Has Memorial Day gotten ‘too celebratory?’ Huntley American Legion ends local parade sponsorship

American Legion cited festive tone – and candy-throwing – as reasons it’s bowing out

US Navy serviceman Jonathan Grell of Algonquin watches the parade pass as others enjoy the Memorial Day scene in Huntley Monday.

Concerned that the Huntley Memorial Day parade has become too celebratory, the local American Legion has announced it’s bowing out of the event.

Officials announced the change at the start of this year’s Memorial Day commemoration Monday, eliciting gasps from the crowd.

Mike Stojak, the incoming commander of Huntley American Legion Post 673, said Tuesday that Huntley will still have a Memorial Day ceremony but that the post won’t sponsor a parade.

Reached Tuesday, Village President Tim Hoeft said the Legion had called and asked for his opinion on the parade. Hoeft said Memorial Day has always been the American Legion’s day in Huntley, but he can see where they’re coming from on the parade. He said there will still be a ceremony going forward, but he hasn’t talked with the village board about it.

“This was [the Legion’s] decision and we will be meeting with them for future plans moving forward,” Hoeft said in an email.

Stojak said the group asked its members before making the decision and that it was a unanimous membership decision to not move forward with the parade.

Stojak said the ceremony used to consist of a march from the American Legion post to the cemetery. But over the years, people started throwing out candy, as took place Monday. Candy throwing was also observed at Johnsburg’s parade Monday. Besides candy throwing, Stojak cited children dancing during the parade, which he said “has become too celebratory.”

“It’s not a New Orleans funeral,” Stojak said.

In Crystal Lake, the city noted on its website ahead of this year’s commemoration that candy and fliers were not allowed: “As a reminder, the Memorial Day Parade and Cemetery Service is a solemn event intended to honor veterans and those who have given their lives for their country. Please do not distribute candy or fliers during the parade and please keep marching units and floats consistent with the nature of this event.”

Carl Kamienski, who is on the McHenry County Board and gave the invocation at both the opening and closing ceremony at Johnsburg’s Memorial Day event in addition to walking in the parade, said he personally didn’t feel like people have gotten too celebratory about the occasion.

“It wasn’t like a Fourth of July parade,” Kamienski said, adding “we’re trying to keep awareness” of what the day is all about.

The Memorial Day Parade makes its way down Main Street in Huntley on Monday.

Stojak said Memorial Day is a day for honoring the fallen. Stojak added other American Legions and VFWs have cancelled their parades because it’s too celebratory.

When asked if there’s a more appropriate greeting for Memorial Day other than “Happy Memorial Day,” Stojak urged people to say, “Respect Memorial Day.”

Stojak added it “troubled” him that there are just three days to honor service members: Memorial Day for fallen service members, Veterans Day for former service members and Armed Forces Day for current service members. However, May is Military Appreciation Month and November is National Veterans and Military Families Month.

Doug Katz, of the Veterans Network Committee of Northern Illinois, feels like Memorial Day has gotten celebratory with events like commercials and sales, but it’s not intentional. He said fewer people are connected with the military now, and schools should teach more about why Memorial Day exists. He said the day should be better “marketed.”

“It’s a lack of education and awareness,” Katz said.

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