Organizers of Saturday’s Veterans Day Parade in Auburn promised military precision, and that’s pretty much the way things went.
At 11 a.m. sharp, just as the final strains of singer Dayla Walker’s version of The Star-Spangled Banner drifted into the cold morning sky, a C-17 cargo plane from Joint Base Lewis-McChord sailed large and low over Main Street, paralleling the parade route.
That’s the traditional start to this annual homage to service members and veterans, billed as the biggest Veterans’ Day parade west of the Mississippi.
That could well be the case.
This year’s parade, the 47th in a series that stretches back to 1965, included nearly 200 veterans groups, marching bands, military Jeeps, Humvees, helicopters and honor guards.
More than 5,500 people participated, making their way along the mile-long route through downtown Auburn, which, as usual, was packed shoulder to shoulder with people waving flags and shouting “Thank you for your service.”
“This is all about honoring our servicemen and women and our veterans. Always,” said Auburn Mayor Peter Lewis, a Vietnam War veteran.
This year, a federal court judge found Auburn’s interpretation of that goal too narrow.
The city refused to let an antiwar veterans’ group called Veterans for Peace march in the 2012 parade, a decision that wound up in federal court Friday.
U.S. District Court Judge Marsha Pechman ordered the city to let the group participate, saying it had denied the group’s right to freedom of speech, a right veterans fought to protect.
About 40 members of the antiwar group marched in the parade, as they have in the past, and met with loud cheers and applause as they passed through town waving U.S. flags with peace signs substituted for stars.
“I felt people were even more positive this year,” said Corinna Lasa, a Veterans for Peace member from Tulalip. “I think they were not just clapping for us, they were clapping for our right to be here.”
Mayor Lewis, who spent nearly all of the parade in bleachers reserved for dignitaries in front of Auburn’s City Hall, was conspicuously absent when the Veterans for Peace contingent passed.
That was coincidental, Lewis said when he returned a few moments later.
Asked if he thought the judge made the right decision, Lewis said, “I think we live in a great country where everybody is allowed to live under the law.
“The federal judge made her decision and we abided by it,” he said. “That’s our greatest freedom.”
Veterans for Peace wasn’t the only group with a different message for Veterans Day.
In the Women Veterans contingent, one woman carried a sign that said, “19,000 military rapes each year.”
Beneath that, in smaller letters, the sign said, “I was one of them.”