Thousands gathered Wednesday morning in downtown Fresno to offer support for the nation’s armed forces during the Fresno Veterans Day Parade, celebrated as the “largest west of the Mississippi.”
Andy Wulf was one of the veterans on plastic chairs set up in front of Fresno City Hall, where the parade began. Wulf, who fought in Vietnam with the U.S. Army, said he enjoyed the camaraderie with his fellow veterans that events like the parade create.
“It feels nice seeing old friends, and it’s great to see the World War II veterans,” he said. “They’re in their 90s now and in great spirits. They truly are the greatest generation.”
A few feet behind Wulf, the newest generation showed its support for veterans.
Tessa Kerr, 11 months, and her 3-year-old sister, Norah, wore matching sailor-style dresses. They each held signs – one reading, “We love our veterans,” with the other saying, “Thank you for your service.”
Their mother, Amanda, said it was important for the girls to know that troops should be acknowledged and thanked. Their grandfathers served in the Marine Corps and Air Force.
Norah even drew a picture that she autographed and planned to give to a veteran passing in the parade. She eagerly recited the Pledge of Allegiance, which she had just learned in school, to any and all parade viewers who crossed her path.
I wanted to bring my grandkids, but they had previous engagements. So we all brought our dogs instead.
Andy Wulf, Vietnam veteran
This year’s event gave a nod to past and present sailors. The parade, which started during the country’s first celebration of Armistice Day in 1919, traditionally selects a military branch and a particular conflict to emphasize, but this year’s ceremony celebrated Navy vets from all conflicts.
Although some speakers called it the 96th annual Fresno Veterans Day Parade, that is not the case. Parade chairman Chris Gonzalez, himself a Marine Corps veteran, said it has missed several years since 1919.
Rep. Jim Costa, D-Fresno, gave Wednesday’s opening remarks. “Our purpose is to honor and say, ‘Thank you,’ to generations of families who’ve answered the call,” he said.
Because the ceremony started late, other scheduled speakers, including Fresno County Supervisor Henry R. Perea, did not address the crowd. Instead, the microphone passed to Capt. Monty “Ash” Ashliman, commander at Lemoore Naval Air Station.
3,000The number of registered participants in the parade. There were also around 5,000 registrants last year.
Ashliman, a former fighter pilot, thanked the hundreds of veterans in attendance for their service and the thousands of civilians present for their support of the armed forces. He asked each to consider the lives of those still serving and actively protecting the country.
“Tens of thousands (of active military personnel) will be on duty today and tonight. They’ll be there every Saturday, every Sunday and every holiday.”
The parade kicked off at 11:17 a.m. The Fresno State marching band led a procession that stretched on for more than an hour, covering 1.15 miles of downtown streets. The American Legion, parade sponsor Table Mountain Rancheria and floats carrying submarine veterans and those who had earned a Purple Heart in conflicts around the world followed.
Although most floats and vehicles had some sort of military theme, a link to the armed forces was not required. Anyone who registers and pays a fee can march. Pacific Gas and Electric Co. and the Fresno Police Department also had large showings.
Next year, the parade will honor the Marine Corps.
Dan Payne, a Marine veteran and the co-host of KSEE 24’s live parade coverage, said a ball will be held the day before next year’s parade. It will be open to the public.
Lt. Col. Oliver North will serve as its grand marshal. North became a best-selling author and frequent TV contributor after resigning from the Marine Corps in 1990 amid allegations he had profited from selling weapons to rebels in Nicaragua.