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Fresno veterans parade is largest in the nation – and it’s changing dates this year

U.S. Army veterans honored during annual Fresno Veterans Day Parade

See the sights and sounds of this year's Fresno Veterans Day Parade with special remarks by Grand Marshal Bob McLaughlin.
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See the sights and sounds of this year's Fresno Veterans Day Parade with special remarks by Grand Marshal Bob McLaughlin.

The largest Veterans Day parade in the country will march along downtown Fresno on Monday, and the organizers behind it are working hard to make sure no one misses it.

This is the first year in recent memory that the parade isn’t being held on Nov. 11, the official holiday, according to Daniel Payne, president of the Veterans Parade staff. Instead, the parade will be held the next day, when a lot of people will have the day off of work for the federal holiday, and high school bands and ROTC programs will send their kids over to participate.

Veterans Day Parade Map (1).jpg

The decision wasn’t easy, Payne said, but he believes it was the right one. In the past, the parade has struggled when Veterans Day has fallen on a Sunday.

“We stuck to our guns (in the past) and said we were gonna do it on (Sunday) because that’s the day that it fell on, but our participation was less than half, and our spectators were less than half. I felt it was more disrespectful to our veterans to have a mediocre parade than to move it to another date when it’s nationally honored.”

The parade is televised on KSEE 24 locally, and in the past, the Pentagon Channel has broadcast the parade to military housing around the world. Payne said it has a reach of 72 million households. “We are the only worldwide televised or marketed veterans parade and we have been for at least 10 years,” he said. This year, Department of Defense News will take over, Payne added.

The parade began in 1919 and only took a break during World War II.

“A lot of people were gone and people didn’t feel like it was worth celebrating because we were in the middle of the war,” Payne said. “But after WWII, it picked up again and it just came back like gangbusters.”

Payne said when he got involved over 15 years ago, the parade was the third largest, following behind New York and Las Vegas. “We were the largest west of the Mississippi for a long time,” he said. “Now we’ve been told we’re the largest.”

Lt. Col. Oliver North serves as grand marshal during 2016 Veterans Day Parade in downtown Fresno.

The parade is celebrating 99 years since its inception and this year’s theme honors the Air Force. The 144th Fighter Wing is sending an F-15 for a flyover, Payne said, and the grand marshal is Retired Lt. Col. Larry Duba, who served in the Air Force Reserve. Opening remarks begin at 10:15 a.m. and the parade steps off at 11:11 a.m.

This year will see an increase in participants and will feature fireworks during the national anthem. Payne recommends spectators, who usually number 20,000 or more, arrive before 9:30 to get a space.

Behind the scenes, Payne and other organizers have been working 8 hours a day creating the parade narrative and placing each participant (there are between 4,000 and 6,000 people in the parade) in the right spot.

A 10-part documentary series from McClatchy Studios follows three U.S. veterans living with PTSD. Watch the full series at facebook.com/WarWithinShow/

He said organizers are still in need of volunteers for Monday morning to make sure everything runs smoothly.

“We can never have enough volunteers,” he said.

Anyone interested in volunteering can contact Virginia Cardinal, the director and parade coordinator, at fresnovdp@gmail.com.

Organizers have already begun planning for the centennial parade, in which they plan to honor all branches of the military. Payne said it’s going to be even larger than this year’s parade.

Payne, a retired Marine who served in Vietnam and Operation Desert Storm as a Battallion Maintenance Officer, hopes the date change this year will be a positive one and bring more people out to watch.

“Were constantly trying to improve our parade,” he said. “We’re constantly trying to give our veterans more honor. More respect.”

Ashleigh Panoo: 559-441-6010, @AshleighPan
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