V-J Day Parade continues in Seymour


It was a beautiful day for a parade Sunday afternoon in Seymour, but even if it hadn’t been, Steve Lewis and his girlfriend, Tara Criswell, still would have showed up.

As a veteran of the U.S. Marine Corps, Lewis said nothing would stop him from attending the city’s annual V-J Day Parade to honor the men and women who served before him along with all other U.S. veterans.

Several years ago, it rained so hard that it was difficult to even see the parade, he said, but Lewis was still there, standing in the downpour, holding up his flag.

The parade was started by Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 1925 in Seymour to celebrate Japan’s surrender to the United States in World War II. V-J stands for victory over Japan.

In its 73rd year, Seymour’s V-J Day Parade is believed to be the only one in the world that has been celebrated annually since fighting ended with Japan on Aug. 15, 1945.

Sitting along West Second Street in front of the Jackson County Public Library on Sunday, Lewis proudly planted a flag in the ground next to him and let it billow in the slight breeze.

The black and white flag belonged to the U.S. Marines Fox 2/5 Blackhearts unit stationed out of California, which Lewis served with from 1994 to 1998.

Lewis said he has been attending the V-J Day Parade ever since he came to Seymour about six years ago.

“The community needs to pull together, and this is a great way to do it,” he said.

Seeing his fellow veterans receive public respect and appreciation from members of the community is emotional for Lewis.

“It gets to me,” he said. “It’s a brotherhood.”

But he wishes more people would come out to support the parade and honor the veterans.

Over the years, the number of people attending the V-J Day Parade has continued to dwindle along with the number of participants. This year, there were only around 30 floats, marching units and other entries.

Parade marshal Russ Byrkett said the lack of interest by the community doesn’t surprise him, but he wishes that wasn’t the case.

Byrkett, 92, a highly decorated veteran of three branches of the military — Marines, Air Force and Army — proudly wore his military uniform and stood inside the back of a Jeep, waving to people along the parade route.

Many people stood, waved and clapped for Byrkett, who served in World War II, the Korean War and the Vietnam War.

The military became Byrkett’s career, and he retired from the Army in 1972 having obtained the rank of command sergeant major. During his 24 years in the Army, he served in airborne, infantry, armor and special forces divisions.

His many medals include the Purple Heart, Bronze Star, Silver Star, Combat Infantryman Badge and many unit citations.

Following his service, he became a life member of the VFW organization and served as commander of Post 1925 in Seymour for nine years.

He was in charge of the V-J Day Parade in the mid- and late-1990s and was grand marshal along with two other local World War II veterans in 2016.

“I’ve been active in the post for about 32 years,” he said.

He currently serves in the post’s ceremonial honor guard for military funerals.

Current post commander Tom Jackson said Byrkett is a hero, not only to him but to lots of people in the community.

After the parade and awards ceremony, Byrkett stood at a podium inside a hall named after him in the VFW and shared a few words.

“You saw what the parade was today. It’s going downhill every year,” he said. “We don’t have the entries, probably half what we used to have as some of you old-timers around here remember. The crowd that we parade for is about a fifth as big as it used to be.”

There’s several reasons for that, he said.

“When the parade was started, that was about four generations ago,” he said. “When it started, people paraded back then.”

Byrkett said it’s not just the V-J Day Parade that is suffering.

“All parades all over the country are getting smaller or stopped,” he said. “There used to be other parades around here, but there’s not anymore. Even Fourth of July parades have almost stopped. There’s very few of them anymore.”

But he hopes that Seymour continues the tradition of the V-J Day Parade.

“There’s not too many of us World War II veterans around. We hope you keep it at least until we’re gone, and I hope you keep it from now on,” he said. “I hope to see you again next year.”

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