Editor’s note: This article has been updated to reflect a corrected version of Grand Marshal Joseph VanDeloo’s name, who was erroneously named as Paul VanDeloo. Spotlight News apologizes for the mistake.
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BETHLEHEM — The 2018 Town of Bethlehem Memorial Day Parade will kick off at 11 a.m. at the Nathaniel Adams Blanchard American Legion Post #1040 on Monday, May 28.
Organized by the Legion this year, Grand Marshal Joseph VanDeloo will lead the parade on its route to the Bethlehem Veterans Memorial Park, where there will be a flag raising ceremony, prayer service, and performances of both Taps and the National Anthem.
VanDeloo, who grew up in Albany, served during Vietnam as an engine mechanic in the 1960s, retiring as a staff sergeant of the U.S. Air Force National Guard in 1966. He worked on C-97 cargo planes and flew overseas missions to places such as Antarctica and France, to transfer supplies.
Upon retirement in 1966, he married his high school sweetheart and moved to Delmar. He has been a member of the Nathaniel Adams Blanchard post for 31 years, serving as commander, chairman of the board and finance officer. Currently, he is on the Board of Directors.
According to Legion Commander Lyle Maddock, VanDeloo, who recently suffered a stroke, attended an annual awards dinner last month where Maddock asked him to serve as grand marshal of the annual parade.
“The grand marshal is someone the community should recognize for their achievements,” he said, noting VanDeloo’s service and subsequent years working as a local sales manager. The honor is generally bestowed on one of the Legion’s older members, as well as those who have held leadership positions in the organization.
“It’s an honor and a pleasure,” said VanDeloo, who became emotional when he spoke of the “good people” he has served with, both during his time in the service and his time at the Legion. “I think the world of the place.”
While VanDeloo and Maddock both identified the mission of the American Legion as supporting returning and aging veterans, VanDeloo pointed out that Post #1040 also provides a significant amount of community support for other local organizations, such as youth athletic leagues and scout troops who use space at Post #1040 for meetings.
“They’ll all be marching in the parade,” he said.
VanDeloo initially joined the Legion for social reasons, after leaving the USAF National Guard. “Our friends all died there,” he said of the Vietnam War. “But it was a way to have some fun.” Ultimately, it became important to continue to provide support and recognition for those who were returning from service and those who never did.
The Legion organizes the parade every other year, alternating with the Bethlehem Memorial VFW Post #3185. One topic Maddock, who was just elected to a second term as Legion commander, wants to highlight during a speech he will deliver is the issue of how many veterans are affected by post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
“There are like 15 suicides a day from people coming back,” he said. “That’s a really big deal.” He said much of the Legion’s work is dedicated to easing that transition for returning service members.
The annual Memorial Day parade steps off from West Poplar Drive, turns left onto Elsmere Avenue and proceeds right onto Kenwood Avenue. The percession then turns left onto Adams Place, followed by a right onto Adams Street. The parade then turns right onto Delaware Avenue before coming to an end at the Bethlehem Veterans Memorial Park.
Early this century, under the leadership of Supervisor Sheila Fuller, renewal of the small park’s landscaping and a Buy-a-Brick Campaign for the park enabled the town to add inscribed bricks to the park “to broaden the honor and recognition of those who served our country.”
Some have been inscribed with the military engagements in which local veterans have fought while others have been inscribed with quotes related to those engagements. “The quotes reveal the passion and ideology of the time and are echoes of our history,” reads a 2005 article in Our Towne Bethlehem, which describes the layout of the bricks as “a puzzle.”
VanDeloo said he hopes that the new town administration will prove to be more supportive of Legion activities than the preceding one, commenting that the town has historically been more responsive under leaders such as Fuller, Jack Cunningham and Sam Messina. ‘I think we could do better,” he said of recent years.
Prior to the parade, said VanDeloo, at 10:30 a.m., participants will gather at the grave of Nathaniel Adams Blanchard, in front of the post, for a brief ceremony honoring the soldier who was killed in action in November 1918, while serving with the 307th Infantry’s 77th division, near the close of World War I.