Photos by Matt Cohn.
Long Beach has been the home of thousands of war veterans and decades of Veterans Day parades. For the last nineteen years, North Long Beach has hosted the parade, and Saturday's edition was an excellent example of why Northtown is a great host for the event.
The intersection of Atlantic and Harding has become a shrine of sorts for those who have served in the military: At the northeast corner (which is the southwest corner of Houghton Park), an Army "Huey" helicopter marks the memorial for the scores of Long Beach soldiers who died in the Viet Nam War. Directly across the street, a huge mural celebrates Long Beach veterans, male and female, from all branches of military service (see photo gallery below). It's the perfect step-off point for a Veterans Day parade.
On Saturday, the parade route on Atlantic Avenue was lined with appreciative spectators, many waving small American flags. Among the marching bands, equestrian units, city officials and civic groups such as the Lions and Rotary clubs, parade-watchers could get glimpses of living history, like World War II veteran Howard Genrich (driving a vintage Model-T race car) and co-Grand Marshals Allan Kobrick and Clifford A. Chaffee, both 100 years old, both WWII vets.
This year's Honorary Grand Marshal was Elizabeth Barba, a former Master Sergeant with the National Guard, currently working as a Recruit Training Officer for the Long Beach Police Academy. Barba waved to the crowd from a vintage fire-engine-red Pontiac.
"This is really a nice turnout," said Donald Matthews, a community volunteer on the Long Beach Veterans Day Committee. "We're really blessed that the community comes out and supports us like they do, and we really appreciate it."
Matthews, acting as a course marshal, helped guide a list of parade participants that read like a slice of wartime Americana; the Red Cross, the Salvation Army, the Daughters of the American Revolution. Each branch of the military was represented, and local schools like Poly and Paramount sent their JROTC contingents.
After the parade, veterans and community members gathered in Houghton Park for Vets Fest, hosted by Ninth District City Councilmember Rex Richardson.
"The parade would not have this legacy or this impact if it had not been for the residents and the local veterans who make sure it's a priority for our city to make sure we have this space to recognize our veterans," said Richardson. "Vets Fest is an opportunity for us to extend the experience of the parade, bring the community together around our veterans, offer services and job opportunities for our veterans, and entertain them."
Vets Fest visitors were serenaded by Rock For Vets, a band made up of veterans who participate in the Rock For Vets music education program. Frank McIlquham, founder of the program (and a fine drummer for the band), invited veterans to contact the program via musicistheremedy.org. Rock For Vets meets every Monday at the Scottish Rite Theater on Elm Street at 10:00AM.
"This is unbelievable," said Rock For Vets bandmember Woody Rodelo, who served with the First Marine Division in Viet Nam. "Nice people," Rodelo said, looking around at the Vets Fest crowd. "That's what we need."
Ninth District City Councilmember Rex Richardson with the Rock For Vets band after their VetsFest concert in Houghton Park.
Whitaker Rehm, a social worker from Long Beach Veterans Administration Hospital, manned a Vets Fest booth offering the services of the Veterans Crisis Line. Rehm stressed the importance of local Veterans Day celebrations.
"It shows support for the veterans," said Rehm. "It shows veterans that people are actually around that care. It also makes people aware of veterans' resources and issues. The Veterans Crisis Line (800.273.8255) is on 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Veterans can call and get a live counselor."
With 22 million veterans in the USA and suicides among them occurring at a rate of 22 a day, this kind of service is crucial.
The next Veterans Day Parade is scheduled for Saturday, November 5, 2016. For general information about the parade as well as donation and volunteer opportunities, please visit www.lbveteransdayparade.com.