Ridgefield prepares for Memorial Day parade: ‘If you're not watching the parade, you're in the parade’

Photo of Sandra Diamond Fox

RIDGEFIELD — Town resident Bob Beutel describes his involvement with Ridgefield’s Memorial Day parade in three stages of his life.

“In stage one, I was watching and enjoying the parade when our three boys — Bryan, Mark and Chris, were babies,” he said. “In stage two, I marched as a Boy Scout Cubmaster and as a coach for the various sports teams. In stage three, I have the distinct honor and privilege of serving as the parade coordinator.”

In a little more than a week, Main Street in town will be filled shoulder- to- shoulder with spectators as the town’s Memorial Day Parade takes place on May 30.

“It is Ridgefield’s most important civic event, a day to remember and honor with dignity and respect, the men and women in the armed forces of the United States who made the ultimate sacrifice while serving our country and protecting the freedoms that we treasure,” said Beutel, in what he refers to as “The Ridgefield Spectacular Memorial Day Parade.”

Beutel said the parade is the biggest event on the town’s calendar “and may be what defines our town.”

The parade features over 60 organizations marching down Ridgefield’s Main Street. There are many patriotic floats and over 1,800 participants including bands, veterans and first responders. There are also sports teams, scouts, and church and civic-groups who participate in the parade.

Additionally, during the parade, a military plane will fly over Main Street.

“Thousands of spectators from all over Fairfield and Westchester Counties line up on both sides of Main Street, paying tribute to our fallen heroes and veterans near and far, as we celebrate our great country,” said Beutel, who has coordinated the parade for three years.

Ridgefield’s American Legion Post 78 began organizing the town’s Memorial Day parade in 1921 and has done so every year since.

Post 78, which was founded in 1920, has 130 veteran members.

The parade was canceled in 2020 and 2021 due to the pandemic.

It takes five months to put the parade together, Beutel said.

Several days before the big day, members of the American Legion place small American flags on all the veterans’ graves in town.

George Besse, who is commander of the town’s American Legion Post 78, said Memorial Day is a day of “remembering all those who made the supreme sacrifice so that we can keep our freedoms.”

When describing the turnout of the parade, Besse added, “There's an old expression here that if you're not watching the parade, you're in the parade.”

Besse’s family has a long history of serving their country. His seven uncles served in World War II.

“They were all fortunate enough to come home,” said Besse, 80, who served in the U.S. Air Force during the Vietnam War as a senior airman. He was assigned to the 3320th USAF Hospital Squadron as an x-ray technician.

Additionally, Bessy’s aunt, Marie Stefanelli Russo, was one of the three female World War II veterans from Ridgefield.

She was at a training base in Florida.

“She ran the chow halls to feed all the troops that were down there for training,” Besse said.

Beutel said he and everyone else involved with the parade is “excited” and “looking forward to it.”

“We all need to get back to our parade and back to normal,” he said.

Beutel said he plans to be at all of the town’s Memorial Day parades in the future.

“It’s important. It defines a town and it's spectacular. It's always been that way,” Beutel said. “And I want to continue the tradition.”

Parade specifics

There will be a ceremony at the Ridgefield Veterans Monument in front of Jesse Lee Church, 207 Main St., at 11:15 a.m., which will include an honor guard rifle salute.

Ridgefield’s Memorial Day parade begins immediately afterwards, at 11:30 a.m. at the church. All are welcome to attend.

No parking will be allowed at Jesse Lee Church except for parade workers and emergency personnel.

It will begin with opening remarks and a wreath-laying ceremony at the monument in front of the church, including a military honors gun salute and the playing of taps.

The parade runs straight down Main St. and ends at Ballard Park, 485 Main St., and includes speeches by honored guests with patriotic music and songs provided by the Ridgefield High School band and chorus.

The American Legion will be honoring its grand marshal, Richard “Dick” Godbout, who will give a closing speech at the end of the ceremony.