Under gray skies, Lawrence united in a red, white and blue show of support to those have served or are serving their country with the first downtown Veterans Day parade in decades.
Standing at the southwest corners of the intersection of Massachusetts and Seventh streets, Larry Slavens, of McLouth, awaited the parade’s 1 p.m. start with his wife, Karen. Slavens wore a black nylon jacket for protection against the temperatures in the mid-40s and steady drizzle. On the jacket’s back was stenciled “USS Liberty: Remember June 8, 1967.” The U.S. Navy intelligence vessel was on duty that day during 1967 Six-Day War in the eastern Mediterranean Sea when it was attacked by Israeli aircraft and torpedo boats, which killed 34 sailors and wounded 171, including Slavens.
“I’m here as a vet supporting vets,” he said. “I read about the parade online and how it was the first one in a long time, and we decided to come down and show respect.”
Lawrence Veterans Day Parade 2017
After a decades-long absence, the Veterans Day Parade returned to downtown Lawrence on Saturday, Nov. 11, 2017.
About two blocks to the south, Hannah Boulton, of Lawrence, and her 13-year-old son Henry were waving flags to the tunes of the 312th Army Reserve Band from Lawrence as it marched down Massachusetts Street. Boulton said they decided to take in the parade during one of her rare free Saturday afternoons.
“As a pacifist, it’s kind of a difficult thing for me, but I think it’s important to recognize those who made sacrifices in a way I don’t think I would ever be able to do,” she said.
As they marched or rode in floats and vintage cars along the parade route to South Park, veterans were met with cheers and shouts of thanks from spectators. Ernest C. Pogge, who served with an engineering unit in France and Germany during World War II, said the expressions of gratitude meant a great deal to him and other veterans in the parade.
“It’s a great recognition of (veterans') past and their accomplishments,” he said.
Joe Arneson, who spent his years in the U.S. Army in California training men to fight in the Vietnam War, said the parade and the thanks made the day special.
“We appreciate that,” he said. “It was great to have the parade again.”
Turnout was good, despite the cold, damp weather, Arneson said.
“Lawrence loves parades,” he said. “I think this was a good start. I’m confident it will grow.”
The support from the community and downtown businesses was important in bringing the parade back this year after its long absence, said Mike Kelly, who helped organize the event. The retired Air Force colonel served in Iraq in 2003 and 2004 and was in the Pentagon during the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attack.
“It was great to see the WWII vets out there and see the people out honoring veterans and their sacrifice,” he said. “We spend a lot of money on the military, but you can’t put a price on freedom.”