For 97-year-old Joe Vidal from Sylmar, Nov. 11 will be a very special day – for himself, his wife Jessie of 71 years and their entire family. On that day, the World War II veteran will be the honorary grand marshal in this year’s San Fernando Valley Veterans Day Parade, which brings together multiple generations of local veterans and patriotic supporters every year.
During Saturday’s parade – which begins at the intersection of Laurel Canyon and San Fernando Mission boulevards and proceeds south on Laurel Canyon – dozens of family members will be cheering for Vidal along the parade route, said his daughter Annette Vidal.
“We’re all so excited – he’s going to be so surprised to see everyone,” she said.
This year will be a milestone for the parade, which is celebrating its 20th year, and an increasingly rare opportunity for parade-goers to honor a veteran like Vidal – fewer than 1% of the 16 million Americans who served during WWII still remain in 2023, according to statistics from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.
Oldest Parade Participant is San Fernando Native
Vidal, who was born and raised in San Fernando, is the oldest veteran riding in this year’s parade. He was just 18 years old and had recently graduated from San Fernando High School when he enlisted in the United States Army at the height of the war. He became a Cavalry Scout and served in the Burma campaign during his three years overseas.
Nearly eight decades later, remembering his fellow soldiers who perished during WWII – including a few hometown friends from San Fernando – still brings tears to his eyes.
“I’m sorry,” apologized Vidal about becoming emotional as he attempted to share memories from the war during an interview in his Sylmar home with the San Fernando Valley Sun/el Sol. His wife Jessie quietly comforted him with a few consoling words.
“Joe was so happy for the veterans who came back home [after the war] because some of his friends did die – some of them had lived right around the corner from him before they left together for the war,” explained Jessie. “That’s the thing that affected him the most.”
Annette recalled when she and her five siblings were growing up, they heard little about their father’s military service during WWII or about his post-military career with Lockheed, where he worked as a machinist for 46 years on top-secret military aircraft projects.
“For so many years, he would never speak to us about anything, and he didn’t want to be in parades or anything like that, but I always wanted to honor my dad, so for Veterans Day I would always have a one-car parade for him,” Annette shared. “I would put signs on my car and I would drive him all over to see relatives in Sylmar [and] San Fernando.”
In recent years, she said her father has been speaking more about his experiences, and just last year he decided he wanted to participate in the local Veterans Day parade for the very first time.
“My daughter put me into it,” Vidal said with a laugh about being in the parade again this year. When asked how he feels about being this year’s honorary grand marshal, he said simply: “I’m so grateful.”
“I’ve always been so proud of my dad,” said Annette. “He’s always done so much – not only for his country but also for his family. From the bottom of my heart, he’s always been an ace.”
Serving is a Source of Pride for Father and Daughter Vets Jose and Mia Perez
This year’s parade includes multi-generational military families, including fathers and daughters, like Sylmar residents Jose Perez, an Army specialist during Operation Desert Storm from 1989 to 1992, and Army Sgt. Mia Perez, who served from 2018 to 2022 in Operation Atlantic Resolve. They will be riding together in the parade for the second consecutive year.
Mia, who is currently an Army reservist and a student at Los Angeles Mission College, said she always looked up to her father for his military service, especially in Operation Desert Storm.
“Ever since I was in elementary school and middle school and I knew that my dad had served in the Army, I thought it was really great, and I think that he did inspire me to [eventually] enlist in the Army, too,” said Mia, 22, who plans to become a law enforcement officer in the future.
Perez said he clearly recalls his daughter asking him questions about his time in the Army, and he told her that it had been a great experience for him – the “best times of my life,” he said.
“You learn so much, and you meet all kinds of people from so many different places,” he said.
Perez said he is “proud and impressed” by his daughter’s drive and military achievements, especially becoming a gunner on an Army battle tanker and rising to the rank of sergeant.
“She enlisted in the Army two weeks after graduation from high school, when she was 18 years old – she didn’t even have a car [driver’s] license and she ended up driving a tanker,” he said with a laugh. Although he was concerned about his daughter’s safety when he found out that she was pursuing a combat position, Jose said he was ultimately glad that she decided to enlist.
Perez and Mia both said they look forward to being in the parade again as father and daughter.
“This parade is something special we get to do together,” she said.
“People from all over the Valley will get to see us together – like father, like daughter,” said Perez with a smile.
Kenneth and Stephanie Rubin Also Father-Daughter Vets
Stephanie Rubin, 42, who was promoted to sergeant while serving in the U.S. Army during Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom, will also be riding in the parade with her father, Air Force Sgt. Kenneth Rubin, who served in Vietnam from 1968 to 1969.
Stephanie, a registered nurse who lives in Sylmar with her 17-year-old daughter, said she joined the Army right after high school in 1999 because she was seeking “adventure, travel and the opportunity to serve.”
After 9/11, Stephanie was deployed multiple times and served as a combat lifesaver throughout Iraq. That experience inspired her current career in nursing, with the same primary purpose she had during her 10 years in the military: “I have always wanted to help people,” she said.
Stephanie said she always enjoys participating in the parade with her daughter, but this time around will be very different: getting to ride alongside her father, as well, especially because it will be his first-ever Veterans Day parade.
While his daughter was growing up, Rubin never talked about Vietnam, he admitted, but after her own military service, he has slowly started opening up.
“When I returned from Vietnam, Vietnam was a dirty word,” explained Rubin. “People were not happy with our participation there, and they took it out on the veterans when they returned.
“Times have changed quite a bit now,” he continued. “Every time I encounter somebody now, they say, ‘Oh, you’re a veteran – that’s great. … Thank you for your service,’ which is something that you didn’t hear in the late 60s. So this [parade] will be a pleasant opportunity for me to share something special with my daughter and granddaughter.”
The SFV Veterans Day Parade Makes History As 20-Year Tradition
The origin of the San Fernando Valley Veterans Day Parade dates back to the military service of its founder, Fred A. Flores. He grew up in Pacoima and enlisted in the Marines in 1978 when he was a 17-year-old student at San Fernando High School. He served from 1978 to 1989, with deployments during the Iran hostage crisis in 1979, and the civil wars in Central America in the 1980s.
After traveling long distances to go to veteran’s parades, his oldest son Alfred encouraged him to start a veterans parade closer to home and they did just that in 2004. Tragically, his son was killed in 2009, but Flores has kept the parade going – even virtually during COVID – with the support of his family, including his daughters Gina and Heather, his sons Anthony and Alec, his wife Rose Danette and a team of devoted volunteers.
“This parade has been a team effort from the very beginning,” said Flores. “The [parade committee members] make it happen. … They give their hearts, and I’m grateful for that.”
This year’s grand marshal, California State Sen. Caroline Menjivar (D-San Fernando Valley), a Marine sergeant who served from 2009 to 2016, also commended the parade organizers “for their dedication to this event.”
“We should all be proud to say that the largest veterans parade of the area is held in the northeast portion of the Valley,” said Menjivar. “For 20 strong years, we have had the opportunity to honor and thank our veterans right in our own backyard.”
In keeping with tradition, the parade will be held on Nov. 11 and begin promptly at 11:11 a.m. at Laurel Canyon and San Fernando Mission boulevards, proceed south on Laurel Canyon for 1.1 miles, and end at the Ritchie Valens Recreation Center in Pacoima. Please note: This year’s San Fernando Valley Veterans Day Carnival – which is typically held immediately following the parade – was held last weekend due to a scheduling conflict.