Honoring, remembering at the time of social distancing

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BENNINGTON — It started with a son's love for his father.

Richard Setzer's dad, a resident at the Vermont Veterans' Home, had been feeling low since the facility suspended visitations because of the pandemic. So in early April, Setzer organized a parade of vehicles that went by the veterans' home main entrance, cheering up residents and staff.

When he learned at the beginning of this month that no Memorial Day celebration had yet been planned by veterans in Bennington, Setzer decided it was time to organize another event.

"The veterans have been used to coming out for a Memorial Day parade," Setzer, 61, said. "Let them know that we haven't forgotten the sacrifices of their brothers and sisters that they served alongside in combat zones around the world."

A former Navy sailor and later Vermont National Guardsman deployed to Iraq, Setzer began posting messages on Facebook, its messenging service and calling up people who might want to participate. Two friends offered to donate wreaths that would be laid at the veterans monument and the cemetery on the veterans' home grounds.

At 1:30 p.m. Monday, around 150 vehicles started making the short drive from the state office complex on Veterans Memorial Drive to the veterans' home on North Street. Patrol vehicles from the Bennington Police Department led the parade, followed by those from the Bennington County Sheriff's Department and Vermont State Police.

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VFW Riders, as well as Patriot Guard Riders, a group that stands guard at the service of fallen military members, came in more than 20 motorcycles. Later, the bikers participated in a 21-gun salute after the wreath laying at the veterans monument.

Several area fire departments also participated in the parade, including ones from Bennington, Bennington Rural, North Bennington, Shaftsbury, Pownal, Pownal Valley and White Creek in New York.

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The Bennington Rescue Squad and the local VFW Post came out too, as well as community members of all ages in cars, trucks, vans, vintage automobiles — even a skateboard. They waved miniature flags or hung them from the vehicles. Some decorated their ride with balloons or posters bearing messages that the departed veterans will not be forgotten.

At the main entrance of the veterans' home, around 50 residents and staff members waved back at the passing motorists. Some also held tiny flags, while others wore red-white-and-blue hats or headbands.

The spectators included Frank Snow Jr., Setzer's father, who that day got a chance to see Setzer, his wife, children and grandchildren despite the required social distance.

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The 85-year-old veteran has been living at the facility since February 2018, where Setzer said he visited almost every day until the pandemic closed its doors to visitors on March 13. Setzer lives in Cambridge, N.Y., where he serves as an associate pastor for a local church.

Now Setzer calls his dad everyday. At times, he does it outside the older man's window, where they can chat and see each other through the glass.

Bennington's Memorial Day parade honored the men and women who died serving their country. At the same time, it gave Setzer an opportunity to see his dad and also gave the older man an opportunity to be in his beloved outdoors.

"He's the only dad I ever knew," Setzer said, explaining that Snow became his stepdad when he was around 3 years old, and raised him and two siblings.

Contact Tiffany Tan at ttan@benningtonbanner.com or @tiffgtan on Facebook and Twitter.


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