WESTPORT, Conn. – Spectators will line the Memorial Day Parade route Monday to watch the culmination of the parade committee’s hard work. Not many are aware that arrangements for this event began almost six months before on Jan. 1, as William Vornkahl, president of the Westport Veterans Council, sat down, just like he has for the last 43 years, and began organizing the parade.
Vornkahl, in addition to being president of the Westport Veterans Council, has been on the parade committee for 58 years, and is responsible for arranging all the bands, working with the Parks and Recreation Department to send invitations to everyone who marched the year before, and lining up the participants for the parade.
“We have between 60 and 65 units ready to step off at 9 o’clock Monday morning,” Vornkahl said.
By that time, Westport residents from every corner of town will have come out to claim a spot along the sidewalks from Saugatuck Elementary School on Riverside Avenue to Parker Harding Plaza to enjoy the parade.
Vornkahl is also responsible for designating the parade's grand marshal and theme. This year’s theme will be remembering Prisoners of War and Missing in Action (POW/MIA).
“It’s time to remember people who were in prisoner of war camps and also the people who have never been found,” Vornkahl said.
The choice of grand marshal goes hand-in-hand with the theme, he said.
“We’ve been going with WWII veterans, somebody who has done something within their service time, and someone who comes home and does something within the town,” Vornkahl said.
This year, that description fits Leonard Fisher, a WWII veteran who participated in the topographic mapping of major allied campaigns, including operations in Italy, France, the invasion of Iwo Jima, and the eventual occupation of Japan.
Fisher was honorably discharged in 1946 and returned home, where he attended Yale University’s School of Art and received his bachelor's and master's of fine arts. Over the past 59 years, Fisher has illustrated more than 250 children’s books and authored nearly 90 of them. Fisher founded what is now the Westport Arts Center, and his art is featured in the Library of Congress.
He is thrilled and honored to be grand marshal and to give a speech on Veterans Green after the parade.
“I'll be touching on what war is like, memorializing veterans who gave their lives and there will be a little bit of history as to where and how this particular holiday began,” said Fisher.
Before his remarks, the Rev. Edward Horne of the United Methodist Church will deliver the invocation. Then, Maggie Miller and Molly Liles of Brownie Troop 5048 will lead the crowd in the Pledge of Allegiance, and Staples High School senior Grace McDavid-Seidner will perform the National Anthem. First Selectman Gordon Joseloff will give an introductory speech, and Staples High School Senior Tyler Gent will sing “America the Beautiful.”
After Fisher's speech, a memorial wreath will be placed, followed by “Taps,” performed by Adam Miking and Devon Lowman of the Staples band. Staples senior Amelia Green will perform “God Bless America,” and Horne will give the benediction.
“The parade is important because it commemorates and memorializes people who gave up their lives,” said Fisher. “We should remember this. Parades like this have been going on for a very long time — so have wars.”
The parade begins at 9 a.m. at Saugatuck Elementary School. In case of bad weather, call the Parks & Recreation line at 203-341-5074 or visit the department's website to find out about a cancellation. Announcements will also be made on WICC-AM 600.
If the parade is canceled, services will be held in the Town Hall auditorium starting at 10 a.m.