Honored veterans, brass bands, waving flags and cheering crowds lining Ridgefield’s Main Street shoulder-to-shoulder — the Memorial Day Parade is just not meant for the time of coronavirus, and has been canceled.

Calling off what is arguably the biggest event on the town’s calendar year after year was a decision reached after consultations between First Selectman Rudy Marconi and Ridgefield’s American Legion Post 78, which has organized and sponsored the parade for decades.

American Legion Post 78 still plans to continue the tradition of honoring veterans’ graves by placing small American flags on them for Memorial Day, but will drop the usual practice of inviting scout troops and other Ridgefielders to join them in this patriotic tribute to those who served in the nation’s military.

The decision was first announced April 8 in one the coronavirus update statements from the town’s emergency management office and First Selectman Marconi.

“We were waiting to make the decision, even though surrounding towns had already canceled, because a lot of work had been done and almost everything was in place,” said George Besse, commander of American Legion Post 78. “We start working on the parade in January and had six marching bands and over 50 organizations already signed up.

“As you know we usually get two to three thousand spectators at our parades. With the COVID-19 uncertainty we couldn’t take the chance to cause a resurgence because of the parade,” he said.

“The decision-making process started when the governor shut down the state,” Besse said. “At that point we were more than 50 percent organized and were holding out for better predictions when COVID-19 would peak and be gone. With the governor moving the schools’ possible reopen date to May 20 it was clear that our hopes for a parade were fading fast. This was the driving force to make our final decision.

“Our parades aren’t canceled without a full consensus of the Legion’s committee before making a recommendation to Rudy and getting his approval,” Besse said. “Post 78 organizes and runs the parade and the decision is made by us and the first selectman.”

The Ridgefield parade was called off two years in a row — 2016 and 2017 — due to “rain and possible thunderstorms,” Besse recalled. In each case a gathering was held to hear the speakers who had been lined up to give the keynote address at the Memorial Day ceremonies that follow the parade.

“We held a ceremony for the Grand Marshal Col. Bob Law in the Legion’s post for him in 2016, then in 2017 at Jesse Lee Church for Grand Marshal Dick Mayhew and Honorary Grand Marshal Doug Clewell,” Besse said.

The parade had also been called off once many years ago, according to the recollections of his predecessor as commander of Legion Post 78, Bob Tulipani, Besse said.

Other than those three occasions the brass bands and marching veterans, the fire trucks and scout troops and youth sports teams have been a staple of Ridgefield’s community transition from spring to summer, drawing thousands of onlookers who lined Main Street along the route from the Cass Gilbert Fountain to Ballard Park.

Legion statement

The Legion first announced the cancellation in a letter addressed to “Dear Parade Participants” that went out last week, signed by Bob Beutel of the Legion’s parade committee.

“Ridgefield’s Memorial Day Parade has been canceled until May 2021,” he wrote. “I would like to thank everyone for your excitement and cooperation putting together the parade this year. We will be in great shape for next year. Ridgefield’s Memorial Day Parade 2021 will be spectacular! Just wait and see. Please stay safe!”

American Legion Post 78 issued the following statement concerning the cancellation of the parade:

“The Ridgefield Memorial Day Parade has been canceled. The decision was made in the best interest of the Ridgefield community and the safety of our citizens and everyone who would have attended from outside our community. Especially when you have two thousand or so spectators gathered along Main Street.

“American Legion Post 78, Commander George Besse, parade committee members Bob Beutel, coordinator and Roger Restaino, staging manager, discussed the possibility of canceling the parade based on the current environment caused by COVID-19.

“They shared their thoughts and concerns with First Selectman Rudy Marconi. The final decision to cancel the parade was then made by Rudy Marconi in concurrence with the committee’s recommendation.

“Safety being first and foremost for everyone involved in the parade and the spectators was our main concern. The threat of COVID-19 and its ability to spread quickly in large crowds and with all the information from the governor’s office, the final decision was not difficult to make. Even if the virus was deemed under control, the possibility of a resurgence still exists at parade time.

“We will honor all veterans this Memorial Day by decorating their graves with a flag. This will be done by Legionnaires without the assistance from the many public volunteers who helped in the past, taking social distancing as a factor.

“Commander Besse has thanked everyone for their cooperation and enthusiasm when putting the 2020 parade together. He has promised that our 2021 Memorial Day Parade will be spectacular! Until then, stay safe! Ridgefield strong!”