FOR 67 YEARS since he returned to Bridesburg after fighting with the Marines in Iwo Jima and other World War II battles, Ed Dubeck, 92, has been marching in the community's annual Memorial Day parade.
Dubeck, with the help of relatives pushing him in a wheelchair, took his place again near the front of yesterday's Bridesburg Memorial Day parade, the oldest and largest in the city.
For years a community tradition, the parade took on new poignancy over the weekend as residents reacted to the announcement that Bridesburg's two Roman Catholic parishes will merge.
"It's gonna be huge," said Gary Roman, 52, a lifelong Bridesburg resident and a parishioner at All Saints Church, which is being folded into nearby St. John Cantius. Roman, who served as adjutant of this year's parade, said there has long been a sense of division between the neighborhood's two churches.
Thousands gathered along the parade route. Many sat in lawn chairs, drinking beer in the comfort of their front yards. Others, both young and old, stood along the sidewalks, some who had returned to see a tradition they remember since they were kids.
Arlene Kosiorek, 75, joined her husband, Chester, 76, a Bridesburg native and post-Korean War veteran of the Air Force in Japan and Germany, to watch the same parade Chester said he attended as a boy.
Although the Kosioreks now live in Harleysville, Montgomery County, they return for the annual parade in the old neighborhood where they first met at Bridesburg's American Legion Post 821.
"I love the neighborhood, the patriotic feeling with the flags," Arlene said. "You don't see that a lot anymore, especially in the suburbs."
Across from the K-Food Market at Thompson and Lefevre streets, which advertises homemade fresh kielbasa, pierogies and chrusciki, Guido Vulpe stood with his kids and grandkids, all born and raised in Bridesburg after Vulpe moved there from North Philly 37 years ago.
Vulpe, 61, said the variety of ethnicities in the neighborhood - German, Irish, Polish, Italian - "keep it afloat."
His son Tony, 28, said that community connection is what makes Bridesburg the home of Philly's oldest parade.
"It's a tight-knit community, everyone comes out here and knows everyone," he said.
The All Saints building will remain open for worship, but weekend Mass will move to St. John Cantius on July 1.
Roman predicted that many parishoners in All Saints would have a hard time transitioning, and he said some might choose to leave the parish.
Ultimately, however, he said the merger would not affect the community ties that have fostered the parade through so many years.
"Change is tough," Roman said. "But somehow, some way, it's gonna come together."