CRESTVIEW — Organizers already are planning for next year’s Veterans Day Parade, having named the American Legion its host and eyeing the local VFW and AmVets organizations for 2013 and 2014, respectively.
This year’s parade — hosted by local Disabled American Veterans Chapter 57 — drew 32 official marching units, down a few from last year’s 40-plus, but last-minute groups that showed up increased the number of participants, organizers said.
“We had 37 total entries this year,” DAV adjutant treasurer Debborah “Pinky” Jimison said. “Once you start counting up the people, gosh, we had well over 500 people who participated.”
From service members’ covers to Shriners’ fezzes, Cub Scout baseball caps to clown hats, the variety of headwear worn by marchers as they paraded up Main Street Saturday morning reflected the diversity of a community united by one goal: to honor local military veterans.
Landon Drake, 5, attending with his sister Jordan, 3, baby brother Dayton, 1, mom Leanne and grandmother Melissa Drake, smiled broadly as the groups went by. He seemed happy to receive an American flag to wave from a 7th Special Forces Group (Airborne) soldier.
“I told him ‘thank you,’” Landon said.
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“Wave your flag,” Melissa Drake encouraged her grandson. “We’re saluting our veterans today.”
Standing across Main Street was George Ballard, who had a 20-year career in the Army, serving in Vietnam, Germany, France, Okinawa, the Philippines, and in the U.S. from Alaska to North Dakota before retiring at Fort Rucker, Ala., in 1979.
“I was one of those who received the notice that says, ‘Greetings. You are hereby ordered to report,’” Ballard said. “Back in those days, the military was not as popular. I sometimes think we should have the draft today.”
The diverse group of participants paraded up Main Street in diverse modes of transport. There were Shriners’ racing carts and all-terrain vehicles, antique cars, 7th Special Forces Group armored vehicles, wreckers, one “Hillbilly Cadillac” (a rusty antique pick-up truck), the Crestview Police Department’s patriotically painted Humvee, wreckers and civic leaders in golf carts.
Retired Chief Petty Officer Keith Van Doren cruised along, standing on a trailer towing one of the Blackwater ATV Club’s vehicles as he tossed candy to cheering supporters. He had entered the Navy during the Korean War, serving from 1952 until his 1978 retirement.
“I’m honoring all my fellow veterans today,” Van Doren said.
Crestview City Councilman Charles Baugh Jr. was among the participants, wearing his Air Force sergeant’s blues as he piloted his ATV up Main Street. He retired after 28 years in the Air Force.
Many marchers on foot included Cub Scout packs, Crestview and Baker high school JROTC battalions and bands, and the Shoal River Middle School band. Members of the Okaloosa County Sheriff’s Office posse clattered by on horseback.
“Oooh, I love your horse!” called out Charlotte Bowman, 8, to retired Army Ranger Tom Moody as he rode by astride his horse. Charlotte and her friend Shelby Fetter, 11, were visiting Crestview for the day from Navarre.
Drawing the parade to a close, a woman sat astride the lead of three Loomis Bros. Circus elephants as ringmaster Justin Loomis led the mammals through Crestview’s historic heart.
On Sunday, the DAV presented its annual Wall Ceremony at the Okaloosa County Veterans Memorial near the county courthouse. The event, always at 11 a.m. Nov. 11, Veterans Day, was well attended, Jimison said.
“We had a hundred programs to hand out and I only had seven or eight left. We had a good turnout,” she said. “We honored World War II veterans by having them stand up and state their name, and giving them a round of applause because they so richly deserve it. There were also a few Korean War vets. The majority of the veterans that were there were Vietnam War veterans.”
A veterans’ luncheon, hosted by the American Legion, and a flag retirement ceremony hosted by the Knights of Columbus followed the ceremony.