Sandston Memorial Day Parade draws crowds

As he surveyed crowds of people smiling and waving American flags, Joe Bell felt right at home.

“I think we need more of this,” Bell said, as he maneuvered his personally retrofitted Scooby-Doo Mystery Machine along Williamsburg Road in the Fourth Annual American Legion Post 242 Sandston Memorial Day Parade. “There’s too much hatred, too many wars, don’t you think? A little more love would be good. … I’m 71 years old and I never knew when there wasn’t a war going on somewhere.”

Bell and his wife, Judy, raised their four children in Sandston and only moved away when he retired and passed his family floor sanding business on to his son.

“This is our hometown,” he said as he reached out the window to wave to one of many residents who yelled “Hey Joe!” along the course of the parade, which started at Seven Pines Elementary School (where their four children went to school) and proceeded down Williamsburg Road to the American Legion building on JB Finley Road.

On a day dedicated to remembering those who have died in wars, the tone of the parade and following festivities was celebratory of not only veterans, but of the American spirit and community.

“It means a lot,” said Robert Brooks, a Gulf War veteran. “It means I know they respect what I did.”

Brooks attended his first parade to see a float of a Navy ship made by Cub Scout Pack 501, Cubmaster Dave Ludwig said, while the Cub Scouts shouted and waved flags behind him. Brooks lives at the Sitter and Barfoot Veterans Care Center, where the Pack has volunteered.

“We wanted to do this for Mr. Brooks, because they’ve done so much for us,” Ludwig said. “So that’s his boat!”

The parade included a plethora of fancy cars, 21 floats, two horse-drawn carriages, the Highland Springs High School marching band, Varina High School drum line, Varina High School Junior Navy ROTC, two New Kent County fire units and several Henrico County units, said Temple Ancarrow, an Army Vietnam veteran and parade organizer with the American Legion.

“If it wasn’t for the veterans giving us our freedom, you wouldn’t be a news reporter, there wouldn’t be a Wal-Mart or anything, and we’d be another third world country,” Ancarrow said, explaining why it was important to him to be involved.

Putting on the free parade and celebration required the help of many community organizations, including the Eastern Henrico Business Association, the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers 666, Sandston Youth Association, Citizens and Farmers Bank, Henrico County Recreation and Parks, Kroger and Farmer’s Foods, Ancarrow said.

Kroger and Farmer’s Foods each donated 1,000 hot dogs, buns, chips and drinks, Ancarrow said. Every year, Boy Scouts from Troop 529 have cooked and handed out food from the concession stand across from the JB Finley Little League Field, he said.

“We’ve sent the tray back 10 or 20 times,” said Boy Scout Jon Marcinkevicius, who was handing out hot dogs.

The line for hot dogs stretched across the street all afternoon.

Eastern Henrico Business Association President Mark Romers said that Ancarrow had told him that there were none left over. Romers and the EHBA provided a separate page on their website for the first time this year to promote and inform the community about the parade.

“My biggest thank you goes out to Mark Romers. If wasn’t for him, I probably wouldn’t have done this this year,” Ancarrow said.

Romers played the role of the parade clown in the EHBA golf cart with his son and grandson, driving along in front of the parade passing out 4,000 American flags, he said.

“That’s a lot of flags,” Romers said, laughing. “But everybody loves those flags.”

Bill Stewart, of Richmond, and his daughter, Amaris, were waving flags in their of chairs at the end of the parade route.

“We used to live in east Henrico, so this has been a tradition for us for the past four years to come,” he said. “It just has a great local American hometown spirit to it.”

On the Friday before Memorial Day, American Legion Posts 242 and 144 (from Highland Springs) and Boy Scout troops placed flags on the graves at Seven Pines National Cemetery, which is on a portion of former Civil War battlefield originally dedicated to the internment of soldiers from that war.

At noon on Memorial Day, there was a veterans recognition ceremony.

“We always go to the memorial ceremony,” Bill Stewart said. “Just the way they honor the veterans here is just a joy.”

Sandston resident and parade participant Don Lewis has worked for Martin’s for 20 years and served in the National Guard for 20 years but never saw action, he said. In the parade he drove the 1926 Model T Ton Truck once used to pick up fruit on the Ukrop’s farm.

“This is patriotic more than anything,” he said. “A lot of people lost their lives for this country of ours, and I’m just kind of proud to be here.”

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