Main Street

Bozeman's Main Street is awash with American flags and crowds of people for the 2019 Memorial Day parade. 

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Bozeman’s annual Memorial Day Parade is canceled due to COVID-19, but the American Legion is still planning a silent march and a ceremony at Sunset Hills Cemetery to honor veterans and fallen servicemen and women.

American Legion Post 14 Commander Len Albright said organizers were planning the parade right until the city of Bozeman issued a May 1 order suspending all parade permits until June 1.

“It’s a big disappointment,” Albright said. “A lot of people, when they found out we couldn’t get a permit, you just saw their heads drop.”

More than 5,000 people attended last year’s parade, and organizers received even more interest this year, Albright said. About 40 groups were planning to participate. The Corvette Club of America was going to “put vets in ‘vettes,” and the Belgrade and Bozeman high school marching bands were planning to march together, he said.

Albright said the 2020 parade would have been special, but he understands the number of attendees could have been a huge problem.

The city will begin accepting new parade reservations for events scheduled after June 1, according to the city’s May 1 order. However, organizers must guarantee that their events can comply with Gov. Bullock’s reopening directives and guidelines. Organizers must also guarantee their events can comply with restrictions from the Gallatin City-County Board of Health.

Bullock announced Tuesday that the state would enter its second phase of reopening on June 1. People can gather in groups of no more than 50, provided individuals practice social distancing and abide by Gallatin City-County Health Department safety protocols.

In lieu of the Memorial Day parade, volunteers will place 2,532 flags on the grave sites of fallen soldiers at the Memorial Stone and Wall of the Sunset Hills Cemetery at 9 a.m. on Thursday.

At 6 a.m. on Monday, May 25, volunteers will place 90 flags along Main Street to prepare for the silent march.

The march will feature six veterans who will walk from North Seventh Avenue to Post 14 along Main Street, starting at 9 a.m. The veterans will walk in single file wearing their branch uniforms and carrying their branch colors.

The group will disperse at the Legion Club, and the ceremony will resume at 11 a.m. at the Memorial Wall, located at the south end of the Sunset Hill Cemetery.

There will be no seating at this year’s ceremony, and attendees will be expected to practice social distancing. There also won’t be a special Gold Star presentation, though Albright said a few locals may still do a brief honoring of fallen military servicemen and women.

In past years, a separate presentation honored Gold Star families — the families of men and women who have died while serving in the armed forces. Albright said more than 80 Gold Star family members attended the parade and ceremony last year.

“Rain, shine, or snow we will Honor our Fallen Veterans, their families and loved ones. This is America and this is Montana and we have earned our Freedom,” Albright wrote on the American Legion Post 14’s website.

According to Albright, a flyover is planned for the ceremony, as long as the weather permits it. He said he’s only heard of one time when a flyover was canceled.

“Those guys are volunteering their time and money and they do such an awesome job,” he said.

Albright said he doesn’t know how many people will show up to the silent march or Sunset Hills ceremony, but he knows everyone knows how to practice social distancing. He hopes seeing vets walking on the sidewalk might help people who have been stuck inside.

Albright said he plans to try to secure a parade permit again next year.

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Helena Dore can be reached at hdore@dailychronicle.com and at 582-2628.