By Paul Leighton
---- — BEVERLY — As a sailor stationed in New York City during the Korean War, Arnold Doucette marched in Memorial Day parades with thousands of people lining the route.
The marching continued when he got out of the Navy and returned to his native East Boston, and later when he moved to Beverly.
But Doucette, who is 84 and has two bad knees, found himself on the sidelines for the last few years on Memorial Day, physically unable to walk the mile-long parade route.
“I’d march if I can, but right now I’m using two canes,” he said. “That sort of limits me a little bit.”
Doucette won’t have to worry about missing the parade this year. For perhaps the first time since the city began marking Memorial Day after the Civil War, the Memorial Day events in downtown Beverly won’t include a parade.
Organizers have decided to cancel the parade because many of the aging veterans can no longer march. Instead, veterans will report straight to Odell Park for the ceremony, which is scheduled for Sunday at 1:30 p.m.
Beverly Veterans Services Agent Jerry Guilebbe said only about 25 veterans took part in the parade last year, while four times as many went directly to the park.
“Last year I ended up sticking about eight guys in the National Guard trucks just to get them down there,” said Guilebbe, a 65-year-old Vietnam veteran who has knee problems of his own. “I love the parade, but I’d rather see 400 of us down there as a group to keep the tradition going.”
Guilebbe said the ceremony at the park has been well-attended in recent years, with crowds in the range of 300 to 400. But very few of those people lined the parade route, preferring instead to go directly to the park.
All of the elements that usually make up the parade, including veterans groups, police and fire color guards, Scouts, ROTC students and the high school band, will take part in the ceremony at the park, Guilebbe said.
“Everyone’s still coming,” he said.
Guilebbe said many of the city’s younger veterans from the Iraq and Afghanistan wars are police, firefighters or emergency medical technicians who work on holiday weekends and aren’t available to march. They also have young families and aren’t as active in veterans groups as the veterans from World War II, Korea and Vietnam.
“They see us older veterans and they feel like it’s our post rather than theirs,” Guilebbe said. “I’d like them to come together as their own group, and they probably will. They’re still young. Anyone of them that I’ve asked for help, they’re always there.”
Officials in other communities agree it can be difficult for aging veterans to march. In Salem, many veterans ride in a trolley provided by Salem Trolley, said Veterans Services Agent Kim Emerling.
“We pick them up at the VFW, bring them to the parade, and bring them back to the VFW for the collation,” Emerling said. “That takes the edge off.”
Emerling said about 50 veterans participate in the half-mile parade to Greenlawn Cemetery, with up to 300 people watching along the streets.
Beverly veterans who want to march can still participate in ceremonies in Beverly Farms run by the Michael J. Cadigan American Legion Post.
Veterans march a 1-mile route from Private Anthony Rezza Road to West Beach, with stops at seven locations to lay wreaths at memorials honoring veterans.
The parade leaves Rezza Road on Sunday at 9:30 a.m. and ends at West Beach with howitzer and rifle salutes and the tossing of wreaths into the water to honor those who died at sea.
Don O’Connor, the Cadigan Post adjutant, said there’s been no discussion about ending the Beverly Farms parade because it involves ceremonies at multiple locations, with descendants of the honored veterans participating.
“How are you going to say to them, ‘We’re not going to come by here any longer, we’re too tired,’” O’Connor said.
O’Connor said the situation is different in downtown Beverly, where the ceremony takes place at one location and few people watch the parade.
“I think it’s going to work out and I think people are going to be a lot happier,” he said.
Staff writer Paul Leighton can be reached at 978-338-2675 or email@example.com.