For 60 years, the parade in Rockville has always been the area's biggest Memorial Day show. But even as yesterday's much-heralded procession in Washington diverted attention to the big city, the residents of Rockville took pride in their traditional display of patriotism and what one called "small-town hokey" spirit.
"We're a lot closer to being Mayberry than Washington, D.C.," said Neal Greenberger, Rockville's public information manager. "But for one day, that's okay."
The crowd of about 8,000 was smaller than the 10,000 to 15,000 who normally show up, according to Rockville Police Chief Terrance N. Treschuk. The people who lined the sidewalk along several downtown blocks seemed unfazed by the intermittent drizzle and threatening forecast. They put up umbrellas, donned plastic ponchos and strained to see family and friends as they marched by. Children scampered after candy thrown by local politicians.
The parade featured about 100 groups. In addition to police officers, firefighters, military units, community associations and marching bands, there was a group dressed in Civil War garb; the Caporales "San Simon" USA, a large entourage in blue-and-silver costumes doing an eye-catching dance from their native Bolivia; and greyhounds wearing red, white and blue hats and matching bandannas around their necks.
"Oh, I love greyhounds," said Elsa Gannon, 65, a retired librarian, as she watched the dogs pass. Gannon, of Bethesda, attended the Rockville parade because family members were in a marching band. Going to Washington would have been "too far and too risky for someone who walks with a cane," she said.
Sgt. Maj. Daniel Funk, 80, a World War II veteran, was the parade's grand marshal and featured speaker. A native Marylander born in Baltimore, he drew an appreciative chuckle from the crowd when he said the WWII soldiers had only one thing on their minds when they returned home: American women.
"They built their homes . . . and created an oasis of charm and commerce in this beautiful city of Rockville," he said. "Keep these vets in your hearts and prayers, for the price of freedom is not cheap."
World War II veterans in the crowd were asked to step forward to be recognized. One of them, Edgar Seagle, 79, an Aspen Hill resident, served in the Navy as a petty officer second class. The former civil engineer with the U.S. Public Health Service has been attending the Rockville Memorial Day parade for more than 40 years. As the band played taps, he took off his Navy cap, decorated with medals, and his eyes grew moist.
He and his wife, Doris, attended the dedication of the National World War II Memorial on the Mall on Saturday. And he knew yesterday's parade in Washington would dwarf the one in Rockville.
Still, he said, "It's nice to be among the hometown group. I'm proud to be here."
The parade has been a family tradition for Ellen Mann, 57, who was there with her daughter, Jennifer Fields, 32, and her granddaughter, Lucy, 2. Mann lives in Rockville and is an English teacher at Springbrook High School.
"This is my town," she said, explaining her faithful attendance. "We know so many people."
The event also drew its share of curious first-timers. Oswaldo Moncayo, 38, a computer analyst from Rockville, gave highest marks to the Edmondson Village Steppers marching band from Baltimore. "They are the best," he told his two daughters. Maite, 10, agreed: "They didn't mess up."
Moncayo, a native of Ecuador, has lived in Rockville for three years but had never attended, he said, until the rising casualty figures in Iraq gave the parade added significance.
Wang Lei, 40, a researcher at the National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda, brought his daughter, Canru, 8. The Chinese immigrant had always read about this American holiday, he said, but had never been to a parade honoring war veterans.
"These people should be honored," Wang said, speaking in Mandarin. "If it hadn't been for them, the war would have never ended."
The band began to play "The Star-Spangled Banner," and those around him placed their hands over their hearts. His daughter quickly took his right hand and slid it onto his chest. He smiled, explaining, "She's learning all these American things."