Meet your Grand Marshals: Two will lead Destin's Annual Christmas Parade

Savannah Vasquez
Grand Marshal LTC. Ret. Samuel Lombardo will be sporting his original World War II uniform in the Christmas Parade.

It may not be the size and showmanship of the famous Macy’s Day parade, but the 31st Annual Destin Christmas Parade marks a proud tradition for Destin. This Saturday, Dec. 12, the procession will set off heralding the start of the holiday season once again with the theme, A Storybook Christmas. This year will see 82 floats parade down U.S. Hwy. 98 from Old Time Pottery to the Destin Community Center, and all for a good cause.

“Each float donates non-perishable food goods for Food for Thought,” said Recreation and Parks Director Lisa Firth. “We do not take a formal fee, so the food donations act as the fee for the floats to be in the parade.”

As every parade needs a leader, the parade board elects one upstanding member of the community a year to act as the Grand Marshal. This year, however, the group has chosen two people to share the title as Chairperson of the Destin Parade Board Helen Donaldson said there were just too many great citizens to choose just one.

“The committee had chosen Jean Melvin as she just retired from the Destin History and Fishing Museum and we wanted to honor her,” said Donaldson. “Then a committee member let us know that we have a living legend in Destin, Mr. Samuel Lombardo a World War II veteran, so we decided to honor both of them.”

Melvin has lived in Destin for 42 years and is a well known figure in the community. Serving for decades as the secretary for the Destin Fishing Rodeo board as well as the director of the Destin History and Fishing Museum, Melvin has helped shape some of Destin’s most long-standing traditions as well as help to preserve them.

“Live in Destin very long you see a lot of things change,” she said of her beloved city. “Over the years I’ve done everything and I think for a town our size we have a lot of things to be proud of.”

As she looks to lead this year’s parade, Melvin said she remembers the first Christmas parade ever held in Destin 31 years ago.

“The first one we ever had there was only like one thing in it,” she said, adding that as the city grew the parade grew right along with it. “Today, the number of floats in the parade and the extent of how they are built and everything is something to be proud of.”

When asked of her reaction to being chosen as a Grand Marshal, Melvin said she felt honored.

“I’m very pleased and honored to do that,” she said. “It’s a wonderful time in Destin and the day after the street parade we have the boat parade and I was the one who directed that; That’s one of the things I’m most proud of that has lasted this long.”

Melvin will be leading the parade in a 1976 Thunderbird alongside her grandchildren.

Lombardo may be relatively new to Destin, but he is a walking history book holding a wealth of American history and patriotism.

Lombardo immigrated to the United States from Italy as a child in 1929 and immediately embraced his newfound country.

“I remember it was the third of October, 1929 at Ellis Island with my mother and two sisters and the greatest sight was the Statue of Liberty,” he said. “I wouldn’t change my boyhood for anything.”

Ten years later, at the age of 20, Lombardo joined the U.S. Army and went on to lead a platoon of soldiers in the Battle of the Bulge during World War Two. He continued serving in the military gaining countless medals and accolades until he retired in 1962.

Lombardo said he was surprised to be chosen as Grand Marshal for the parade.

“I think it’s a great honor, I never expected it but I think age had something to do with it,” he chuckled. “I’m 96 years old, a World War II Veteran and was in the Battle of the Bulge and there aren’t too many of us left. I guess that added something to it.”

When asked how he planned to lead the parade, Lombardo gave an answer that truly reflects his patriotism.

“I think I’m going to wear my World War II uniform with my first lieutenant rank because that’s what I was at the time,” he said. “I’ll wave a (American) flag, I think that’s all I’ll do. I think a flag is a nice thing to wave with.”

For more information about the city's annual Christmas Parade, call the Destin Community Center at 654-5184 or visit

The 31st Annual Destin Christmas Parade will take place Saturday, Dec. 12 at 10 a.m. The parade begin at Old Time Pottery and head west on U.S. Hwy. 98, ending at the Destin Community Center.

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