Why is it so difficult for a veteran, proud of his service to his country, in good physical and mental condition, and able to fit into his up-to-date, authorized uniform, to find a Veterans Day parade to march in?
In the past I have actually shown up for a parade in uniform and early enough to be given a spot somewhere in the parade to march and ended up watching as a spectator. I have felt embarrassed and like I was a military hero wanna-be.
This year the Lake Ella American Legion post has a float all ready to motor along the parade route. I e-mailed the two addresses given for post information and, as usual, did not receive a reply. In my message I had again offered my services to march (not sit on top of a float platform) if there would be a contingent of legionnaires marching.
In Green Valley, Ariz., I joined American Legion Post No. 66. They actually had a color guard and a rifle firing squad. I joined both and had the time of my life. The team had regular practices marching so we’d look good at a parade. Those of us on the firing squad also practiced regularly.
I marched in at least three parades while I was a member of that veterans organization in Green Valley. In fact, we had the only firing squad in that section of Arizona. Even the Tucson American Legion posts did not have a color guard or rifle squad. We were very busy performing at funerals as, of course, so many of the World War II vets are passing away. On some weeks I had as many as three different ceremonies to perform.
On Veterans Day in 2006, Green Valley's post was offered a chance to march with a contingent of Apache veterans who had served in one of our country’s wars.
I was excited and couldn’t wait to march in that parade. We would also be marching with some members of the Pascua Yaqui Native Americans on their reservation. This tribe had descended from the ancient Uto-Azteca people of Mexico.
For a November day in southern Arizona it was too darned hot! The planned march was to be approximately a mile to a mile-and-a-half long. We’d end up at one of the casinos now on the reservation where a meal would be waiting for us.
The Apaches led the way, never saying a word, just proudly moving ever onward, their American colors flying high. It was hot, too hot for most of Post 66's marchers who averaged in age over 65. I was about five men deep in our contingent. I could hear the guys in the front beginning to complain about this being the longest mile they had ever marched.
“Hey, you guys are just tryin’ to get even with the white man, aren’t you? Enough is enough,” one of the vets in front addressed to the Apaches. No response from the Native Americans.
After what seemed like a 3-mile march, we turned into a burial place. We stood in the hot sun at attention, while the Indians conducted a ceremony for their deceased veterans.
An hour or so later we resumed our march. Most of the men from our Green Valley post had dropped out by now due to heat exhaustion. I was now in the first row behind the Apaches. Joe, a vet nearly 80 and ex-Chicago cop said, “Ray, I can’t go any further. I’m passing the colors over to you.” With that he passed over the American flag and dropped out of the march. It was a proud moment for me.
We finally reached the casino, tired, hot and worn. We looked for the food that had been prepared for us. None was to be found.
Hope your Veterans Day is a pleasant one and that your veteran(s) is out of harm’s way. If I’m not marching perhaps I’ll see you at the ceremony in Havana.
God bless you.
E-mail comments and suggestions to me at firstname.lastname@example.org.