Veterans of Foreign Wars Randall Collins chapter 3108 could not honor veterans and active military with a parade through town with the streets full of spectators on Veterans Day, Operations Manager Jim Roberts said. So instead, veterans marched from Belfast Area High School to the city dock with a police escort.

This year the organization again held its contest for middle schoolers to write an essay about what patriotism means to them with prizes for the top three winners, Roberts said. Each participant received $10 for their submission. The VFW also presented an award to a high school student in an essay contest answering the question "Is this the country the founders envisioned?" The contests are part of the VFW's Veterans in the Classroom program.

In award presentations at Belfast Area High School preceding the march on the morning of Nov. 11, ninth grader Danielle Hicock won $500 in the high school essay contest with themes involving COVID-19, the Black Lives Matter movement and immigration, Roberts said. Middle schoolers Gracie Moore, Emma Tripp, Hannah Nicholes and Naveah Martin won first to fourth place, respectively, earning prizes of $100, $75, $50 and $25.

“They did a lot for you, and sometimes you take it for granted because you don’t really know much about it, but if you just think a little bit about the veterans who fought for you and just respect them,” first-place winner Moore, a seventh grade student, wrote.

The Veterans Day parade has been a yearly event going back as far as the ’60s, previous commander Steve Brown said. This year only veterans and close ally organizations, like the Patriot Riders, could march, because coronavirus mandates only allowed up to 100 participants.

Usually Girl Scouts, Boy Scouts and the local high school band, among other groups, participate in the parade, which typically draws individuals and families lining the route down Main Street. There were fewer than 50 spectators socially distanced from each other along Main Street to watch this year's event.

Clyde Wellman drove one of the few floats in the march, a 33-foot replica of the USS Independence. He served in the Navy on the USS Little Rock and has a replica of that ship. He crafted the ships mostly from wood and used old cruise books to develop the models and build everything to scale. But he said “it ain’t made to float.”

The float drew reactions from a few children who watched it being pulled down Main Street. “Everybody likes to look at it, I guess,” Wellman said. Sometimes he runs into former sailors who served on the ship.

Usually he enters the float into several parades throughout the summer, but was unable to this year as they were all canceled because of COVID-19, he said.

Veterans marched down to the Belfast dock, where state Rep. Jan Dodge read a letter from U.S. Sen. Susan Collins. The event ended with 21-gun salutes and "Taps."

Roberts said many servicemen continue to share a camaraderie even after they leave the military and continue giving in the form of public service. He appreciates support from the community, but would like to see people be as supportive of the country as they are of the troops.

“We’re still serving for actions we might have done,” Roberts said. “It gives us a little peace to give back …. There’s no such thing as a former soldier, there’s just former active duty.”