Trumbull Memorial Day parade is a go for May 31

TRUMBULL — With the official word that Trumbull will hold its traditional Memorial Day parade on May 31, the scramble is on, according to organizer Kathleen McGannon.

“I have all three school bands, the Little League and the Scouts signed up,” McGannon said. “The Shriners are looking into whether they can be there and the military fly-over is all arranged.”

McGannon said she was in the same position as organizers in dozens of other towns as she crammed three months of work into a few weeks.

“I have some more calls to make today that I normally make in February,” she said.

With the COVID-19 pandemic forcing towns everywhere to cancel their 2020 parades, officials took a wait-and-see approach this year. But the recent announcement of looser restrictions on gatherings, especially those taking place outdoors, gave a green light to Trumbull’s parade and other observations, officials said.

One person who didn’t have to scramble at the last minute is Army Reserve Lt. Col. Robert Mraz, the grand marshal. Mraz had been announced as the grand marshal of last year’s parade before its cancellation.

“The uniform still fits,” Mraz said when asked about the year-long wait for his ride up Main Street.

This year’s parade will be held 50 years almost to the month of Mraz’s departure for Vietnam as a 21-year-old Yale ROTC graduate and newlywed. Mraz said he joined ROTC out of an idealistic desire to live up to John F. Kennedy’s challenge to “ask what you can do for your country.”

“I went at the worst time to be in Vietnam, because we knew we were going to be getting out,” Mraz said. “No one wanted to be the last man to get killed over there.”

Mraz, then a lieutenant, completed his combat tour without losing a man. He earned a Bronze Star for the conduct of security reconnaissance patrols.

“As we were leaving, there were Vietnamese troops replacing us,” he said. “Our job was to go where the enemy was suspected of gathering, and protect the approaches so our guys could exit.”

Contact with the enemy was relatively infrequent, but actual combat was almost a relief from the constant tension, he said.

“Firefights, they’re fast and it’s just non-stop adrenaline,” he said. “But it was the kind of war where you lived with the constant threat of setting off a trap. We would walk for miles, stepping in each other’s footprints. And you don’t touch anything because if you pick something up that you shouldn’t, it could kill you.”

Following his combat tour, Mraz spent some time in the country as an economic and rural development adviser, which he recalls as more stressful than a combat tour.

“You go out by yourself to go talk to these people who are trying to build, and get their villages off the ground,” he said. “They were on our side, but the villagers dressed exactly like the enemy, so it was very nerve-wracking. You toured these villages, and you learned that when you’re walking around, keep everyone in front of you or to the side. No one walks behind you.”

Mraz returned from Vietnam and spent 10 years in the private sector before taking a job with the Department of Defense where he specialized in weapons systems procurement and management. He and his wife Elizabeth have lived in Trumbull for 34 years.

“I don’t regret any of it, and maybe it’s idealistic, but I felt I had an obligation to do what I could for the betterment of the country,” he said. “With all the flaws we have, we’re still really lucky to be in the situation that we are.”

The 2021 Memorial Day activities will include a re-dedication ceremony and wreath-laying at 8 a.m. at the Vietnam Memorial on White Plains Road. The Town Hall ceremony honoring Mraz will begin at 9 a.m., followed by a wreath-laying honoring lives lost in other wars.

The parade will step off at 10 a.m., beginning at the Long Hill Market plaza and ending at Town Hall.

In addition, the town will fly American flags along Main Street from Memorial Day until Sept. 11. Residents may sponsor a flag in honor of a deceased soldier or someone who has served or is currently serving. Purchase forms are available on the town website, trumbull-ct.gov.

The Memorial Day program will feature the names of those who are being honored or remembered with flags.

deng@trumbulltimes.com