Unique Sussex tradition rekindled with successful Return Day

Sussex County Sheriff Robert T. Lee, right, rides “shotgun” on the Wells Fargo Stagecoach during the Return Day Parade. (Delaware State News (Glenn Rolfe)

GEORGETOWN — City of Milford Mayor Archie Campbell credits his sharp aim to genetics.

Milford’s newly elected mayor on his first of two attempts claimed top honors in the Mayor’s Hatchet Toss — an early-morning spectacle on Sussex County Return Day that preceded festivities and the festive parade that showcased tradition and several marquee attractions.

“My mother is an Okeechobee Seminole, like in Florida!” said Mayor Campbell, who bested Bridgeville Town Commissioner Tom Carey, Blades Mayor David Ruff and Georgetown Mayor Bill West to claim the coveted trophy. “I just showed up and threw the hatchet. So, I would say it’s in my genes.”

The parade, which began at 1:30 p.m. and lasted until after the Sussex Courthouse clock struck 3 o’clock, featured several firsts.

One was the Return Day Parade debut by the University of Delaware Blue Hen Marching Band, which drew rousing applause from the many UD alumni that packed The Circle and parade route.

Many area school bands and Delaware State University’s Approaching Storm band joined UD’s marching unit as parade participants.

Sussex County political party leaders team to bury the hatchet signifying the end to Delaware’s political season. (Delaware State News/Glenn Rolfe)

Perched with front-row seats along The Circle were R.T. Givens and wife Debbie Givens of Georgetown. They’ve been Return Day fixtures for decades.

“I have been coming here since, I don’t know when!” said Ms. Givens.

“Never missed a year. I was probably seven or eight years old, probably about 1970. My pop-pop used to bring me. We would make apple cider to bring up,” said Mr. Givens, adding his favorite part of Return Day is the parade. “Watching the elects come through. And Nutter Marvel’s carriages. It’s a good day for politics all around. They bury hatchet.”

Parade attractions featured an appearance by the United States Army Old Guard Fife and Drum Corps, and an official horse-drawn Wells Fargo Stagecoach.

From the Sussex Courthouse balcony and flanked by Sussex County Sheriff Robert T. Lee, Town Crier Kirk Lawson for a third time at Return Day read the certified returns for Sussex County from the election held two days earlier.

“Why only Sussex? Because down here … that’s all that matters!” Town Crier Lawson cried out.

The Wells Fargo Stagecoach brought the box of sand from Lewes and hatchet for the post-parade burial ceremony.

Mayor of Milford Archie Campbell won the Mayors Hatchet Toss as Sussex County Return Day was held in Georgetown on Thursday November 8th with politicians “Burying the Hatchet” to end the 2018 Election.
(Special to the Delaware State News /Chuck Snyder)

Leaders of Sussex County’s political parties – Don Petitmermet (Republican), Jane Hovington (Democratic), Wolfgang Von Baumgart (Independent) and James Brittingham (Libertarian) — teamed to bury the hatchet. That ceremony marks the official end to Delaware’s political season, keeping alive Sussex County’s unique post-election tradition that dates back more than two centuries.

Attending Return Day for the first time, Greenwood resident Amanda Mitchell voluntarily put herself in the wooden pillory stockade, one of the historic features on The Circle in Georgetown. Friends say her sentence was for a “patriotic” offense — New England-style.

“She is a Patriots fan,” crowed Katie Casamento.

Return Day 2018 played out on a beautiful crisp autumn day. Asked by Return Day Parade announcers Jim Weller and Colin Walls, many in the crowd concurred that this year’s parade was perhaps the best in recent memory.

Prior to closing ceremonies, Mayor West thanked military veterans in the audience and the thousands of people for attending and making this day special.

“Great turnout, great event, great weather. No rain. And I need to thank the people for showing up,” said Mayor West. “We wouldn’t be able to do things if we didn’t have the sponsors, and different organizations to help us, and to have the people show up for a great event. On behalf of the council and myself we want to thank you very much.”

“Enjoy the food, enjoy the politics,” Mayor West added. “We all need to come together as one and move this state forward.”

Following the parade and closing ceremonies, free ox roast sandwiches were in the offing to anyone wishing to wait in line. For those keeping stats, the ox roast included about 1,250 pounds of meat (ox and top round), 120 loaves of bread and about one ton of charcoal, said Return Day Ox Roast Committee chairman Mark Pettyjohn.

That was enough to make between 1,000 and 1,100 sandwiches, noted longtime Ox Roast crew member Kenny Towers.

Old Guard Fife and Drum Corps

The Old Guard, also known as 3rd U.S. Infantry Regiment, is the official ceremonial unit and escort to the president of the United States. It has performed at every Presidential Inauguration Parade since John Kennedy’s inauguration in 1961.

“The Old Guard — the regiment that the Fife and Drum Corps is assigned to — is best known for its duties in Arlington National Cemetery to include the Tomb of the Unknown,” said Sgt. First Class Kevin Lynch, Director of Public Affairs for the U.S. Army Old Guard Fife and Drum Corps. “The Fife and Drum Corps actually does not participate in funeral honors in that cemetery. Our mission is to tell the Army story through our recreation of traditional music and marching. We perform many shows throughout the year to tell this story. In addition to this, we do participate in many Department of the Army ceremonies. Most notably, we perform for every White House Full Honors Arrival. Our Buglers also perform Taps at many funerals throughout the National Capital Region.”

The U.S. Army Old Guard Fife and Drum Corps performs as they march along The Circle. (Delaware State News/Glenn Rolfe)

The Old Guard consists of 69 enlisted and one officer assigned to the United States Army Old Guard Fife and Drum Corps, which makes over 500 performances a year — home and abroad.

“Internationally, we recently went to Canada to perform at Fortissimo and locally, we just marched in the Philadelphia Veterans Parade this past weekend,” said Sgt. Lynch. “We do so many it is difficult to keep count!”

Members of the Fife and Drum Corps either go to college for music or have an extensive fife and drum background.

“When a member of the Corps either gets out of the Army or retires, a spot becomes available,” said Sgt. Lynch. “Once this happens, we put out a release detailing an opening in our unit. Those wishing to apply must first send in a recording that contains items that are detailed by the specific instrument and audition. When someone passes this round, they are invited for a live audition.”

At this point, they contact their local recruiter and begin the process of entering the Army, though they are not required to at this point.

“This is to make sure they are fully qualified to enter the Army before they come for their live audition. There are about 4-8 people who are invited for the live round of the audition,” said Sgt. Lynch. “During this portion of the audition, there is a playing portion and marching portion. Evaluations are made on both and after one to two rounds of live auditioning, a winner is selected. This winner then takes a memo back to their recruiter stating that they have been found to be fully qualified to enter the U.S. Army Old Guard Fife and Drum Corps. They then go forward with enlisting in the United States Army. Once they sign, they get a date to go to basic training. After basic, they come straight to the Fife and Drum Corps for additional training in order to learn all of our music — every bit of our music is memorized — and to learn how we march.”

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