Main Street was lined with people from the American Legion to Walnut Street on Saturday morning. They came to watch the annual Veterans Day parade and pay tribute to the men and women who have served, and continue to serve, our country in the Armed Forces.
Benny Sandoval, 70, of Garden City, was one of them. The Army veteran who served in the 1st Calvary in the 1960s during the Vietnam War said Saturday's celebration was a stark contrast to what it was like when he served.
“It just means something to be proud of,” he said of serving in the Army. “Luckily now, not back in 1968, I can look back and say I’m glad I’m a veteran. It means a lot to me now that they actually do a lot to honor the veterans. But it’s sad, in 1968 it wasn’t the case. They didn’t care too much then.”
Almost 50 years later, times have changed.
Nearly 40 entries, including area businesses, schools and organizations like Daughters of the American Revolution and Finney County Emergency Medical Services, participated in the parade.
Navy Veteran Pete N. Garcia, 80, of Garden City, and his wife Verna, 77, celebrated the holiday by taking in the parade. They recently returned from Veteran’s Week in Branson, Mo. Pete spent 30 years in the Navy, including time in Chicago, where he recruited for the 6th Fleet Battalion that fought in Vietnam.
“I’m just very proud of them all,” Verna said. “They are protecting us and our country, our rights and our freedom.”
Ray Hernandez, 70, of Deerfield, is the area chairman of Vets for Veterans, an organization that raises money to help veterans in need. He is a veteran of Vietnam and supports all veterans.
“There’s no way to put it except for freedom that we exercise in this nation everyday, freedom for everybody,” he said of why Veterans Day is important. “That’s why everybody comes to America, because they know they can live in a free country.”
Ray's wife, Donna Hernandez, 71, of Deerfield, has been the post commander for the American Legion Post 9 for three years.
“It makes your heart feel happy to give back to others who have fought for us,” said Donna, who served as a drill sergeant in the Army for 20 years.
She thinks it’s important to celebrate Veterans Day.
“It means the lives that have been sacrificed for our freedom,” she said. “I wish people would understand that if we don’t have the military, we don’t have freedom.”
After the parade, residents gathered at the American Legion Post 9, 405 S. Main St., for a ceremony and hamburger feed.
Donna Hernandez presented three certificates of appreciation:
• Lloyd E. Joyce, 96, of Garden City, received a certificate for being a member of the local American Legion for 70 years. He served in the South Pacific with the Army from Sept. 24, 1942, to Oct. 1, 1945.
“It makes me appreciate people that honor us,” he said. “I got to know a lot of good people that I could depend on.”
• Jesus “Jesse” Aguilera, 91, of Garden City served as Saturday's parade marshall. He is a World War II U.S. Marine Corps veteran who served in the Pacific, including on the islands of Saipan and Okinawa. He was also presented with a certificate of appreciation.
Aguilera’s daughter, Irene Shumate, 64, of Garden City, was present at the ceremony and dinner, as well.
“I think it’s an honor and a privilege they chose him to honor in the Veterans Day parade,” she said. “I think it’s well deserved.”
• Melvin Dale, mayor of Garden City and a Vietnam veteran, was the third person who received a certificate of appreciation.
Randall Jordan, 38, of Garden City, was a paratrooper in the Army at Fort Bragg, N.C., from 1997 to 2003. He said Veterans Day is a, “time to reunite and celebrate the victories we have here at home.” He came to the American Legion to “share a meal with the others that fortunately made it back home.”
“It means quite a bit to fellowship with those that served and to honor the fallen,” he said.
Madison Maxfield, 17, of Garden City, is the drill team commander of the Junior Reserved Officer Training Corps, JROTC, at Garden City High School. She was one of 10 students who helped serve the meal at the American Legion.
“To me, I think it’s just a way of bringing the country together to thank and honor our veterans,” she said.
Cesar Richters, 16, of Garden City, is also a part of the JROTC. He plans on joining the Army or Navy after high school.
“Veterans Day means to me that we are celebrating the ones who have fallen and the ones who are still serving today from the military,” he said. “It’s just to show appreciation to our military because sometimes they don’t get it from the public, so it’s better if you can celebrate it.”
The day’s celebration ended at 6:30 p.m. with a fireworks display at the Finney County Fairgrounds.