While other cities are embattled in turmoil from election fallout, downtown Fresno was filled with positive vibes Friday as 10,000 to 15,000 people turned out for the 97th annual Fresno Veterans Day Parade, said to be the largest west of the Mississippi.
Veterans, family members and friends of all ages packed onto the sidewalks in the 80-degree November weather to pay tribute to the men and women who have served in the U.S. armed forces.
“This is a group of individuals that put it all on the line for the country. When we got out of Vietnam, we were actually told not to wear our uniforms in public,” said Tom Leasure, a Vietnam-era veteran who recently moved to Fresno from Ohio.
Small children were walking around the sidewalks giving veterans handmade cards thanking them for their service.
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Leasure said he is happy the level of support for veterans has improved since his time in the service, but he hopes that the new administration in Washington, D.C., will be able to move forward on helping veterans critically in need.
“I like to see that there’s so much support with the veterans, but they can even do more, though,” Leasure said. “One of the things here that really concerns me is the country needs to do more for homeless veterans. We have such an issue with that.”
My last parade was actually in D.C. Actually I like this one a little better. It’s a little more ‘home-townie.’
Tom Leasure, Vietnam-era veteran
Leasure said the veterans parade in Washington, D.C., doesn’t have all the various “old-school” vehicles because the climate causes them to rust and wear out.
“My last parade was actually in D.C. Actually I like this one a little better. It’s a little more ‘home-townie,’ ” Leasure said. “The D.C. one is very formal.”
Rene Strong moved here with Leasure, and she said the Fresno parade – which she was attending for the first time – is a more personal experience.
“You could run into your neighbor here,” Strong said. “The one in D.C., I never ran into any neighbors.”
The parade was filled with local veterans and law enforcement organizations, with veterans driving in military vehicles and World War II-era cars, and police officers on horseback. The parade was led by Fresno State’s marching band and color guard. There were aerial fireworks and a 21-gun salute.
The grand marshal of the parade was Lt. Col. Oliver North, who served in the Marine Corps from 1968 to 1990.
This is Veterans Day, but every day ought to be a day in which we honor those who served in uniform.
Lt. Col. Oliver North
“It is for me a great privilege to be a part of this,” he said in a ceremony before the parade’s start. “This is Veterans Day, but every day ought to be a day in which we honor those who served in uniform – those who donned the uniform to go into harm’s way. To serve our country – to protect the freedoms that we hold dear.”
Event coordinator Chris Gonzalez said North was chosen as grand marshal because he is friends with the master of ceremonies – Daniel Payne, a retired Marine Corps officer. Some see North as a controversial figure, but others see him as a war hero.
North was embroiled in a political scandal – known as the Iran-Contra affair – during the second term of the Reagan administration in which senior officials secretly facilitated the sale of arms to Iran.
“It’s just great. And Ollie North being a Marine – we appreciate Ollie’s service and what he’s done for this country,” said Gary Glasener, a Vietnam War veteran. “We’re just celebrating patriotism. This is Fresno; this is the Valley. Everybody comes together.”
Congressman Jim Costa attended the parade, and he said we must honor the people who have served – both past and present.
“That’s what today is all about. Thanking the men and women who have served our nation for years,” Costa said. “And while we’re doing that, we don’t want to forget the men and women who are serving on active duty today around the world in harm’s way. We should never ever forget.”