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Staff file photo by C.B. Schmelter / Members from various local high school marching bands carry an American flag during the 70th annual Armed Forces Day Parade on Friday, May 3, 2019 in downtown Chattanooga.

Chattanooga's Armed Forces Day Parade, a spring tradition since 1950, has been postponed until fall.

The parade was scheduled for May 1, but its planning and implementation have been hindered by coronavirus-related bans on gatherings.

Armed Forces Day is observed on the third Saturday in May, but the Chattanooga event is held on the first Friday of the month so that marching bands and junior ROTC units can participate before Hamilton County public schools are dismissed for the summer. But students haven't physically been in class since March 13 and won't return for the rest of the academic year, a decision announced last week by Superintendent Dr. Bryan Johnson, based on a statewide recommendation from Gov. Bill Lee.

Student participation in the parade is "absolutely key," said retired U.S. Air Force Col. Chris Dooley, parade chairman. "With no students, we don't have anybody to blow the horns or carry the flag."

Previous parades have included nearly 1,000 junior ROTC cadets from 10 Hamilton County programs and two Georgia schools, according to Times Free Press archives. Veterans and active-duty personnel are also part of the 45-minute procession through downtown in advance of a luncheon for military and community leaders at the Chattanooga Convention Center. Chattanooga is believed to have the longest-running Armed Forces Day parade of its size in the nation.

Dooley said members of the parade committee, which includes the Chattanooga Area Veterans Council, city and county representatives and civilian volunteers, have been corresponding by email the past few weeks to stay abreast of developments in the run-up to the parade.

(READ MORE: Remember when, Chattanooga? Help us identify these women from the 1958 EPB Armed Forces Day Parade)

"March came along, and now we're in April. This would have been our big 'hop to it' time," he said.

This year's grand marshal will be U.S. Navy veteran Mike Neal of Soddy-Daisy, a U.S. Navy petty officer first class who served as an aviation machinist's mate in a 21-year career that took him through World War II, the Korean War and part of the Vietnam War. He turns 98 on Sunday.

Armed Forces Day was set aside as a holiday to honor active-duty military personnel on Aug. 31, 1949, replacing individual holidays for each branch of the military. The first holiday was observed on May 20, 1950.

"It's a shame that we're going to have to reschedule from 1 May, but Chattanooga's continuous-running military parade will continue," said retired U.S. Navy Capt. Mickey McCamish, the parade committee's service representative.

(READ MORE: Remember when, Chattanooga? The 1947 Army Day Parade from Patten Hotel to Rialto Theater)

"Everybody is working as a team," Dooley added. "Right now, we're in a hovering state. When the time comes that we get cleared, we'll be back in planning sessions to make it go."

The committee is hoping to "secure a date in September or October," according to civilian spokeswoman Cynthia Fagan.

Contact Lisa Denton at ldenton@timesfreepress.com.

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