Wilmington’s 152-Year-Old Memorial Day Parade Tradition Continues, With Something for Everyone

Written by Emily Stern and Carol Lunger.


The meaning of Memorial Day was the subject of the Wilmington History Society’s May meeting, held 12 days before the holiday’s national observance and 15 days before its recognition in Wilmington. Every year since 1868, May 30th has been marked in the city by a Memorial Day Parade & Observance, making it the oldest continuous parade in the country.


The 152nd annual Wilmington Memorial Day Parade & Observance will be held on Thursday, May 30, beginning at 6 p.m. The parade starts on Delaware Avenue in Rockford Park and ends at the Delaware Soldiers and Sailors Monument.


The May 30th date was not selected by the city but by the Grand Army of the Republic (GAR), the largest organization of Union veterans of the Civil War. On May 5, 1868, GAR’s commander-in-chief, General John Alexander Logan, established the 30th day of May as Memorial Day to honor those who had fallen during the war. That same year, a group of New Castle County citizens formed a Memorial Day Committee.




As WHS’ co-founder, Nathan Field, said to kick off his presentation, Wilmington natives make up more than 1,000 of those who have lost their lives fighting for our country. Field selected five of them to highlight:





  1. General Thomas Alfred Smyth: An Irish-American who enlisted in the Union army in 1861, only to be shot two days before the Civil War ended.
  2. Leon Cork: One of 110 people from Wilmington killed in the Great War. Half of them, including Cork, died from disease.
  3. Harry Hickey: Serving on the USS Indianapolis during World War II along with three other men from Delaware, he died when the ship was torpedoed by a Japanese submarine (as seen in the movie “Jaws”).
  4. James J. Connell: A Salesianum High School and U.S. Naval Academy graduate who was killed in Vietnam after spending 1,645 days in captivity. This year’s guest speaker, John Riley, will be talking about Connell.
  5. James R. McCoy: A father of four and the only Wilmingtonian to die in the Gulf War.


Parade organizers encourage everyone to come out and support the Wilmington Memorial Day Parade – for our veterans, for our City, and for our country. For more information on the parade, go to the parade’s website. Interested in the history behind it? Click here.


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