Forgetting the burden of their years since '61, hearing only the war drums beat, seeing only their flag unfurled, the Stars and Strips for which they fought and bled, all but a few of the more than 300 members of Grand Army of the Republic tramped along in the annual encampment parade Wednesday morning.
Shoulders squared and feet striking again the staccato of military strides, they marched, these boys in blue whose average age is more then 91 years. At least 80 percent of them formed ranks with their state units and tramped the line form Sheldon Avenue along Monroe Ave. past the reviewing stand at Market Ave, to give salute to their Commander-in-Chief Alfred E. Stacey and on again to the end of the procession at Civic Auditorium via Huron Street.
Their hearts throbbing to the spirit of that day when as boys in their early teens they answered the Union call to arms and offered to give all that any man has, life, that the Stars and Stripes might forever fly over a nation undivided and a union of states indissoluble. And as they passed the thousands of spectators, old and young, who lined the sidewalks caught anew the ideals for which they fought and eyes dimmed with tears and pulses beat high as the remnant of he grand old army trod again in retrospect the warpaths of the Mason Dixon line.
The cheering throng gave added applause to the three Negro marchers, men who ran away from slavery to join the Union forces and help preserve the Union. Their comrades in the reviewing stand gave them a special salute also for it was that cause that all should be free and no man bond servant to another that the war had been fought.
Dauntlessly they marched, oblivious of the changing years, with no shadow for year expressed that many of them never again may march in an encampment parade. They were a gay, laughing throng. They were men who have no fear of tomorrow for they conquered fear three score and ten years ago.
Supporting the State and Strips and their organization colors as the first color bearers in the line were L.L. Baker, of New London, Connecticutt; E.W. Phillips of Wichita, Kansas; and John Little of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Each state unit also had its color bearers and in many cases they were Civil War veterans. Department commanders of several state units also marched in command of their units.
Commander Stacey of Elbridge, New York, and his official staff rode in the car of honor with an escort of uniformed ranks of the Sons of Union Veterans from Pennsylvania.
The veterans lined up by state with the Department of Illinois first. Only the members of the Grand Army of the Republic, their official escort, the official band, fife and drum corps and members of the encampment executive committee, headed by Col. John G. Emery, were in the parade.
Members of the allied organizations joined with the other spectators from the sidewalks to pay tribute to the veterans. Public schools in the city were closed in the morning so that the youth of this city might see the parade and from it gain lesson of living patriotism for more potent than that contained the page of textbooks.
Over the short but gallant line flew three observation planes from Scott Field in Illinois sent here by the War Department as a mark of respect to the GAR. Lt. J.J. Connell was in charge of the flight group.
Commander Stacey and his staff broke ranks at the reviewing stand and there watched his comrades of other days pass in review. And as they passed history's pages were turned in imagination or retrospect by the spectators to the day when as boys in their early teens these veterans went into battle, those in line today to return many to make the supreme sacrifice that the Union might survive.
Old soldiers never die-they just fade away.
Someone said that yesterday after the Grand Army of the Republic had marched down Monroe Ave. under the warm September sun and the azure skies of early autumn and it seems appropriate.
Polished buttons gleamed and the heavens reflected the blue in which they fought.
They were the same old soldiers whom newer generations have always known. To the men who were boys 10 years ago-and 20 and 30 and 40 years ago-those men who were boys in their country's darkest hour and as boys, marched away to save the Union, were little changed. They marched as smartly, as eagerly, as memory said they should. Their glance followed the Stars and Stripes as loyally as ever, and if eyes were dimmer than they had been, there was not hint of it. They were the same old soldiers who, for generations, have been the living example of American patriotism.
If there was pathos in yesterday's parade, it was not in those 160 men who marched down the rough-paved street past the reviewing stand, but in the vacant places in the ranks-the files that have faded away.
