Even though the 2020 edition of the Aiken Memorial Day Parade has been canceled because of the novel coronavirus pandemic, there still will be a tribute in the city's downtown area to those who died while serving in this country’s armed forces.
The parade’s Planning Committee is teaming up with Shellhouse Funeral Home, a longtime parade supporter and participant, to honor America’s heroes in another way.
Beginning at 11 a.m. on May 23, Robbie Shellhouse’s horse-drawn caisson from the 1800s and a riderless horse will travel along a route similar to the Memorial Day Parade’s usual course.
Starting at the Aiken Railroad Depot, which is the home of the Aiken Visitors Center and Train Museum, they will head west on Park Avenue.
Then they will turn right onto Laurens Street and proceed north until they reach Barnwell Avenue.
The caisson will be carrying a flag-draped coffin.
“Community members who turn up downtown for this event are asked to continue following prescribed health practices and physical distancing,” according to a news release issued by the Memorial Day Parade’s Planning Committee.
“In honor of the fallen service members, citizens in the community are asked to observe a moment of silence on the date and time of the parade,” the release also stated.
“It is an honor to be part of this special event each year,” said Shellhouse of the Memorial Day Parade. “It’s just too important to cancel it altogether and not do anything. That’s not who we are here in Aiken.
“We’re going to honor our brave service members,” he added. “We are simply taking a different approach this year due to the coronavirus.”
During past Memorial Day Parades, the caisson and riderless horse traditionally have been at the end of the procession.
“We are so thankful for Mr. Shellhouse’s unwavering commitment,” said Memorial Day Parade Director Linda Caldwell, who is a Vietnam War veteran. “We are thrilled that he agreed to partner with us in this unique, dignified tribute.
“In addition to honoring fallen service members,” she continued, “this year’s Memorial Day parade-related event is dedicated to our local health care workers, who have been on the frontlines in the war against COVID-19.”
Caldwell also talked briefly about the meaning of the Memorial Day Parade and the Planning Committee's difficult decision to cancel its 2020 edition.
“This is such an important event as we take time each year to honor the sacrifices of our fallen service members who died while serving their nation,” she said. “In the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, we felt it prudent not to proceed with our original plans of a traditional parade with hundreds of entries that generally draws thousands who line the streets of downtown Aiken.”