Police sirens and motorcycle engines pierced a chilly, quiet Main Street Saturday morning, revving up the American Legion’s annual Veterans Day parade and kicking off a weekend dedicated to celebrating and honoring men and women who serve and have served in the nation’s armed forces.
Parade-watchers huddled in sweatshirts or blankets, or in the backs of cars lining the street. But to some of those present, the spirit of the event was well worth the conditions.
“If we can’t stand a little cold and support them, then we don’t need to come to any parade,” said Joni Hale, a daughter and sister of veterans.
Throughout the morning, the street was a procession of Garden City and Holcomb companies and organizations showing support for veterans. Firetrucks from the Garden City and Holcomb fire departments and patrol cars from the Garden City Police Department and Finney County Sheriff’s Office flashed lights and sirens. Tractors from American Implement towered over onlookers, and a line of motorcyclists from veteran support organization Vets for Veterans roared down the road.
Handwritten names on posterboards along the sides or in the windows of some vehicles acknowledged some servicemen specifically.
Among the cars and trucks and color guards was something more unique — a float from the surgical team at St. Catherine Hospital meant to honor veterans that served in the Vietnam War. The flatbed trailer float was a line of three scenes: medics and the wounded sitting in a MASH tent, soldiers facing combat in the jungle and a lone mourner standing between the Vietnam Veterans Memorial and a battlefield cross, his hand pressed against the wall of the names of fallen soldiers.
Spearheaded and inspired by Eppy Garcia, a former Army medic and longtime employee of the St. Catherine surgical ward, the float took about a week to construct, Garcia said.
When soldiers returned home from the Vietnam War, they were not respected, he said. No one cared, and it hurt. The idea of veterans being recognized decades later left him choked up. Vietnam veterans who saw the float were struck by it, he said, and were sometimes emotional, but glad to be recognized.
“Many of the females that were veterans, they came and took a look at it. One lady said, ‘Oh my God’ and … she cried,” Garcia said.
After the parade, veterans and their families gathered at the American Legion Post 9 in Garden City to observe the holiday and present certificates of appreciation to parade marshalls Gordon Allen, a 92-year-old World War II Marine veteran, and Jimmy Stewart, an 86-year-old Korean War Navy veteran.
Stewart, who served from 1950 to 1954, came from a family of veterans and joined the U.S. Navy after his older brother was killed in WWII. His experience in the military was one he remembered fondly, Stewart said, full of his trying new things and visiting new places across eastern Asia. To him, Veterans Day was mostly about honoring “the ones who aren’t here.”
A 17-year-old Allen pestered his parents to let him join the Marines in 1943, following in the footsteps of his three older brothers who already had seen war. He served until 1946 at Guadalcanal and in northern China, experiencing things his wife, Pearl, said are still sometimes difficult to talk about.
Allen said his time in the war did not greatly impact his life in a negative way. He could have been exposed to worse, and he’s enjoyed his life since, he said. Getting recognized by the Legion was a great honor, he said, but he wasn’t sure he deserved it.
“I guess I feel like I didn’t really do that much,” he said. “I did what my duty called for.”
Post 9 Adjutant Jim Arwine said the Legion was trying to honor more WWII veterans, as they are getting up there in age.
“They always enjoy being honored, and most of them say, ‘I’m not worthy of it. I’m not worthy of it.’ And I say ‘Yes, you are,’” Arwine said.
Veterans Day celebrations and recognition spread past the American Legion Saturday. Garden City Community College hosted speaker Lt. Colonel Robert Darling of the United States Marine Corps, who witnessed and wrote a book about American leaders’ response to 9-11. Later in the evening, the Marine Corps held its annual birthday ball and the Legion shot off fireworks over the Finney County Fairgrounds.
On Friday, St. Catherine Hospital held a ceremony for Quilts of Valor, giving out quilts to local servicemen and servicewomen, and in the days coming, local schools and businesses will show their support with celebrations and promotions.
But on Saturday morning along Main Street, local veterans and civilians gathered — some to honor loved ones, others to teach their children about their country.
Misty Ayers, her husband and four children, ages 8, 5 and 2, plus a 7-month-old wrapped up in Ayers’ arms, stood alongside the parade route. The couple, who both have relatives who are veterans, wanted their kids to understand what the military does for the country and the freedoms they protect, Ayers said. The parade and Veterans Day were simple avenues to reinforce those lessons.
“I think a lot of them are too young to really know what’s going on yet, but I think as long as we keep doing it, they’re going to learn, and that’s what it’s really about...” Ayers said. “So as they get older, they recognize that.”
Contact Amber Friend at email@example.com.