Soldiers Told to ‘Reject Beer and Kisses’ as St. Patrick’s Day Parade Returns to Savannah

March 22, 2022Noelle Wiehe
Savannah Parade

Soldiers with the 1st Battalion, 75th Ranger Regiment, march in the St. Patrick’s Day Parade Thursday, March 17, 2022, in historic downtown Savannah, Georgia. Photos and composite by Noelle Wiehe/Coffee or Die Magazine.

A clock ticked down the final minutes before the annual St. Patrick’s Day parade on the Savannah parade committee’s website, signaling the long-awaited return of a 198-year-old tradition celebrated by soldiers at Fort Stewart and Hunter Army Airfield. The parade’s return also brought back another ritual, one that the Army has tried to discourage.

The St. Patrick’s Day parade was canceled for two years in a row because of the coronavirus pandemic, but on Thursday, March 17, hundreds of thousands of spectators rose early to snag their spots along the green-decorated streets of Savannah, Georgia. Just after 10 a.m., participants stepped off from the staging area near Forsyth Park. Around 280 bands, clubs, floats, and families wound their way though the oak-shaded streets in a spectacular celebration of Irish heritage and culture, ending in Madison Square in the afternoon.

“This is something our soldiers and families truly look forward to as a return to normalcy,” said Lt. Col. Lindsey Elder, the spokesperson for the 3rd Infantry Division, based out of Fort Stewart.

savannah parade
The 3rd Infantry Division Band marches with approximately 280 other bands, clubs, and families in the St. Patrick’s Day Parade Thursday, March 17, 2022, in historic downtown Savannah, Georgia. Photo by Noelle Wiehe/Coffee or Die Magazine.

For years, the 3rd Infantry Division Band has dazzled spectators with lively performances in the iconic parade.

“A community event with the energy and magnitude of the Savannah St. Patrick’s Day parade — it’s something the band works on for months and develops choreography for,” Elder told Coffee or Die Magazine.

The 75th Ranger Regiment’s 1st Battalion, stationed at Hunter Army Airfield, marched alongside the 3rd Infantry Division and cadets from Benedictine Military Academy, continuing a tradition that began in 1974. 

Many soldiers’ faces bore evidence of the return of yet another tradition, albeit one discouraged by parade organizers and Army officials.

For decades, women have slathered on bright red lipstick and run into the street to kiss soldiers’ faces, leaving messy lip prints behind. Army officials and local authorities asked spectators to stop smooching soldiers in 2018. Attendees darting into the street present a safety concern, according to officials. The Army also wants parade attendees to respect the personal space of its troops.

St. Patrick's Day
Lipstick prints dot the cheeks of Army Rangers marching in the St. Patrick’s Day Parade Thursday, March 17, 2022, in historic downtown Savannah, Georgia. Since 2018, Army officials have requested that spectators stop participating in the longstanding tradition of running up to kiss soldiers as they march by on the parade route. Photo by Noelle Wiehe/Coffee or Die Magazine.

In the era of COVID-19, the city doubled down on its kissing ban, and the Rangers’ senior leaders urged soldiers to “reject beer and kisses,” one Ranger said.

Lipstick-stained cheeks, however, could be seen on participants throughout the parade.

St. Patrick’s Day has become a dayslong celebration in Savannah, drawing visitors from around the globe. This year, Irish Minister for Justice Helen McEntee was in attendance, as were representatives of Ireland’s national police and the Irish Prison Service, according to parade organizers. But the parade began in the 1800s as a “mere stroll on the streets of Savannah to protest discrimination against Irish workers being denied employment,” said Doug Andrews, Vietnam veteran and chairman for the Veterans Council of Chatham County.

Through the council, Andrews has helped chauffeur World War II veterans to parades for years — his way of “helping each other and the community do good.” He said the public festivities have held great significance for service members and veterans for as long as armed forces have existed.

savannah parade
Soldiers with the 1st Battalion, 75th Ranger Regiment, march among the nearly 300 parade units in the St. Patrick’s Day Parade Thursday, March 17, 2022, in historic downtown Savannah, Georgia. Photo by Noelle Wiehe/Coffee or Die Magazine.

