Parade attendance an issue in last 40 years

FORT WAYNE, Ind. (WANE) – While hundreds of people attended Monday’s Memorial Day Parade in Fort Wayne, attendance is usually an issue. Parade officials said the numbers for the annual event have gone down significantly during the last 40 years.

More than 1.3 million military men and women have died in all the U.S.- involved wars since 1775. Parade officials said while honoring those who paid the ultimate sacrifice should happen every day of the year, Memorial Day offers a great place to start.

The Allen County Council of Veterans runs the Memorial Day Parade in Fort Wayne. It said the parade used to be a very large event with tremendous community support. That backing has dwindled over the decades, though.

The Veterans Council believes the lack of attendance comes from several factors. Bad weather can negatively impact numbers when Mother Nature decides to not cooperate.

“Part of it is the weather, depending on if it’s raining or if it’s really, really super cold out,” First Vice Commander of the Allen County Council of Veterans Gerard Willis said.

The Veterans Council also thinks people often forget the sacrifice the veterans made as more time passes. Parade officials said getting attendance back up will not only honor those who died, but also bridge the gap for veterans who need help networking.

“What am I hoping for is to get more participation from the local community and get more participation from the local vendors and the local businesses in order to have a very, very large parade like it used to be,” Willis said. “It doesn’t need to be a long parade, but what it does need to do is it needs to communicate that the veterans have opportunities out there and get those veterans in touch with the programs they have that are available to them that they don’t even know exist.”

Willis is a veteran himself and has made it his mission to help other veterans coming back from the service.

“I did 17 years in the military. When I got out, all I wanted to do was help veterans because what I found was that there was information that was not passed on to me that was very pivotal in me transitioning to the veteran side of the military. It goes on all over the place. There’s a lot of veterans that do not know what’s going on in the community and how it can help them,” Willis said. “What I do is I actually go out to the business and I say, hey, we would like for you to come participate in our parade. The reason we want you to participate is we want you to spread the word to the veterans that these are the things that you have available to them, so that they know the library has a discount for veterans and think we need to go and check that out. This is just a way for them to be able to say hey, we’ve got some ideas and we’ve got some people that we can actually utilize, so that’s what the purpose is.”

New participants in this year’s parade included the Allen County SPCA and the Allen County Public LibraryBoth organizations have special discounts and programs for veterans in the community.

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