Vietnam veteran John Arellano, his son Johnny, and friend Rene Vanegas had already picked out a favorite spot along Laurel Canyon Boulevard to watch the 12th annual San Fernando Valley Veterans Day Parade in Mission Hills.
It didn’t matter that the parade on Wednesday, Nov. 11, wouldn’t start for another two hours, and the crowd hadn’t really formed along the streets yet. Arellano wanted his space and his view. An army friend had come in from Connecticut to appear in the parade; Arellano was himself a participant a couple of years ago.
But his enjoyment comes from the reception he sees veterans of all ages and branches of the military receive from the crowd as they march or drive by. It is such a contrast, he said from when he first came back from Vietnam.
“I like the way [the community] responds to the parade,” Arellano said. “They’re very friendly. When I first got out [the reception] wasn’t that friendly. But times have changed. There’s a different camaraderie and it’s a good sign.”
“I’m just sorry it took almost 40 years,” he said with a laugh.
Arellano’s appreciation of the Veterans Parade — the largest Veterans Day parade held in Los Angeles county, according to parade organizer Fred Flores — was shared by others.
The Lorenzo family had two parade participants — Elias Coronado and Sanovio M. Armenia, both World War II veterans. Speaking for the eight family members at the parade, including two great-grandchildren, Gina Coronado said, “It’s important for our kids to see the parade and to support all our troops.”
But you didn’t have to have been a G.I. Joe or Jane to be at the parade. Sister Beatrice of the Order of Franciscan Sisters, watching her first parade in the San Fernando Valley was seen enthusiastically waving a small American flag and cheering all those who passed her way.
“I’m an American. And I’m patriotic,” Beatrice said. “I will always be grateful to those who have served and sacrificed. This is my country.”
Brisk early morning winds gave way to calm temperatures and sunny skies as the parade began at its customary time — 11:11 a.m., the same time the fighting in World War I supposedly came to an end on Nov. 11, 1918.
The 1.1 mile route along Laurel Canyon Boulevard, between San Fernando Mission and Paxton boulevards and ending at the Richie Valens Recreation Center and Park, was lined with thousands of cheering adults and kids waving flags and doing their best to connect with those riding along in cars, motorcycles, trucks, jeeps and tour buses.
All branches of the military were represented, there were veterans who had served as far back as World War I.
Nearly 100 veterans groups, including marching bands from Arleta, Bravo Magnet, Chatsworth, San Fernando, Taft and Van Nuys high schools, Naval Sea Cadets and ROTC units were led by 2015 Grand Marshal Sylmar resident, U.S. Marine Corps veteran and past National Commander of Disabled American Veterans Larry Polzin through the Mission Hills streets.
Another crowd pleaser was the 300th Army Band, a subordinate unit of the U.S. Army Reserve and 63rd Regional Support Command, making its first appearance here.
Other military grand marshals included World War II veterans Sanovio M. Armenta and Rodolfo Magdaleno; Korean War veteran Richard Jimenez; brothers Art, Ishmael and Tom Guzman, who served in Vietnam; Iraq veteran Martha Adame; and Iraq and Afghanistan veteran Nancy E. Sainz who remains on active duty in the Army.
Not all the parade participants were on the ground. A squadron of WWII era Condor planes from the Van Nuys Airbase, all vintage AT-6 Texan aircraft, flew over the crowd and invited dignitaries including San Fernando City Mayor Joel Fajardo and Vice Mayor Sylvia Ballin; L.A. City Council members Felipe Fuentes and Bob Blumenfield; and state Assemblywoman Patty Lopez.
The parade came about 12 years ago on the suggestion of Flores’ late son Alfred. The two had gone to watch Veterans parade in Long Beach for several years when Alfred asked his father, “Why not have one here so we don’t have to get up so early and travel to be in a parade that should be in our backyard?”
Since the first one here in 2004, Flores said, the Veterans Day Parade has grown and grown, and this year “was the biggest one ever.”
Until next year.