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Remembering why: Kenmore’s Memorial Day parade attracts thousands

Before Jesse and Judy Telaak took their 3-year-old daughter, Allison, to the annual Memorial Day Parade in Kenmore on Monday, they sat her down to tell her something important.

It was about something more important than any of the bands, the fire trucks, the military vehicles, volunteer firefighters, Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts or Cub Scouts she would watch marching down Delaware Avenue.

“The first thing we told her today was the real reason we have this holiday,” Jesse Telaak said. “We told her that it is more than just a day off for school. We told her about the veterans who went to war and made sacrifices for their country. This parade is about them.”

After that, the Kenmore couple found a shady spot along the avenue, where they thoroughly enjoyed the festivities with Allison, her little sister Mackenzie, just 3 months old, several other relatives, and thousands of other people from Kenmore and other communities.

“I’m incredibly appreciative of the sacrifices that people made,” said Jesse Telaak, 37, as he watched the Gordon Highlanders bagpipe band pass by.

With a clear blue sky overhead, temperatures in the mid-70s and a gentle cooling breeze, it was just about a perfect day to enjoy an event that Kenmore organizers bill as the region’s largest Memorial Day parade.

Kenmore police said “at least 5,000 people” were there, and parade organizers said the number was closer to 9,000. People of all ages lined about a mile-long stretch of Delaware, at least five or six people deep in some locations.

“This was our 69th Memorial Day Parade in Kenmore, and every year, it gets bigger and bigger,” said Sandy Marranca, who was the parade announcer. Her husband, Carl, 81, was the parade co-chairman. “This year, we had 87 units, including six bands.”

The parade started at 11 a.m. with the Kenmore West High School marching band. A group of soldiers, wearing camouflage and carrying assault weapons, marched behind them. Not far after them came 30 men and women on motorcycles, roaring their engines for the Hogs & Heroes Foundation.

“Out of all the events where we perform every year, I think this parade is my favorite,” said Lynn Abrahamian, a piccolo player with the award-winning American Legion Band of the Tonawandas. She was just getting ready to join the parade with her husband, David, the band president who plays clarinet, and about 40 other musicians.

“I love the way they honor the veterans, and I love the way people from Kenmore get out and support this event, year after year,” Lynn Abrahamian said.

“My father and all of my uncles served in World War II or Korea,” said band member John Long. “I was in the Navy from 1982 until 1985 on a submarine, the USS Sam Rayburn. We were underwater 70 days at a time, sometimes under the ice.”

One of the band’s trumpeters, Al Schlisserman, served in the Army from 1970 to 1973. He played in the Army Band, even performing at the White House for then-President Richard M. Nixon.

“I was fortunate. I had a great assignment,” Schlisserman said. “I sometimes think about all the people I was in boot camp with. You got very close to these people for a short period of time. Then, you never saw them again. I wonder how many of them died in the war.”

Marie Patterson and her sister, Mary Patterson, both of Sanborn, watched proudly as Marie’s 12-year-old son, David Vaccaro, marched past with a group called the Young Marines.

“We’re Indians, and Native Americans have a long history of serving their country in the military,” Marie Patterson said. “My dad, my brother, a bunch of my uncles – at least a dozen different people from our family have served in the military. My son wants to be in the Air Force someday.”

Several veterans, including 84-year-old Ken Wallace and 69-year-old Bob Kralisz, sat and watched under shade trees outside the Kenwell-DePaul Assisted Living Community at Delaware and Hampton Parkway. Another veteran, Michael Jozak, 57, stood nearby.

Wallace is a Navy veteran who served as a cook on a ship during the Korean War. He counts himself as lucky. “During the entire war, our ship was in South America,” he said.

Wallace wanted to add one more point. “I think war is a very stupid thing,” he said.

The parade capped a busy day of events honoring veterans in Kenmore and the Town of Tonawanda, including ceremonies at the town’s monument to veterans at Kenney Field on Brighton Road, and at the Elm Lawn and Mount Olivet Cemeteries.

The parade’s grand marshal, riding in a big convertible, was Navy veteran Charles T. Catalina, 85, who was part of the crew that served on the Navy’s “Flying Boat,” a seaplane that could land on water, during the Korean War. Catalina is a long-time volunteer who helps disabled war veterans at the VA Medical Center. He is also the chaplain and past commander of the Harry E. Crosby Post 2472, Veterans of Foreign Wars.

Sandy Marranca said it was gratifying to see so many families flock to the parade to pay homage to Catalina and other vets.

“We do it every year because, with all the sacrifices these veterans made, a parade is the least we can do for them,” she said. “Every day should be Memorial Day.”

The spectacle meant a lot to Army veteran John Winnickey, 68, who said he did not serve in combat but suffers from illnesses and depression related to his exposure to the chemical called Agent Orange in the late 1960s.

“I get choked up when I watch something like this,” Winnickey said.

The parade was sponsored by the Town of Tonawanda Youth, Parks and Recreation Department, American Legion Post 205, VFW Post 2472 and the Village of Kenmore.

There also were a host of parades and ceremonies in other Western New York communities Monday to honor veterans.