It was still the Grand Army of the Republic
The Army Corps of 1861-65 may have dwindled to squads, and brigades may have been represented by a single last man, but the spirit of those who marched was as staunch and sturdy, as loyal and as heroic, as ever it was.
Along the sidewalks and curbstones, mounting in rows on seats besides the reviewing stand, thousands cheered.
But the marchers themselves, it was evident, were living in the present. And the present, as they have been for three score and 10 years, they were an inspiration to those who cheered them and a joy to themselves.
It was their day. In hotels and meeting rooms, they have been accompanied during the encampment by the auxiliary organizations who membership outnumbers them 50 to 1. Commander-in-Chief Alfred E. Stacey reports less than 6,000 grand Army of the Republic members to more than 300,000 in allied groups-but the parade was their own. General orders for the day specified, "Women, children and civilians will be prohibited form participating, and the order were obeyed.
It was strictly military, as was appropriate there was no discordant note of civilian incongruity.
The sole concession to nonagenarians was the cadence established in the general orders, 90 steps to the minute, only a little slower than the cadence of troops on active duty.
Shrill fifes and thundering drums set the pace, just as they did in the Civil War. Now and then a drum and bugle corps of younger veterans of later battles gave variety to the music which is strange to ears of today.
Stirring music of the 126th Infantry Band led the parade, and the, after an interval, came the guard of honor from Pennsylvania.
Sons and grandsons of the Grand Army men marched as the reincarnation of the boys of 1861-65, wearing the trim blue uniforms and jaunty stiff-brimmed kepis of the Union's Civil War army.
Said an elderly woman in the review stand, Those boys look just like our boys did when they marched away to the South.
The Sons of Union Veterans, led by their fife and drum corps and with the platoon of rifles furnished the note of contrast. For behind them, after Commander Stacey and his staff had ascended the reviewing stand to receive the salutes of the fading army, came the troops of long ago, aging, sometimes limping, but with buttons shined, with kepis at dashing angle, with black campaign hat properly military.
In order of their military seniority, the departments marched. Illinois with two full squads, 16 men, following their colors; Wisconsin with a full rank and two vacant places in the second; Ohio with an even dozen; Pennsylvania's heroes marched in the uniforms of their sons had copied, 14 in all told; New Yorkers, prim and spruce, were true to their traditional fine appearance.
A few of the departments were represented int he marching column only by their colors; but only a few. The Department of Potomac, Maryland, Delaware, Alabama, North Dakota, sent their colors ahead, while their veterans rode in the automobile that followed. Guardsman of the 126th Infantry, Boy Scouts, and Sons of Veterans formed the color guard for these.
But the other departments were represented by some of the contingents on foot. Massachusetts men the number of 10 were in line, California and Nevada with 10, Maine with 10, Kentucky with seven, Kansas with seven, Iowa's with six. Some ent only one to carry the flag or to march as its guard with a younger man.
Michigan, although ranking 18th in seniority, marched last in line, led by a fife and from corps of 20 men.
It took a full half hour for the marchers to pass, and another quarter hour for the long line of closely spaced automobiles carrying the veterans who had been issued from risking the blocks of newly torn up pavement, hurriedly patched for the occasion.
But willingly did the other ride in automobiles. Only those whose manifold duties as officers of the GAR and who felt the necessity for going into the opening business sessions fresh and rested, consented without argument to save their steps.
Shorter than have been most parades, this march of the GAR was witnessed by throngs rivaling those of the longest. From Sheldon Ave., where the column formed, to Huron St., where the marchers left Monroe Ave. to disband, spectators jammed the sidewalks from store fronts to curbs and overflowed to the pavement. At Campau Square the bleacher seats erected for relatives and friends of the old soldiers were filled to capacity.
The Herald September 11, 1935 by Carlton Cady, Grand Rapids, Michigan
The Herald September 12, 1935 by Carlton Cady, Grand Rapids, Michigan
Jerome Orton, PDC
Department of New York
Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War