The afterglow emanating from Fred Flores, founder and director for the annual San Fernando Valley Veterans Day Parade, could be felt over the phone.
The parade, held Monday, Nov. 11, not only had clear skies and warm temperatures, it had people — lots of people.
Flores said this year’s event, which has been held since 2004, had the most entries and the largest crowd he and other parade committee officials had seen in several years.
“It was great for a weekday,” Flores told the San Fernando Valley Sun/El Sol on Tuesday, Nov. 12. “Usually on weekdays attendance is low because of working people [being unable to come]. But there were a lot of people this year. Which is good. We like to see that employers of veterans and their families allow people to get off, at least a half a day and support their veterans. We don’t have enough doing it.”
In addition to the onlookers and invited dignitaries who lined up along the 1.1-mile parade route or sat in the review stand, Flores said he had more than 100 entries in this year’s parade including several that had asked to be allowed to participate that morning. It caused the actual parade to last slightly more than two hours, Flores said, but the event ran smoothly.
“Here’s the deal; we never say no to a veteran, and we try to accommodate them,” Flores said. “It can throw things off when we’re still accepting people on the [day of the parade], which we do. We tell them we’re not going to mess up the lineup that’s already done, but if they want to be at the end of the line, okay. And guess what. They’ll go to the back of the line to ride in the parade.
“That tells me something. They don’t care where they’re placed just as long as they’re in the parade and are honored by their community. That’s big.”
Flores hopes this is the beginning of a turnaround or revival of interest, especially now that since more of the participants are Viet Nam, Desert Storm and Iraq veterans instead of WWII and Korean War veterans.
“We had a generation of fighters from the Viet Nam era who didn’t get any respect coming home,” Flores said. “And if you look at this parade that we do here in our neighborhood, that is the majority of this parade — the Viet Nam era veterans who come every year. They send us thank you notes, they get to have a reunion with their friends…they take time off from work if not retired and come out here. Some come from Bakersfield, San Diego, Stockton — wherever they’re at, they come here.”
He reiterates the point that putting together the parade is not a one-man operation. “I couldn’t to do it without the team I have, they’ve been with me the last 16 years,” Flores said.
They include volunteers like Marlene Aparicio, who has been to every parade. She and others from the American Legion Post 176 Auxiliary in San Fernando provided coffee, bagels and donuts for the dignitaries and grand marshals before the parade started, and then fed them lunch at the parade’s end. Although she still works as a live-in caregiver for a special needs patient in Downey, it’s important to her not only to contribute, but that the parade continue.
“A lot of parades get lost; there’s no interest,” Aparicio said. “We need to keep this out here. As long as we have our armed forces, we need to keep things like this in the forefront. People need to know that we still have our men and women [serving]. We’ll keep doing our little part as well. I love to come every year.”
She said many members of her family, including her father and her son, are or were veterans. Her father, an Army veteran, served in Korea. Her son Mark, 32, joined the Marines out of school and served in Iraq. Unfortunately for Mark, he returned from duty with various medical problems and is now considered 100% disabled even though he works for the city of Los Angeles in sanitation.
It’s another reason she feels duty bound to come help at the parade every year. “[People] supported me when my son went to Iraq and I was bouncing off the walls.”
Aparicio also noted the increase this year in participation and attendance.
In other years it hasn’t been like that,” she said. “I noticed a lot of (other communities) had parades on Saturday and Sunday. But we have it on [Veterans Day]. Maybe that’s why we’re having such a big turnout.”