Citing concerns over the spread of COVID-19, organizers have put Annville’s 30th annual Memorial Day Parade on hiatus for the year.
But, while the parade has been cancelled, the holiday has not.
“Treat it as a parade weekend. Fly your flags. Clear the parade route,” committee chairwoman Becky Gacono said Thursday. “We want to see all the flags, we want to know that people remember.”
Gacono, who has chaired the event for the past decade and has been involved since its inception 30 years ago, announced the cancellation Tuesday evening.
“We have struggled getting to this moment but it’s time,” she wrote on the Destination Annville page on Facebook.
“What we are not doing is cancelling Memorial Day,” she said in the message. “This day has become an extremely important part of our lives and our community. The committee has come up with a plan, an idea, a way to honor and remember those that never came home.”
Instead of a parade—which annually draws about 5,000 spectators and 1,500 participants, and is ranked as one of the largest Memorial Day parades in Pennsylvania—Annville will hold what Gacono is calling a “quiet memorial.”
In other words, she explained, the parade route—Route 422, College Avenue and Maple Street—will still be closed to traffic for about 30 minutes starting at 9 a.m. Saturday, May 23. Instead of a parade, she said, there will just be “a quiet road.”
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“On a morning when so many would normally be packing their things to head out for a parade, we hope the community will take their morning at home for quiet reflection and appreciation to honor the sacrifice of those who never came home,” Gacono wrote on Facebook. “We do not want people to gather but we do want people to remember. This can be a time to talk to your children about the meaning of Memorial Day. A time to be proud that we live in a community that has made this day so important to remember our fallen.”
Reactions to the announcement on the Destination Annville page were almost wholly positive. Annville locals and neighbors applauded Gacono and the upcoming event, calling it a “creative idea,” a “beautiful substitution,” and “the most responsible and caring decision possible.”
“We understand that this was not an easy choice but one that needed to be done,” wrote Robert Day.
Jennifer Huemme DeProspo called it a “pause” in the tradition. “We can do that for the safety of others,” she wrote. “We’ll celebrate extra hard next year!”
For Gacono, the decision to cancel the parade this year was a personal struggle.
“I’ve really been wrestling with it,” she said. “It was a really hard decision. It was a really important day for my family, and it’s a really important day for our community.”
The yearly parade, she said, is a family tradition. The old Annville parade, she recalled, was a much smaller event.
“It was a police car, maybe the Annville-Cleona band. I think there was a fire truck.”
When the original parade ended 30 years ago, her parents decided to start a new one. Her father, V. Carl Gacono, served as a lieutenant colonel in the U.S. Army, and later the Army Reserves, and her mother supported his efforts to revitalize the parade.
“We need our Memorial Day,” Gacono recalls her father saying. “It’s important.”
So, he went to American Legion, where he was a member, and persuaded his peers to get behind it.
He became commander of the Legion in the process, she said. Her family has always been involved in the military, she added, including her brothers, her daughter and her nieces.
“Growing up, our heroes were always the people who served,” she said. “And not just the military, we were always taught to appreciate the people who gave back. The military, the police, the volunteer firefighters.”
Now that her parents have passed, Gacono said it’s important to her to continue the tradition.
“This is the first year my dad won’t be part of it,” she said. “He was in the parade last year—but we knew it would be his last one, he was already in hospice care.”
Carl Gacono, local business man, community activist, and family man, passed Nov. 1, 2019, and was buried at Indiantown Gap National Cemetery.
Besides the parade, he and his wife, Mary Jane Bowman Gacono, were also instrumental in establishing and maintaining Annville’s annual Christmas Tree Lighting ceremony and Santa’s Arrival at the Allen Theatre.
“That was their goal, to bring the town together, to bring the community together, so we would remember,” Becky Gacono said, shortly after her father’s passing.
“They always thought it was important to give back.”
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