The first sign of Helaman’s army was volunteers shooing the massive crowd all the way back to the curb. The stripling warriors would take up the entire width of the street.
Then, excited cheering from the audience announced that the boys were on their way. Finally, the warriors came into vision in the distance wearing matching tawny, green and crimson costumes and pounding hand-decorated wooden staffs on the ground.
Leading the group was a heroic Helaman, dressed as a captain in gold armor and a regal cape. At his command, and with the help of modern-day radio communication, every warrior stopped to stand at attention.
“We did not doubt,” they shouted in unison before striking their staffs on the pavement and walking on. The roar dwarfed the volume of the parade’s loudest marching band by several times.
“It was very cool,” said Cherill Galloway, a Bountiful resident who heard about the reenactment at church. “I thought the young men did a good job.”
The march was the last entry in the 62nd annual Bountiful Handcart Days parade. Organizers estimate that 40,000 people attended, more than in any other year.
Spectators came from every corner of the state, and the army itself was made up of young men from several stakes and wards, from as far south as Rose Park. Most of the marchers were members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints LDS, but young men of other faiths also joined the procession.
Modern-day warriors from the U.S. armed forces were honored on the other end of the parade. The grand marshal was Maj. Gen. Brian Tarbet, who recently left his post as head of the Utah National Guard.
The oldest living WWII veteran, Jack Tueller, came later, as did a quartet of Eagle Scouts honoring the 100th anniversary of the designation. Then, staying true to the parade’s Handcart Days name, 93-year-old Mazie Cundick came in a cotton dress and bonnet. The longest standing member of the Daughters of the Utah Pioneers, Cundick was escorted by other DUP members wearing similar 19th-century garb.
Only 85 entries were allowed in the parade, which was funded by the LDS church in conjunction with Bountiful City. That meant many floats and the warriors, were sponsored by the church. It also meant that parade organizers focused on heritage and community values. After all, said parade chairwoman Connie Rose, Utah’s Bountiful is named after a tale from the Book of Mormon.
Bountiful South Stake President Cory Hanks organized the warriors and marched as Helaman in Friday’s parade. For him, looking over the sea of teen warriors was fulfillment of a vision several years in the making.
“What a way to have your heart beat a little quicker and a little faster,” he said afterward. “We wanted the youth of today to know that they’re no different than the stripling warriors and they can be great.”