CLEARWATER — Decoration Day, a time to adorn the graves of war dead, was a late spring tradition in many communities shortly after the Civil War, perhaps because it's when flowers bloom.
Today it's called Memorial Day, and to many it can mean picnics, swim parties and the start of summer fun.
But members of the Clearwater Veterans Alliance want to make sure the day's significance is not lost among the hot dogs and potato salad.
Tonight, the nonprofit veterans' group in collaboration with the Clearwater Downtown Partnership, is presenting a Memorial Day weekend kickoff parade as part of the Fourth Friday festivities on Cleveland Street. Two talented youth acts and a high school drumline will join the festivities.
"This will be the first Memorial Day celebration Clearwater's had in recent memory," said Bob Swick, president of the Clearwater Veterans Alliance. "There hasn't been anything (in Clearwater) for probably 15 years; that's obscene in my opinion."
At 6:55 p.m., 12-year-old Caroline Kudelko, a.k.a. Suite Caroline, sings the national anthem.
Then the parade, composed of honor guards, Boys & Girls Clubs, Scouting troops and others, begins at the corner of East Avenue and Cleveland Street and goes west toward Fort Harrison Avenue.
Leading the parade will be city officials and the Seminole High Drumline, which along with the school's marching band, will perform in the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade this year.
At 7:05 p.m. — or 1905 hours military time — an HH-60 Jayhawk helicopter, the Coast Guard's largest, will do a flyover along Cleveland Street.
Swick recalled an old military saying.
"You'll be able to tell if the pilot is single or married by how low they fly," Swick said. "If they're married, they'll be more careful and won't go as low."
After the procession, Suite Caroline continues her country rock performance followed by Largo's Bet Me I'm Lying.
About 45 to 50 vendors will sell arts, crafts and food. Beer and wine proceeds will benefit the Suncoast Primate Sanctuary in Palm Harbor, which will bring some interesting animals to see.
Free entertainment for children includes a pirate ship with bead-tossing pirates, a bounce house, video games, and a mobile 4-D theater ride.
Parking is free in many locations after 6 p.m.
Fourth Friday organizer Jenny Esno said they are expecting 1,500 to 3,000 people to attend the event.
"We have 190,000 veterans in the Tampa Bay area," she said. "It's time to bring patriotism back to Clearwater."
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