It was 1868, and the bloodiest war in America’s history—past, present or future—had ended three years earlier, leaving 600,000 boys and men dead. On May 5, Gen. John A. Logan, commander-in-chief of the Civil War veterans’ association Grand Army of the Republic, sent out a message from its Washington, D.C., headquarters. It called for local chapters to dedicate May 30 to the remembrance of fallen comrades in the Civil War.
That day marked the first Memorial Day. For 151 years, the city of Wilmington has hosted a parade by United States veterans on May 30, ending in a ceremony honoring fallen comrades from all wars and the sacrifices they made. This year will mark the 152nd year of the event, the oldest consecutively run Memorial Day parade in the country.
Parade chairman Tom Kenney has been involved with the parade since 1994, when many committee members were veterans of World War II and Korea. “Our job is to remember people who died…to remind people that May 30 is about people who gave their lives so we can live the way we do.”
Today, the Wilmington parade is joined by 15-20 other parades and ceremonies taking place in the First State on and around Memorial Day.
In its heyday through the 1950s, the Wilmington Memorial Day Parade was routinely attended by 20,000 people, with thousands marching through the city. Today’s ceremony is much smaller, but Kenney says he doesn’t mind.
“People have moved out, and they’ve taken that tradition with them,” he says, “There’s an emphasis all across the state now to have Memorial Day services. In that sense, we’re succeeding in our goal of engaging others to keep the remembrance.”
Wilmington’s 152nd Memorial Day Parade will take place at 6 p.m. on Thursday, May 30. The parade starts at Delaware Avenue and Woodlawn Avenue, and proceeds down Delaware Avenue to the Civil War Monument on Broom Street. For more information, visit wilmingtonmemorialdayparade.com.