Next summer will mark the 50th anniversary since Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin became the first humans to step foot on another celestial body, while fellow astronaut Michael Collins orbited our nocturnal neighbor alone waiting, and probably internally hoping, for their return.
July 20, 1969 is certainly a date that will be remembered by a great number of people, even 50 years later in 2019. Lonnie Barham and Doug Ray of the Conimicut Village Association are two of those people, and they’re taking their appreciation for the anniversary a step further by organizing a celebratory parade to commemorate the occasion – the first of its kind proposed in the state, and perhaps in the country.
“Ray came up with the idea to have a celebration of the NASA moon landing,” said Barham. “Originally we wanted to do it this year as a practice session, but then we decided rather than do it halfway this year, we should take 15 months to plan and do it right next year.”
With the plan hatched, the two are now making extensive preparations to ensure that the parade will be something local residents – and perhaps people from well outside the local area – will likewise remember for a long time.
They are planning to get the governor, whomever that will be come next summer, in addition to local mayors and state representatives. More thematic, however, is their efforts to get both retired and currently active astronauts to attend and speak, with one serving as the grand marshal. Although NASA is unable to allow currently serving astronauts to commit to anything more than six months removed, Barham said he was 99 percent sure they would be able to make something work.
Barham said there will be food trucks, 50 to 60 marching units, floats, parade bands, color guards, fire trucks – you name it and he’s putting in the emails and phone calls to make it happen. He is even in contact with a Johnston military equipment collector who may be able to lend a few antique military vehicles to drive along the parade route.
The mile-long parade route will begin with a staging area at Clegg Field on Winter Avenue south of Conimicut Village and along Ardway Avenue. At 11 a.m. the parade the will head east on Winter Avenue to West Shore Road, turn north to continue on West Shore Road and march a half mile back towards the American Legion hall. Just before reaching the Legion, the route will turn left onto Birchwood Avenue where units will disband along Birchwood and Poplar.
The American Legion will feature a craft fair inside as well as footage of the moon landing, from the launch to the videos of Armstrong and Aldrin on the Lunar Surface, to the splashdown and recovery of the astronauts and the publicity they received afterwards. Barham said the Legion would have room in their parking lot for about 150 tables and chairs for people to sit and enjoy the parade environment.
“I think it will be a good time,” Barham said. “No other community we know of is doing it. Hopefully we can get some nationwide publicity out of it.”
The Conimicut Village Association is launching their publicity campaign for the parade now so they can hopefully drum up interest and fundraising well in advance of the event date. Barham estimates the parade will cost between $12,000 and $15,000 for the rental of porta-potties, food trucks and police details to cordon off the streets.
In addition to working with the Gaspee Parade Committee, the Warwick Veterans Day Parade Committee and the Bristol Fourth of July Parade Committee for advice and guidance, they will be approaching local businesses that may be interested in sponsoring the event. Those interested can reach out to MoonLandingParade@gmail.com and CVAparade@gmail.com.
Barham, in addition to ensuring that Doug Ray get the credit for the idea, said that the parade is something special to him because to this day he still remembers precise details from the day that changed the world’s history forever.
“To this day I remember so specifically,” he said. “I was a policeman in Groton, Conn. and I had a little radio in my police car. I pulled into somewhere like Stop & Shop when the Eagle landed. To this day I remember that broadcast.”