“Thank you for your service.”
Thousands of people lined Auburn’s Main Street on Saturday for the city’s annual Veterans Day Parade, a mile-long extravaganza that’s billed as the biggest such event west of the Mississippi River.
More than 5,500 people participated in this year’s parade, according to organizers. The official count of 215 entries included 25 marching bands and remnants of military units from several generations of war.
Veterans made their way past throngs of spectators on foot, on motorcycles, in wheelchairs and in an assortment of military vehicles that included Strykers, Huey helicopters and Vietnam-era river patrol boats on flatbed trailers.
Auburn’s narrow Main Street put marching veterans within touching distance of sidewalks, and hundreds of people stepped forward to shake hands and offer gratitude.
Marilyn Sutey, 72, of Auburn, waving a plastic flag from the sidewalk, caught the eye of a ponytailed Vietnam veteran idling slowly past in a noisy regiment of Harley-Davidson motorcycles.
“Thank you,” she said, mouthing the words clearly to be understood through the roar.
He nodded in return.
“I thank them for protecting our country,” Sutey said. “If it weren’t for them we wouldn’t have the freedoms we have.”
Sutey said her father and two brothers were veterans and that she rarely misses the Auburn parade. “Unless it’s pouring rain, I always come,” she said. “This is the least I can do.”
Auburn is recognized by the National Veterans Day Committee and the Department of Defense as a regional site for the annual celebration. Auburn has hosted a Veterans Day parade since 1965.
The actual Veterans Day holiday falls on Monday this year.
Among the most touching parade entrants was a regiment of about 50 “Gold Star Families,” carrying poster-sized photographs of family members killed in the Middle East.
U.S. Congressman Dave Reichert, the former King County sheriff who served in the Air Force Reserve from 1971 to 1976, walked the parade route, waving.
Don Hanson, a 91-year-old Navy veteran from Kent, was not officially registered, but he was among the most popular parade participants.
Wearing his old gunner’s mate uniform from World War II, Hanson enthusiastically worked the crowd, shaking hands and stopping to chat as he made his way up Main Street.
“I’m doing this because I love people and I care about people,” Hanson said. “I love everybody.”
Hanson said he has 14 battle scars from the war, but quickly added, “That doesn’t mean the amount of fighting you saw. It was the action you were in.”
Rob Carson: 2533-597-8693