Veterans Day Parade attendance has dwindled as nation moves from peace to endless war

Armistice Day, which is what Veterans Day was called between the end of the Great War on Nov. 11, 1918 and 1954, when the word “Armistice” was dropped for “Veterans.” And, while Armistice Day was historically a day to honor World War I veterans, it was equally a celebration of the end of the War to End All Wars, as it was obviously optimistically termed until it wasn’t the end of wars anymore.

After a few years of bouncing around the calendar when it joined Washington’s Birthday, Memorial Day and Columbus days as a holiday attached to a weekend under 1968’s Uniform Holiday Act, it reverted back to its original day of peace, Nov. 11, in 1975.

Maybe it was the somewhat confusing rejiggering of the date that caused Veterans Day to fall from favor, or its decline could be attributed to the general malaise brought about by the Vietnam War when martial fervor fell from favor, or maybe it’s a victim of just the never-endingness of war in these times, when peace is replaced by merely moving U.S. troops from one troubled spot to another for reasons that aren’t always as clear or as compelling as the storming of a beach in Normandy or planting a flag on a island in the Pacific.

In more patriotic times, the Armistice Day Parade drew big crowds on Pine Avenue, and into the 1950s, when the country was still exuberant over victories in Europe and the Pacific (even as the Korean conflict was beginning to heat up) Veterans Day parades in Long Beach, then a major military town with a huge defense-industry workforce, was an event that drew thousands of citizens and hundreds of military and civic paraders down a long stretch of Ocean Boulevard. Nike and Falcon missiles rolled by along with float entries from the Naval Base, the Long Beach Naval Shipyard and Douglas Aircraft Co. and military bands from Camp Pendleton, El Toro Air Base and others, along with school bands from Wilson, Poly and Jordan high school.

With wars losing their clear-cut purposes following something short of triumphant victories in Korea and Vietnam, coupled with the loss of the Navy and defense jobs in Long Beach, the city’s enthusiasm for martial displays and celebratory patriotism waned to the point that a couple of decades passed with no Veterans Day parades at all. In 1997, veteran and North Long Beach councilman Jerry Schultz resuscitated the Veterans Day Parade in his part of town and over the next 22 years it, and time, marched on with generally sparse attendance, nothing at all echoing the post-WW2 years.

A view of the 22nd edition of the Long Beach Veterans Day Parade in 2018. Photo by Kelly Smiley.

Now, the parade continues, even though Schultz and his Veterans Day Parade committee have this year cut their ties with the event, citing a number of issues with the city involving financing and general disinterest in the event. Schultz wrote in a People Post, that “the attendance along the parade route is almost nonexistent. Last year there were more veterans in the parade than there were people watching. For that reason, we have fewer entries and no military vehicle support. To hold a Veterans Day Parade along an empty parade route is embarrassing and does not honor our veterans.”

And, further,  the committee has, he wrote, “disassociated ourselves from the Veterans Day Parade and will not be organizing or participating in it.”

“The city is apparently going to attempt to have a parade on Veterans Day,” wrote Schultz, “but it has been scaled back to a total of three blocks. That, in itself, is a slap in the face to all veterans.”

And, yes, the parade will go on, with the planning undertaken by Rex Richardson, the current 9th District councilman. The parade will begin at 10 a.m. Saturday, with the march starting at Atlantic Avenue at South Street and moving north on Atlantic to  rHarding Street. Richardson says the parade sponsors are the 9th District Council office and the city of Long Beach, with donations from the Port of Long Beach and Long Beach Airport.

The event will honor the veterans “who bravely stood in defense of our freedoms,” the councilman said in a statement.

The parade will be followed by a Vets Fest on Atlantic Avenue between 60th and South streets. Entertainment includes children’s activities, and food will be available for purchase from Hot Dog on a Stick, Daddy’s Best Froyo, Los Cebollines food truck and more.

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Tim Grobaty is a columnist and opinions editor for the Long Beach Post. He began his newspaper career at the Press-Telegram in 1976 as a copy boy and moved on to feature writer, music critic, TV critic, copy editor and daily columnist. He’s the author of several books, including I’m Dyin’ Here, and he lives in Long Beach.