Each year, Veterans Day gives people all across the country a day off to honor military sacrifice. Students may look forward to a break from class and families might use the time for a quick getaway, but the holiday signifies more than a long weekend.
We tip our hats to flags across the street and thank loved ones who fought for a tomorrow. We take this weekend as not only a chance to honor, but also show veterans we remember.
On Saturday, the Santa Barbara Veterans Parade gave the community that chance. Hundreds gathered to watch World War II vehicles, re-enactors, and heroes from all branches of the military make their way down State Street. At the end, veterans and visitors alike were invited to take part in the seventh annual Salute to the Vets, where a barbecue and live music topped off the celebration.
“It feels good just making eye contact, waving with people who have similar passion and sentiment, people you don’t even know,” said one Army veteran. “Just coming together and not taking it for granted. Freedom isn’t free.”
Put on by the Pierre Claeyssens Veterans Foundation, the event balanced moments of silence with moments of joy. As the parade went on, Cub Scout troops trailed military tanks and dance numbers to the tune of “Lollipop” were followed by Vietnam veterans saluting the crowd.
“The majority of vets are a bunch of kids who celebrated high school and they found themselves in adulthood in uniform,” said Chris Bowyer, a board member for PCVF. “But at the end of the day, they’re still people that want to have fun.”
When shaping the event, Mr. Bowyer and other PCVF board members wanted it first and foremost to be a celebration. After serving in the Marine Corps for seven years, Mr. Bowyer understood the importance of letting loose.
“A lot of veterans groups are solemn and formal, you know,” said Mr. Bowyer. “I don’t want formal. I want a place where I can see a machine gun on top of a truck and drink a beer. And I think a lot of other guys and girls want the same exact thing.”
After the parade had finished, the celebration resumed at the Carriage and Western Art Museum. Festivities continued all afternoon long. Organizations, families and military members both active and retired came together.
Outside the museum, women from La Boheme dance troop pulled veterans out onstage for their chance to perform. Above the venue, vintage airplanes flew across the sky. Down below, people enjoyed fresh food, live bands and constant conversation.
Still, time was always taken to remember what the weekend was all about. Placing hands on their hearts, crowd members turned their attention to the stage for the Pledge of Allegiance. Eyes then shifted to 12-year-old Aubrey Landquist as she sang the national anthem.
“I came out here today because my grandfather was part of the Air Force, and I want to show my support,” said Ms. Landquist. “Veterans have gone out there and won our freedom, and it’s just an honor to give them something back.”
For veterans who attended the event, this kind of support meant the world. Born in 1928, Korean War veteran Ken Barber attends the parade every year. Mr. Barber served in South Korea for 16 months as part of an anti-aircraft battalion.
“It’s wonderful to pat the guys who served to protect our country,” said Mr. Barber. “I can’t describe the feeling. I just love it.”
The celebration even impacted those who were more skeptical of coming out, like Navy veteran Tom Swiggum. Having lost his wife, Mr. Swiggum didn’t know if he should attend the parade by himself, but he found a connection among other veterans.
“I don’t go to events like this often, but I’m glad I came down here,” said Mr. Swiggum. “I think it’s great for us all to come together like this, seeing people I haven’t seen in a long time.”
Forming these connections wasn’t only good for the veterans themselves, but also for their loved ones. Jim Peterson encouraged his father, who is a World War II veteran, to take part in the celebration.
“I’m just really proud of his service, and it’s fun knowing he’s one of the oldest people here,” said Mr. Petterson. “That’s what makes it special.”
Later on, his father danced on stage, not missing a beat.
Other veterans remarked how important the event was for community as a whole. After fighting in World War II, Glen Cook supports anything patriotic in Santa Barbara. Mr. Cook was drafted in January 1943 and throughout his service was in dangerous places all across the Pacific, managing communication among U.S. submarines.
To him, Veterans Day is something everyone should acknowledge.
“When people see a flag go by, it’s important they understand that they get up and put up their hand,” said Mr. Cook. “I’ve been on this street corner for a long time, and there’s something to be said about saluting our heroes.”