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4th of July parade tradition booming in Willimantic 

 

WILLIMANTIC -- Red, white and blue have been the primary colors of 4th of July celebrations for generations. But, Willimantic has built an Independence Day tradition that's sweet music to the ears of thousands, thanks to a local radio station.

In 1986, no marching band could be found for Windham's annual Memorial Day Parade, inspiring locals to carry their radios (or boomboxes) while marching in the Fourth of July parade five weeks later, with local radio station WILI AM providing the marching band music live on air.

The 32nd Annual Willimantic Boombox Parade was staged Tuesday, with WILI AM and FM once again providing the music.

"The first year the parade was 44 minutes," said Wayne Norman, a longtime WILI on air personality. "We've had them as long as two hours."

For veterans on hand, the music was moving.

"I'll tell you, every time I hear the Star-Spangled Banner or see a flag, I get teared up," said Gary Thompson, a Vietnam War veteran, who lives in Berlin.

Local  town council president, Tom DeVivo, also gets emotional.

"This was my sister-in-law's," he said, pointing to the giant boombox he was toting. "I've had it in every parade. I walk in her memory all the time. But, this is a great boombox. It takes 8 D batteries."

"If you don't come to the boombox parade with your boombox, it's like why are you here," queried Christopher Dean, of Willimantic, who was riding a bicycle with a boombox mounted on the handle bars. "This is essential. They are hard to find now."

And so is the tradition of a town like Willimantic.

"I come every year and I sit in the same spot," said a woman, who, while holding her boombox, laughed when a friend said she has to explain to her friend's grandchildren what a boombox is.