Thousands of locals lined the streets of downtown Bakersfield on Monday morning to enjoy the city’s annual Veterans Day Parade.
More than 110 entries participated, from myriad marching bands and decorated floats to classic car clubs and veterans groups riding in decommissioned military vehicles.
“Ninety-Nine Years of Honoring Our Veterans” was the theme, and the happy, flag-waving parade-goers included 3-year-olds, 83-year-olds and just about every age in between.
“It’s his first Veterans Day Parade,” mom Lauren Lange said as her son Colin, 3, sat in a toy wagon watching the flurry of activity.
Many of the parade-goers who arrived by car parked as far as six and seven blocks into the Westchester neighborhood, a testament to the popularity of parades in Bakersfield.
“This is my second year to carry this at the parade,” said 83-year-old Bakersfield resident Fran Ramirez Smith, who held a tri-folded American flag that was presented to her by an honor guard at her late husband Richard Smith’s funeral two Septembers ago.
“This is how I honor him and the flag,” she said. “He dedicated his life to veterans.”
Scott Hodges, who drove a 1990s-era troop truck filled with military veterans along the parade route, said he does it every year.
“It’s a great way to support the troops — and show them off,” he said, grinning.
Some Vietnam veterans walked the parade route. As one man called, “Left, your left ...” in an attempt to keep the group in step, some followed military protocol while others simply walked at their own pace, as if to say they were no longer taking orders from former sergeants or anybody else.
As one entry after another passed by, Destiny Duran, 17, watched from the sidewalk with her grandmother and great-grandmother.
The battalion commander for the Arvin High School Junior ROTC, Duran’s battalion had been bumped up from No. 64 in line to No. 2 in the parade, she said, because the group features an all-service color guard, carrying the flags of all branches of the U.S. armed forces.
That meant she finished early and was able to join her relatives along the sidelines.
“My mother is an Army vet who went to Arvin High. She said she learned a lot from the ROTC program, so I decided to give it a shot,” Duran said.
So far, she’s excelled.
Her grandmother, Martha Graham, showed off several photos of family members in military uniform, including women.
“This is why we’re so proud of her,” she said. “We’re a big military family. We’re here today to honor the sacrifices they had to endure for us.
“My son and daughter were deployed twice,” Graham said. “To Afghanistan and Iraq.”
This year, Veterans Day was the 100th anniversary of the Armistice that ended World War I, known for a time as “the war to end all wars.”
Thirty million soldiers were killed or wounded and 7 million more became prisoners of war during World War I. Unfortunately, the war was only a dress rehearsal for the Second World War just two decades later.
On Monday, Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 7216 won the sweepstakes award for best float entry in all divisions at the parade.
Other awards included the grand marshal award for best nonprofit or community-commercial entry, which went to the Bakersfield Airplane Radio Society.
And Independence High School won first place in the high school category.