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In its 50th year, Auburn Veterans Day Parade a mix of fun and gratitude

VIDEO: 50th annual Auburn Veterans Day Parade

Thousands of people braved the rain to celebrate our military veterans.
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Thousands of people braved the rain to celebrate our military veterans.

Vietnam veteran Bill Lyons offered a little advice Saturday to high school cadets preparing to march in Auburn’s Annual Veterans Day Parade.

“Not so serious,” the 74-year-old Auburn resident told members of a Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps squad, as they rushed to find their places in the rain. “Have some fun.”

The 50th year of the parade brought an estimated 20,000 spectators to Main Street in downtown Auburn for what organizers called one of the country’s largest Veterans Day celebrations.

While those in attendance were quick to thank veterans for their service, Lyons said he takes part in the parade each year mainly to reconnect with old friends and to show his gratitude for all the support he receives from the community.

You need to be appreciative of those who have made our country what it is.

Dan Bartlett, spectator at Auburn Veterans Day Parade

“We’re just a group of old flybirds from Vietnam who get together four times a year,” said Lyons, a former Army pilot who marched in the parade with other members of the Vietnam Helicopter Pilots Association. “We like to get out and meet and greet, and thank the people for thanking our veterans.”

Amid somber “thank yous” uttered by the people who gathered curbside to watch the parade, vendors sold cotton candy and kettle corn to families waving miniature American flags. High school marching bands alternated between playing patriotic tunes such as “America the Beautiful” and rock anthems like “Rock and Roll All Nite.”

Dick E. Richards, a 91-year-old World War II veteran, decided to watch the parade from the sidelines this year, chatting with other spectators and occasionally dancing to the music. He said these days, he enjoys interacting with the people who come to watch the parade more than being a part of the event.

20,000Estimated number of spectators at Auburn’s 50th Annual Veterans Day Parade

5,500 Number of people who marched or otherwise took part in parade procession

“I walked up and down all the way here, and struck up so many wonderful conversations,” said Richards, an Auburn resident who served in the Philippines and in Okinawa during World War II.

Richards said he likes to share his experiences from the war partly to remind others about the sacrifices people make during wartime.

He said that if he hadn’t taken a stenography class in high school, he probably would have died on the front lines as an infantryman.

“I wasn’t really very good at it,” Richards said of his stenography skills, “But it kept me out of the infantry.”

Dan Bartlett brings his 3-year-old daughter, Daryl, to the parade every year to honor veterans like Richards, as well as Bartlett’s grandfather, who also served in World War II.

“A lot of people nowadays don’t care about the military and what people have done,” said Bartlett, an Auburn resident who has come to the parade for three years in a row. “You need to be appreciative of those who have made our country what it is.”

Many veterans said they came to the event to show support for each other.

The brotherhood doesn’t stop when you get out. Anyone who’s served, you have brothers and sisters for life.

Dan Dolan, former Marine who rode his motorcycle in Auburn Veterans Day Parade

“The deployments can be tough, so it’s important to come out and thank people for the dedication it takes to deploy to another country and put yourself in harm’s way,” said Jason Desvignes, an Air Force veteran from Kent. Desvignes, 35, said he deployed to Qatar, Bahrain and Kyrgyzstan while serving from 2001 to 2004.

Several Marines who rode their motorcycles in the parade said they enjoy the event partly because it brings together veterans from all eras and all branches of service. More than 5,000 people took part in the mile-long procession, including dozens of veterans groups.

“The brotherhood doesn’t stop when you get out,” said Dan Dolan, 31, a former Marine from Spanaway who rode his motorcycle in the parade. “Anyone who’s served, you have brothers and sisters for life.”

Melissa Santos: 360-357-0209, @melissasantos1