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The East Valley Veterans Parade Association and the City of Mesa refused to fail, honoring our veterans with a great parade, 11 November 2020. It was a reverse parade this year, with the parade entries positioned along a half-mile stretch of Center Street, in the northbound lane. Mesa Police Department controlled the whole area and controlled the release of cars out of several public parking staging areas at the top of the parade route. It took from 11:00 am, when the first car entered the parade route, until 2:50 pm, when the last vehicle exited the parade route, for all the cars, SUVs, and pickup trucks to drive the parade. Join me for a pictorial review of the parade, with a few remarks to keep us on the parade route.
Many of the parade audience became parade participants, as they decorated their vehicles with flags, streamers, and hand painted banners thanking veterans. There were enough kids and dogs to overcome any cute emergency. There was even a World War II veteran riding in the passenger seat of his son or grandson’s car, just there to see the parade and be part of the event.
The parade started on the signal of a blank fired from a 37 mm anti-tank gun, a towed artillery piece from World War II, used in North Africa and the Pacific. You might intuit that that size is quite small. Hence its very limited utility in the context of German medium and heavy armor units. On the other hand, it was just the thing for Marines facing light armor, at most, on a Pacific island.
The Commemorative Air Force flew two sortes of T-6 trainers, from World War II, lining the skies over the parade route with colorful red, white, and blue smoke. I think the one on the far left is an older aircraft, not a T-6. A C-47 cargo aircraft trailed the formation under the smoke streamers.
Because we had no marching bands, we also did not have the annual Jr. Air Force ROTC units marching with the banners of all the fallen from Arizona since September 11, 2001. Instead the entire parade route was lined with those banners, bearing the photographs and stories of the fallen. Above them, on the lamp posts, were those, across Mesa history, who died in the nation’s service.
While we missed the dog and pony entries, and the high school marching bands, the UH-1 Huey gunship that usually swooped overhead was stationed on the route, for all to see close up. It took its place alongside a smaller gunship, an OH-6A Cayuse, also called a “Little Bird.” Further down the parade route was an older model, the Hughes TH-55A Osage, which might remind you of MASH episodes.
Likewise, the VFW entry, same as last year, was newly appreciated, as cars slowed and people read out loud the numbers, describing our participation and losses in each war.
Passing that accounting, viewers found themselves waving at an Air Force veteran who was shot down over Vietnam and spent a long and terrible time in North Vietnamese captivity. You can read more about Lt. Col. Tom Collins at Veteran Tributes and in a 2012 USA Today interview “Vet has no regrets about Vietnam.” Retired Lieutenant Colonel Tom Collins was game to stay for the whole parade, challenging endurance concerns back and forth with the Vietnam veteran Army nurse in the white blazer.
She recounted, in a strong New York accent, how her hospital unit in Japan was given 6 hours notice to pack and board a plane to Vietnam. Medical reinforcements were needed immediately, and Japan was the obvious source. She got restless as the parade wore on, so she turned to the young Marine veteran on the vintage armored car next door, barked at him to get down for push ups, and proceeded to do push ups with him. A Marine sergeant from Vietnam War service, who walks the whole parade route every year, was not down for push ups, and the nurse was not up for a marching competition, so the service rivalry was left at a friendly draw.
Equipment from World War II through today
Jeeps and Model Ts represented the World War II and previous generation, while a group of women in bright costumes, the Belles of Liberty, represented the 1940s girls who were inspiration for nose art and decorated the inside lids of GI’s footlockers.
A Gamma Goat represented some of the worst in Army equipment design. It was supposed to be an all terrain equipment hauler, hence “goat.” It was actually a mechanical mess and quite dangerous to the unwary operator. Nevertheless, we soldiered on with it in the inventory for some time.
Five ton trucks of a certain generation passed into the surplus inventory in fairly good shape, as they were exchanged for modern trucks over the past 20 years. That accounts for their prevalence in private collections. Not so common, at least not in a bombed out condition, are the light armored wheeled vehicles. This was a class of vehicles we finally came back around too when the Army was forced to build a medium force in 2004 and beyond. Strykers and such are the descendants of these earlier highly mobile, lightly armored wheeled vehicles.
Finally, 850th Military Police Battalion soldiers represented the Arizona National Guard with their up-armored HMMWVs.
Fire and Police represented the cities of Mesa and Gilbert, with Arizona State University Army ROTC leveraging the location to promote the Military Police Regimental Association chapter. See the Arizona National Guard unit in the parade.
Hey, cool car, let’s take another look!
There were two historical exhibits, one remembering the USS Arizona, one of the battleships sunk at Pearl Harbor, and the other calling on us to remember the man for whom Luke Air Force Base is named.
A 5-ton truck served as advertising space for a museum commemorating Lieutenant Frank Luke, Jr. Why should we pay special attention? The small exhibit next to the truck makes this perfectly clear, if you know what the blue ribbon means.
Second Lieutenant Frank Luke, Jr. received the Congressional Medal of Honor for actions in World War I, September 29, 1918:
After having previously destroyed a number of enemy aircraft within 17 days, he voluntarily started on a patrol after German observation balloons. Though pursued by eight German planes which were protecting the enemy balloon line, he unhesitatingly attacked and shot down in flames three German balloons, being himself under heavy fire from ground batteries and the hostile planes. Severely wounded, he descended to within 50 meters of the ground, and flying at this low altitude near the town of Murvaux opened fire upon enemy troops, killing six and wounding as many more. Forced to make a landing and surrounded on all sides by the enemy, who called upon him to surrender, he drew his automatic pistol and defended himself gallantly until he fell dead from a wound in the chest.
While not strictly a historic organization, the Buffalo Trooper Riders Motorcycle Club always attends, keeping alive the memory of the Buffalo Soldiers, critical to winning the American West.
Organizations and programs serving veterans:
There were a number of entries for organizations serving veterans. In addition to the VFW, the American Legion was represented by the American Legion Riders.
Diving Devil Dogs provide a context for veterans of all services to come together in a common activity, helping each other.
Arizona State University had a second entry, promoting a “College Bound” program.
Arizona Heroes to Hometowns helps wounded warrior veterans who can no longer serve in the military to reintegrate into civilian communities, including adapting homes to their needs and counseling support.
The Mesa Veterans Resource Center provides a variety of support for veterans. Mesa United Way partners with the Mesa Chamber of Commerce and Mesa Community College for this one-stop resource center.
Team Red, White & Blue (Team RWB) seeks to “enrich the lives of America’s veterans by connecting them to their community through physical and social activity.”
It might seem a bit grim to have a funeral home entry, but Mariposa Gardens Memorial Park makes the point they are focused on veterans’ rights and benefits at end of life, under the We Honor Veterans program. For all the VA’s efforts, there are many veterans and families who are unaware of, or not enrolled for, benefits guaranteed them if they ask.
Thanks, again, to the EVVPA and the Mesa Police Department.
The entire event came off so well due to a year’s worth of work by a small core of volunteers, with great assistance by others close to the event date. The Mesa PD went from its well-rehearsed plan for the annual parade to a novel format. They did a magnificent job of controlling the flow of viewing vehicles so everyone could have a positive parade experience and a wonderful Veterans Day to remember.
Controls at the bottom of the route protect against wrong way traffic or attack with vehicle.
Vehicles start down the parade route.
Live music gets the parade rolling.
Vehicles lined up in rows, directed to proceed by Mesa’s Finest.
Second marshaling yard, with row after row lined up. Vehicles entered from the rear and were directed into rows.
ABC provided extended footage from overhead, without sound. It gives you a good overview of the parade as it happened.
12 News told the story well and fairly in 3 1/2 minutes.