PLAINFIELD — About 61 years ago, a small group of local Korean War veterans from American Legion Post 91 in Moosup begin discussing the best way to honor their military brethren who fought — and in many cases died — during the previous decade’s world conflict.
“They wanted to do something for those World War II veterans, the ones who survived and the ones that didn’t,” said Jeff DeClerck, immediate past state commander of the American Legion.
Out of those conversations was borne the village’s annual VJ Day Parade, one of only a handful of such events still taking place and the only one sponsored by the veterans’ organization.
The parade’s 61st iteration will step off at 1:01 p.m. on Sunday from North Main Street/Route 14 and wind its way through sections of Moosup before ending at post headquarters on Prospect Street. A World War II-era T-6 Texan aircraft is slated to conduct several fly-overs of the crowd as bands, emergency service, community and veterans’ groups march past.
It’s not clear why those veterans chose V-J, or Victory over Japan, Day as the parade’s moniker, but Archie Lapierre, a parade committee member since 1967, suspects it was simply to pay tribute to those service members who fought in the war’s brutal Pacific Theater.
What is VJ Day?
V-J Day commemorates the Japanese government’s unconditional surrender to Allied forces in August 1945. V-J Day was once widely celebrated in America, but in the decades since the conflict ended, the holiday’s popularity has waned. Only Rhode Island officially recognizes the occasion as a state holiday.
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“It’s not a celebration, but a commemoration,” DeClerck said from the legion’s Michael Guty Memorial Hall, named for a Canterbury World War II veteran. “It’s right there in our group’s constitutional preamble: ‘To preserve the memories and incidents of our association in all wars.’”
DeClerck, who along with Lapierre and post commander Wayne Durrigan, serves as the parade committee’s co-chairman, said he’s never been formally asked to change the event’s name. Driving into Moosup, a large white sign greets motorists alerting them they are entering “America’s V.J. Day Parade Village,” with the date of that year’s parade.
How does Moosup celebrate VJ Day?
The parade bears few, if any, references to the day it’s named for. With its marching bands, waving politicians and large contingent of veteran participants, the event is strikingly similar in tone and execution to any small town Memorial Day or Veterans Day parade.
“We have scouting, local businesses and community groups, along with people collecting donations for the Project PIN (food pantry) out there, as well as members from American Legion and VFW posts from across the state,” DeClerck said.
Crowd levels fluctuate year to year, with the weather playing a big role in how many attendees stake out shaded sidewalks or situate folding chairs and blankets in prime viewing spots.
“The biggest one we had was a few years ago when we honored the ‘Greatest Generation’ of World War II veterans,” DeClerck said. “The parades typically take about an hour-and-a-half or two hours, but that one went for more than three hours.”
LaPierre, a U.S. Army veteran, has never marched in the parade as he's too busy every year with coordinating the various local and out-of-town groups set to march.
“The furthest unit is from Ludlow, Vermont, and we’ve got drum and bugle corps, bands and other groups that need to be put in divisions before we start,” he said.
So far, 72 separate groups have applied to march – slightly fewer than in past years – with at least another 10 expected to register to participate on the parade day.
“We raise money all year long for this, through our golf classic, Lenten fish dinners and from anonymous donors,” DeClerck said. “The money goes to pay for bands like the Connecticut Hurricanes Drum and Bugle Corps and other professional bands, as well as for the fly-over.”
In an upper room of the Gaudreau-McMahon Post 91 on Wednesday afternoon, half-a-dozen members sat on bar stools in front of glasses of draft beer and bottles of hard cider. Three television sets broadcasting national news faced an 8-ball league sign-up sheet affixed to a cork board near a covered pool table.
DeClerck and Lapierre attribute the event’s longevity to a deep local sense of patriotism and the commitment of his group's members.
“If you look, you’ll see young kids out there saluting and waving the flag – this has always been a patriotic community,” said DeClerck, a U.S. Navy veteran. “And after every parade ends, someone always comes up asking if we’re going to continue doing it.”
John Penney can be reached at email@example.com or at (860) 857-6965.
This article originally appeared on The Bulletin: One of the last VJ Day parades in the country is in Plainfield CT