Many people connected with LA today have no idea that Groton, like countless other small American towns, holds a parade every Memorial Day. It’s a fairly modest affair these days, but there was a time…
Early April, 1967 (or ’66, or ’58, or whenever): Early afternoon. Classes are over. The student body of Lawrence Academy is assembling on Powder House Road. Bob Shepherd and a few other faculty are barking orders, herding the boys into four platoons facing the Unitarian church. A few feet ahead of the front platoon are two or three drummers from the marching band. (The whole band won’t be ready for a few weeks yet.) The first weekly practice for the Memorial Day Parade has begun.
Drum rolloff. Street beat. “Horwar’, Ha-a-arch!” “Guide right! Guide right!” “Arm’s length!” And they’re off, down Powder House Road, turning left by the church, left again onto Main Street—traffic miraculously blocked—left again up the hill at the other end of Powder House.
“Companeee, HALT!” A few instructions, then off they lurch again, once or twice more around the block until it’s time to go to sports.
And so it went, every Tuesday afternoon until Memorial Day, when the entire school, outfitted in white duck pants, blue LA blazers and garrison caps with a small red “LA” embroidered on one side, and black dress shoes, assembled for the big parade. The marching band, thirty strong in a good year, led the LA company. Groton School took part as well, the boys wearing blazers and khaki pants with World War I-style puttees and spats. They, too, assembled a band, featuring music teacher and choir director Ned Gammons on a battered sousaphone, which he took out of the case only for this occasion.
The parade started and ended at the Town Hall, where we passed the reviewing stand, saluting them with a respectful “eyes right.” The destination was the town cemetery on Hollis Street, where a short service of remembrance was held, a salute fired, and taps played. Then the parade re-assembled and marched back home. I loved it, probably for different reasons than the kids, who had a great time during the ceremonies, running off to the far corners of the cemetery to sneak butts.
Sadly, the parade, or rather the two schools’ participation in it, was a casualty of the Vietnam war. Early in Ben Williams’ career as Headmaster, he got a call from the Groton School head saying that many of their students were refusing to march in a parade glorifying war and the military, and Groton was thinking of calling it off. As I recall, the conversation ended with an “I will if you will;” Lawrence followed Groton’s lead and ended its participation in the parade. Ben led a small volunteer platoon for a few years, but eventually even that faded away and our presence in the town parade was ended forever, a victim of the times.
Thursday May, 10, 2012 at 06:53AM