, once May was torn from the wall calendar, the school year was already in my rear view mirror.

The Memorial Day Parade was a fitting milestone for the transition from school daze to summer haze. The best place to watch the parade was from the rooftop of Scott’s or Broeker’s. There was a fire escape ladder in the alley that we kids would climb. We’d lean over the building’s façade and marvel as the bands, antique cars and Veterans marched by. Inevitably, Naperville’s Finest would use the same ladder, and admonish us not to sit on the ledge, or hang our feet over, or dare throw anything from the rooftop. But the Officers never made us descend. It was a different time. And to my recollection, none of us ever fell, nor did we wreak havoc upon the spectators below. Youthful insouciance!

As the years passed, I learned through my teachers, neighbors, books and parents the somber meaning behind the day. That’s why on May 30, 1983, having endured the first week of Aviation Officers Candidate School (AOCS) Boot Camp, at the mercy of Gunny Hawks, USMC, and his merry band of tormentors, I didn’t understand why we weren’t given the day off to observe this most military centric of holidays.

Instead, we were snapped out of our slumber with banshee screams and metal garbage cans kicked down the hallways. One of the DI’s slapped a stiff, dried out paint brush in my hands along with a can of red paint, and ordered me to paint the Battalion sign in the front lawn. Other Candidates were ordered to cut the lawn with rusty scissors on their hands and knees. A few had to turn over gravel rocks so that the “clean side” would face up! How this honored our fallen, I couldn’t fathom. But the military in general, and the Marine Drill Instructors specifically, knew what they were doing. There was a definite method to their madness!

After separating from the Navy in 1990, we settled back in idyllic Naperville. Now I attended the parade to watch my girls march in the band, or with their Girl Scout Troop or Pom Pom Squads.

Then I joined the Judd Kendall VFW and found myself marching with fellow Veterans. After having lost 13 Naval and Marine Aviator buddies and colleagues, I had a completely different take on the parade and the day itself. The love and respect that the parade spectators show the marching Veterans was overwhelming at times.

While no kids are allowed on the rooftops anymore, the sidewalks run four or five deep with cheering, flag waving Napervillians. Eventually, I had the honor of working on the Parade Committee and for the past several years I emceed the ceremonies throughout the day. There was a lot of planning, and it was hectic and exhilarating, but mostly it was a huge honor.

This year though, I’ll be back marching with the Vets; or maybe I’ll drive my ’66 GTO along with a Veteran passenger waving to the crowd; or maybe I’ll find a way to a rooftop and watch from on high, the best Memorial Day Parade in Illinois.

Editor’s Note / Regarding the photo atop this column, Pablo wrote after PN went to press: “I looked all over for this picture to include with my article, but couldn’t find it. I located it today…I know it’s too late for the print version, but maybe you can stick it in with the digital edition.

“It’s from the 1996 parade, and I’m on the left, and Arnie Massier is on the right. Arnie was one of my favorite VFW Vets. He was a WWII Veteran and a German POW! We used to march together during all of the parades until his health started faltering.

“Arnie was the best! For years he insisted on marching next to me…he was almost like a kid when he would ask me. That’s before I started going through the VFW Officer’s Chairs and found myself too busy sometimes to enjoy the moment…I’ll be back to the ‘old days’ this year!”

A couple more notes about Arnie… Lifelong Naperville resident and Purple Heart recipient Arnold “Arnie” Massier died peacefully at age 97 on Valentine’s Day, February 14, 2020.

Arnold “Arnie” Massier after a City Council meeting in September 2015. (PN Photo)

Arnie was a familiar face along the Riverwalk early in the morning and around downtown Naperville throughout the day and evening, always ready to greet friends and visitors with a welcoming smile, gift of gab and spirit of kindness. —PN

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P. Araya
P. Araya
Pablo Araya grew up in Naperville and enjoys writing about his experiences in the Navy, the FBI and growing up in the best town around. Contact Pablo at boblow9913@gmail.com.
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