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Berlin, Ocean Pines News Worcester County Bayside Gazette Logo Berlin, Ocean Pines News Worcester County Bayside Gazette


Thousands celebrate ‘Old-Fashioned’ way

(May 28, 2015) The mile-and-a-half stretch of Flower Street overflowed with onlookers on Monday, as Berlin’s annual Old-Fashioned Memorial Day parade drew residents and visitors of all ages on a picture-perfect summer day.
Unlike most Berlin events, centered in the downtown area and designed to boost revenue in shops and restaurants, the parade served as a communitywide homecoming, and the enthusiasm often spilled out on into streets, jamming up traffic on the parade route with scores of camera and cell phone-wielding spectators.
Vendors, most of them centered near the multipurpose building, sold the works: hamburgers, hot dogs, barbeque chicken, fried fish sandwiches, hot wings, snow cones, and treats of all shapes and sizes.
Nonprofits and political action committees, including Working America, the country’s largest nonunion worker’s group, set up booths for the occasion, while others groups and individuals, such as Berlin resident Q. Burden, set up a makeshift version of his Pretty City Boutique business inside the multipurpose building, selling clothing and jewelry.
Gregory Purnell, who emceed the event, welcomed the throng to “the coolest small town in America” and asked for a moment of silence to honor those who died while serving in the U.S. Armed Forces.
Purnell also underscored the homecoming aspect of the event in his opening statement.
“Some gave all, but all gave some, and so we’re here to celebrate the veterans today in merriment,” Purnell said. “We welcome you again. It’s always so good to see so many of the faces coming back to help us celebrate this special occasion.”
Running from Stephen Decatur Middle School down Flower Street to Bay Street, the parade began with Grand Marshal Virgil Armstrong, a veteran of World War II, who served from 1942 to 1946 aboard the U.S.S. Coral Sea aircraft carrier.
“He was raised in Whaleyville, and at the age of 20 he was drafted into the Armed Forces,” Purnell said. “Virgil traveled from several countries, including Japan, the Philippines, Spain and Saipan.”
Armstrong, who rode in the parade on a scooter, reenlisted in the armed forces in 1950, serving four years during the Korean Conflict.
“He watched as many of his comrades, who we are here to celebrate today, were buried at sea,” Purnell said. “Let him know, and all the veterans know, we appreciate their service.”
Following Armstrong, and an assembly from the Duncan Showell American Legion Post 231 color guard, Berlin Mayor Gee Williams and District 4 Councilmember Dean Burrell rode bicycles down the parade path and waved to the crowd as part of a long-standing tradition.
Next came Berlin Police Chief Arnold Downing, riding on an army transport, followed by the Stephen Decatur High School Marching Band playing patriotic music, and the Red Hat Society Charm Girls, who put on a festive limbo demonstration, throwing trinkets to into the crowd during the process.
Several youth dance troupes, including the Salisbury TOP Rockerz, Salisbury Little Rockerz and the Berlin Heat, literally stopped traffic, showing off their skills to booming dance music while family members and friends broke through the mostly cosmetic barricades to get a closer look.
The Little Rockerz and Berlin Heat won each awards following the parade, along with Duncan Showell, Walk Through the Valley, the National Association of Black Vets, VFW Post 10159, Abu Lahab Temple number 206, the Red Hat Society, St. Paul United Methodist NYF, Germantown School Community Heritage Center, East Coast Cruisers, St. John’s United Methodist Church Cottage House and a St. John’s youth group, the Black Knights, Buffalo Soldiers and East Coast Car and Truck.
Salisbury Little Rockerz Choreographer Sophia McKinney said plenty of work went into the group’s demonstration.
“They did great,” she said. “We’re really happy with their performance.”
District 2 Worcester County Commissioner Diana Purnell accepted awards on behalf of the St. John’s United Methodist Church, which she attends.
The youth group, called “Small in Numbers, but Might in Power,” did a praise dancing demonstration during the parade.
“We thought they did a great job and the weather was nice, so everybody is enjoying themselves,” she said.
Several volunteers in bright neon green vests handed out bottled water to participants at the end of the parade route.
“I thought it was an awesome parade,” she Berlin resident Fran Franklin “It was a good spirit, and the most important thing is that we’re celebrating our veterans who have served our country. Without them, none of us would probably be there. I want to send a shout-out to them and a ‘thank you.’ It was a good day.”
Many, including Salisbury resident Tim Gordy, were experiencing their first Old Fashioned Memorial Day parade.
“I enjoyed it,” he said. “I liked the dancing. I liked the motorcycles a lot too – it makes me want a motorcycle.”
Parade Chairman Jesse Turner said he was happy with the parade’s turnout, and hoped for an even better showing next year.
Purnell, speaking after the parade, also said he was pleased with the showing, which he estimated to be more than 2,000 people.
“I think it’s very good that people are turning out for this holiday and taking the time to pause and celebrate and memorialize veterans who gave their lives and those who came back and lost their lives later,” he said. “We thank the committee for continuing to have this, and we thank the community for coming out to be a part of it.”