“Conquering generals and emperors made public their display of strength upon victory over a defending force — as far back as Babylon, and writ large during the rise of the Roman Empire, beginning in 753 B.C.,” Andrews told Coffee or Die in an email.

The parade coincided with Savannah’s first Navy Week, which meant a large sailor presence could be seen in historic downtown Savannah Thursday, including a 30- to 40-piece band and the Navy’s senior executive host, Rear Adm. Susan BryerJoyner. A native of Savannah and a Herschel V. Jenkins High School graduate, BryerJoyner was escorted during the parade by the high school’s marching band. 

Rear Adm. Susan BryerJoyner, the Navy’s senior executive host, waves to parade attendees as they line the streets Thursday, March 17, 2022, for St. Patrick’s Day in Savannah, Georgia. Photo by Noelle Wiehe/Coffee or Die Magazine.

The parade has been canceled several times in its nearly two-century history; during the Civil War, World War I, and the Irish Revolution in 1921. But the coronavirus pandemic marked the first time it had been canceled in 99 years.

“We can look back on the past two years and reflect on many things that have frustrated us, challenged us, and even some that have made us smile,” the Savannah St. Patrick’s Day Parade Committee website’s homepage reads. “Whatever you have experienced during this time, I know that this year’s parade will help you feel a sense of pride in how our community can show our resilience to challenges that we face.”

The parade committee also paid tribute to the military through its Sgt. William Jasper Memorial Ceremony on the eve of St. Patrick’s Day. During the ceremony, a procession marched to the iconic bronze statue of Jasper, a Revolutionary War hero. 

Read Next: ‘Clear the Way’: How the Irish Brigade Celebrated St. Patrick’s Day in the Civil War

Noelle Wiehe
Noelle Wiehe

Noelle is a former staff writer for Coffee or Die through a fellowship from Military Veterans in Journalism. She has a bachelor’s degree in journalism and interned with the US Army Cadet Command. Noelle also worked as a civilian journalist covering several units, including the 75th Ranger Regiment on Fort Benning, before she joined the military as a public affairs specialist.

More from Coffee or Die Magazine
dear jack mandaville
Dear Jack: Which Historic Battle Would You Want To Witness?

Ever wonder how much Jack Mandaville would f*ck sh*t up if he went back in time? The American Revolution didn't even see him coming.

west point time capsule
West Point Time Capsule Yields Centuries-Old Coins

A nearly 200-year-old West Point time capsule that at first appeared to yield little more than dust contains hidden treasure, the US Military Academy said.

Ouija Board aircraft carrier
Low-Tech ‘Ouija Boards’ Have Helped Aircraft Carriers Operate for Decades

Since the 1920s, a low-tech tabletop replica of an aircraft carrier’s flight deck has been an essential tool in coordinating air operations.

Army vs. Navy mascot
The Navy Goat vs. the Army Mule: Mascot Origin Stories

For nearly as long as the Army-Navy football rivalry, the academies’ hoofed mascots have stared each other down from the sidelines. Here are their stories.

ukraine long-range weapon
Zelenskyy Says Ukraine Has Developed a Long-Range Weapon, a Day After Strike Deep Inside Russia

Zelenskyy said on his Telegram channel the weapon was produced by Ukraine’s Ministry of Strategic Industries but gave no other details.

7 of the Best Movie Ambush Scenes of All Time

Ambushes make for great action scenes. Here are seven of the best to ever grace the big screen.

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, center, with his daughter, center right, reportedly named Ju Ae, review the honor guard during their visit to the navy headquarter in North Korea
North Korea Launches Missile Toward Sea After US Flies Bomber During Drills

South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff said in a statement that the launch occurred Wednesday but gave no further details, such as how far the missile flew.

  • About Us
  • Privacy Policy
  • Careers
Contact Us
Contact Us
© 2023 Coffee or Die Magazine. All Rights Reserved