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For decades, the Phoenix Veterans’ Day parade dominated the state, and certainly the Valley of the Sun. While Mesa has always hosted a parade, it has been much smaller, and less spectacular. This year’s East Valley Veterans Parade was bigger, better, and showed signs of truly being the East Valley Veterans Parade, hosted by Mesa.
Mesa Mayor John Giles and the city council participated, as always, but this year they were joined by Mayor Jenn Daniels and the town council of Gilbert. As the Mesa Police Department led the parade, with a line of motorcycle officers, and a marching unit, the Gilbert Police Department countered with a restomodded heavy Chevy.
— Mesa Police Dept. (@MesaPD) November 12, 2018
Great credit is due to the Mesa Police Department, who once again ran a totally professional operation, facilitating parade movement, while discreetly securing the area against the threat of attack by vehicle. School buses, and other city vehicles, blocked access to the closed, controlled, parade route. Officers were visible, in their dress uniforms, without tactical gear — a reassuring, rather than intimidating presence.
The parade had all the required elements. There were beauty queens and high school marching bands. Miss Arizona rode in the parade, as did Miss Phoenix and Miss Scottsdale.
There were dogs and ponies.
Wait, what! Dogs and a motorcycle? One of the VFW members rode his Harley in the parade, with his dogs in a trailer. That merits serious parade bonus points.
While the Air Force did not provide flyovers by modern aircraft, the Commemorative Air Force set just the right tone for a parade honoring our veterans. The parade was started with a C-47 fly-over, with multiple passes as the Mesa Police Department led the ground elements of the parade. The C-47 was the WWII Allies’ transport workhorse. The Stearman biplane team made several passes with smoke generators running. Finally, a highly polished UH-1 Huey helicopter, of Vietnam War fame, made loops around the parade route.
Throughout the parade, beyond the CAF overhead, were representations of veterans and veterans organizations. To start, there was an unassuming entry, which warranted viewers’ special admiration: a survivor of the USS Indianapolis.
The VFW rotates service themes each year, driving old Army armored cars and jeeps this year, and the Navy Seabees had a vintage light truck entry.
Then somebody kicked it up a notch. The Mesa Veterans Resource Center got a 1970s era M60 tank, and then made the necessary coordination to get a Heavy Equipment Transport tractor and trailer, with crew, from the Army Reserve company in Marana, an hour south of Mesa. I commanded the reserve battalion, to which the 257th Transportation Company belonged, before 11 September 2001, and we always had requests to support the Phoenix parade, which we were happy to do. 257th Transportation Company is one of a handful of such companies in the total force, so they deployed twice to Iraq, hauling tanks and other heavy equipment in and out of country.
The largest entry promoting their organization’s support for veterans was a massed group of East Valley Institute of Technology students, each wearing shirts showing their program within the school. They have strong veteran outreach, connecting to real civilian jobs. A school official thanked the massed student body, as they turned off the end of the parade route, for volunteering their Monday morning to march in the parade.
The largest, and most impressive entry, after all the dogs, ponies, marching bands, planes, and vehicles, was the joint formation of two large high school Air Force Junior ROTCs. Each cadet carried high a banner with the image of a fallen hero, honoring a century of sacrifice.
As they exited the parade line, into the de-staging area, the banners filled the block.
Some of these young people will put on their nation’s uniform. They will take up the cause laid down by our honored war dead, and by the veterans, young and old, represented in the East Valley Veterans Parade. The parade, on a sunny November day, left parade goers with a brighter view of our future.