BENNINGTON -- The big parade celebrating the Battle of Bennington steps off promptly -- sometime about 12:30 p.m. -- next Sunday, Aug. 19.
This Thursday, Aug. 16, marks the 235th anniversary of the titular American Revolutionary War battle, in which a band of rebel forces routed a detachment of British troops, paving the way for General John Burgoyne's surrender at Saratoga in New York. The anniversary is a statewide holiday (Vermont's only), but in Bennington, the real commemoration occurs at the weekend parade.
This year is the 48th annual Battle Day parade -- and the 46th year the event has been organized by Bennington firefighters. In tribute, the parade's grand marshals this year will be the fire chiefs responsible for taking over the helm. Charles Sawyer, Joseph Wasick, and Erwin Mattison were the fire chief and assistant chiefs respectively in 1966 when local firefighters began organizing the parade, according to Ricky Knapp, a member of the Bennington Fire Department and longtime parade organizer.
A lot of fire trucks expected
"I don't know if there's anything new," Knapp said, in terms of the parade; but it's sure to be a humdinger given the return of the Vermont State Firefighters' Association annual meeting and conference the same weekend. In 2009, the last time the statewide association met in Bennington, a high water mark was set in terms of participation.
What will the estimated 3,000 to 4,000 additional firefighters in the area for the 123rd annual meeting mean for this year's parade?
"It's more fire trucks, let's face it," said Knapp. This year's parade will be longer, and could exceed two hours.
Receiving the honor of this year's parade dedication are local residents Jim Carroll and Natasha Garder, the owner of Crazy Russian Girls Bakery.
Knapp said Carroll and Garder were going to be recognized for their response last year during Tropical Storm Irene. Carroll, owner of Jimmy Joe's Curbside Grill, "moved his cart right in" to the Bennington fire station and fed first responders during the storm, according to Knapp.
Garder's bakery meanwhile supplied food to the estimated 170 people who took shelter at Mount Anthony Union Middle School overnight during the brunt of the storm.
There are 13 musical bands signed up for this year's parade, some new, and Knapp said he had 60 national guardsmen registered to march (likely led by the local guard unit's mounted cavalry).
The route will remain the same, proceeding west along Main Street, and the parade begins at 12:30 p.m. -- but arrive early, as repeat parade-goers know their favorite spots to stake out well beforehand.
As a side note, after a dust-up in 2010 over their involvement, Knapp said politicians would be allowed to participate in this year's parade. During the previous election year, instead of marching, they were forced to work the crowds from the sidelines.
A number of auxiliary events are also expected to return through the week, including mainstays like the police versus firefighters softball game at Willow Park, the Battle Day 5k Road Race, activities and music at the Bennington Fire House, and a living encampment at the Bennington Battle Monument. Full details will be published as available, including online at www.benningtonbanner.com.