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Spanning generations, Ken-Ton Memorial Day Parade offers a heartfelt salute to the fallen

John E. Albanese Jr. of Medina. Maxwell S. Frantz of East Aurora. Kenneth A. Pavan of Niagara Falls. Ronald W. Zydel of Buffalo.

From A through Z, you could read the names of the hundreds of Western New Yorkers who died during the Vietnam War on the back of the T-shirt. George R. Streicher III, a 66-year-old Navy and Army veteran, wore the shirt to the Kenmore-Town of Tonawanda Memorial Day Parade on Monday.

Streicher and many others came out to the 68th edition of the Ken-Ton parade to pay tribute to those who died in military service.

The parade, one of the largest in the state, was sponsored by the Milton J. Brounshidle Post 205, American Legion, and Harry E. Crosby Post 2472, Veterans of Foreign Wars.

Others attended events and ceremonies to honor fallen service members at Western New York locations including Forest Lawn in Buffalo, Clarence Hollow, and Oakwood Cemetery in Niagara Falls.

At the Ken-Ton parade on Delaware Avenue, spectators saluted firefighters, waved American flags and applauded a marching band playing the Beatles’ “I Want to Hold Your Hand.” And when a group of seven military personnel marched by, the crowd stepped up its cheers.

Evan Lipton, a professional saxophonist, stood up upon seeing the service members. “I just play music, and that’s what I do,” Lipton said. “These people are actually going to grab a gun to protect the world.”

Lipton, 37, released his first album, “Karmic Shift,” on Memorial Day in 2013. Either as a musician or as an spectator, he has been part of Memorial Day parades in various New York State communities for about 25 years.

“This and Fourth of July are my holidays, more than New Year’s Eve, more than my birthday,” he said.

After the parade, he planned to play the patriotic song “America the Beautiful” at Canalside, he said.

The United States has done some “terrible things,” Lipton said, but the country moves on and always puts its best foot forward.

“Or your best scooter forward, if that’s what you can,” Lipton said as a group of senior veterans rolled by in their power chairs.

Austin Sprague, an 11-year-old boy decked out in red, white and blue from head to toe, can’t even remember the first time he came to the Ken-Ton Memorial Day Parade – that’s how young he was.

Austin said he is proud “because people serve for our country to keep us safe.”

At one point, Kenna DePinto watched a group of girls wearing teal sequined blouses and black shorts dance to Bruno Mars’ “Uptown Funk.” She always reminds her children to stand up for all branches of the military marching by but not to say “Happy Memorial Day,” she said.

The parade has been a longtime tradition for Evie Weinstein, who grew up in Kenmore. On Monday, she and her husband, Barry, brought their grandson Spencer to his first Memorial Day parade.

“It’s really fun to see people out and about and to, of course, honor our veterans,” she said. “It’s not just a day off from school.”

Weinstein has a personal connection to the military: She’s the daughter of Holocaust survivors.

“The veterans won the war and liberated the camps,” she said of those who fought in World War II.

History is difficult, but children have to know what happened, she said.

Barry Weinstein remembers selling balloons at the parade when he was a teenager about 45 years ago. As he walked down the street, the balloon’s strings tangled.

But he still sold all of them, he said. At about 12:30 p.m., rain forced a lot of spectators to pack up their folding chairs and blankets and seek cover. Within minutes, the sidewalks were clear.

The show, however, went on. Many groups, including Boy Scout Troop 104 from Tonawanda and the Buffalo City Guard Gordon Highlanders, marched to the end of the parade route.

“We play rain, shine or snow,” Jim Hudson of the City Guard said. “Nothing stops us.”

Streicher, the 66-year-old veteran with all the names on his shirt, stayed put despite the rain. He reminisced about his days serving.

When he enlisted in the Navy, where he served from 1968 to 1972, he made $49 every two weeks, he said. By the time he retired from the Army in 2000 after 16 years of service, he made $1,449 over the same time span.

“Favorite thing? Payday,” said Streicher, who rose to the rank of staff sergeant.

Still, he said his days in the military were “good for him.” As a “wild child in the ’60s,” he needed the discipline, he said.

“I had a purpose,” he said, “and I enjoyed it.”

email: dsirtori@buffnews.com