Tacomans say thanks to military with Celebrating Military Service Parade
The News Tribune (Tacoma, Wash.)
Saturday evening in downtown Tacoma, a flag the size of a small living room hung from the front of the Courtyard by Marriott hotel. Other flags flew with the units that marched and drove in a parade celebrating military service.
Another large flag was draped high above Pacific Avenue in a “flag presentation arch” formed by the extended ladders of a pair of Tacoma Fire Department trucks.
Spokane celebrates the military in its Lilac Parade, Auburn hosts a Veterans Day Parade and Bremerton offers itself on Armed Forces Day. Not since the mid-1950s has Tacoma recognized service members — active and veteran — with such a shivaree of bands, marchers and floats.
“We thought it might happen in 2014,” said Steve James, executive director of the Daffodil Festival, which held overall responsibility for Saturday’s Celebrating Military Service Parade. “Mayor (Marilyn) Strickland had talked about having an evening parade in Tacoma. We started planning the week after the Daffodil Festival.”
At least 3,000 people, many of them children, lined lower Pacific Avenue as the parade began. The 56th Army Band marched behind an honor guard carrying the Stars and Stripes along with flags of each of the services.
Brightly polished sousaphones reflected the last of the day’s sunshine as the band passed a crowd seated on the steps of Tollefson Plaza.
“I am excited about bringing this parade back to Tacoma after 50 years,” said Strickland before the parade began. “We warmly embrace and welcome our military community. We want them here. They’re part of our community. It’s an important reminder of the men and women and the families of JBLM — that they are an important part of our community.”
No queens or princesses rode the floats. Instead, active-duty and veteran service members were the ones waving and smiling.
A soldier driving an M1126 Stryker Infantry Carrier Vehicle from the 1st Battalion, 38th Infantry Regiment threw candy to children on the sidewalk.
Grand Marshal Joe Madison Jackson, 90, a World War II and Korean War veteran and Medal of Honor recipient from the Vietnam War, rode in a 1957 Ford convertible.
Airmen from the 627th Air Base Group at JBLM smiled as they passed.
Members of the crowd applauded, and some saluted, and some looked to wipe away tears as the Gold Star Mothers marched by carrying banners affixed with the images of fallen soldiers.
Among some 60 groups participating, the Buffalo Soldiers rode horses and the Friends of Willie and Joe drove Jeeps.
There were no clowns, no pirates.
Many of the participants wore uniforms, both in current camouflage and the clothes of wars gone by: from the Revolutionary War, with tricorn hats; from the Great War, in heavy green flannel; from the conflicts of the desert, in the color of sand.
“This is just one evident example of the great support the region gives to the military,” said Col. Anthony Davit, newly installed as deputy joint base commander at JBLM and commander of the 627th Air Base Group.
“I think this is a beautiful relationship,” he said.
Pierce County counts the largest contingent of active-duty, Reserve, National Guard and veteran troops west of the Mississippi, said Stan Flemming, member of the Pierce County Council and a retired brigadier general.
“Yet, for 58 years, we’ve never recognized that,” he said. “I’m counting on this being the first of many parades and recognitions of the men and women who have served and who are serving.”
Lee Barker of Tacoma stood watching the parade with his daughter Talea, 6.
“It’s beautiful, bringing everybody together, all races, celebrating our country and the people who served,” he said. “We’re here to show our respect, to have an opportunity to say thank you, to show those who do serve that we do care. I think it’s important to instill that with my daughter early.”
Partners Louie Fraire and Lorna Imbruglio stood near the flag at the Marriott as the parade ended.
“I think this is great,” said Fraire, a three-tour Special Forces veteran of Vietnam.
“We go to Auburn every year,” said Imbruglio, a 22-year Army nurse. “It’s always very moving.”
“It’s an honor that the city of Tacoma does this,” said Fraire. “Seeing this crowd, I’m proud to live here. I think it went well.”