"There were Civil
War veterans in cars in that parade and I was proud that I was
in the same parade with them," he said.
Now 83, McMullin is
in something of a position comparable to the old soldiers he
admired as a youth back in 1938. A veteran of the North African
and Italian campaigns in which he served during World War II as
an antiaircraft artilleryman. After the war, he stayed in the
Army until he retired as a master sergeant.
On May 30, McMullin
will again parade.
He currently is
chairman of the Wilmington Memorial Day Parade Committee, a
group with which he has been involved for 40 years. During that
time, he has seen interest in what once was considered
the most sacred of
secular holidays steadily erode. When this year's parade steps
off from Delaware and Greenhill Aves. at 6:30 p.m., there likely
will be relatively few people lining the one-mile route to the
Soldiers & Sailors Monument at Broom Street, where there
will be a memorial ceremony..
It is difficulty to
understand why, McMullin said.
"Memorial Day used
to be important. We were taught that in the '20s and '30s.
Veterans of the [First] World War would come to our school and
talk to us. On Memorial Day -- we used to call it Decoration Day
-- you visited the cemetery and put flowers on the [veterans']
graves," he said.
Day is all but universally regarded as a holiday marking the
beginning of summer. "It's the day you put the boat back
into the water," he
To a large extent,
that understanding of what it's all about came as a result of
Congress enacting the law making most federal holidays -- the
United States does not observe national holidays -- part of
Many cities and
towns move their Memorial Day observances ahead so as not to
interfere with that. Although no longer and official city
activity, Wilmington remains one of the few jurisdictions which
keeps the original date -- May 30. This year's parade is the
134th in an unbroken series since General John Logan, commander
of the Grand Army of the Republic, issued a general order
creating the observance in 1868.
"We did it that
first year and we've been doing it every year since," McMullin
How long the
tradition will continue is anyone's guess.
"We're dying off
fast -- something like 1,200 a day, I've read," he said,
referring those whom author and commentator Tom Brokaw a few
years ago dubbed 'the greatest generation', veterans of World
War II. Age and mortality also are catching up with those we
served during the Korean War.
"In 1945, we took
over from from the World War I guys, but it doesn't seem like
there's anybody who wants to take over from us," he said. The
best barometer of such interest, he explained, is found in
participation, or lack of participation, in the American Legion,
Veterans of Foreign Wars and other service organizations.
McMullin is a former V.F.W. state commander.
The rash of
patriotism that emerged after the destruction of the World Trade
Center and the recent war in Iraq doesn't seem to translate into
an appreciation of the debt the present generation owes to those
who served, he said.. "They fly their flags, but I don't think
they really know what it's all about."
To be sure, there
are flags flying on car aerial and depicted on decals stuck on
windows of suburban vans whose occupants take advantage of the
holiday to travel, as has been said, 'lickety-split' down newly
opened Delaware Route 1 to seashore resorts.