As the American Legion Post 8 battleship float rolled down Fourth Street Monday near the front of the annual Las Vegas Veterans Day parade, the two words spoken most often by thousands of flag-waving spectators were “thank you.”
Richard Law, a 93-year-old World War II Navy vet who rode atop the float with Post 8 Commander Rod Carlone, said those words of gratitude are really “a recognition of what we have done and a recognition of what people are doing” to show appreciation for veterans of all generations who served in the United States military.
“It goes both ways,” said Law, a retired chief petty officer who served on a submarine in the 1942 Coral Sea battle and also with the Navy in the Korean War.
“The thing that gets me most about the parade is the gleam in the spectators’ eyes when they return your salute,” he said.
Marine veteran Joe North, a Vietnam ex-prisoner of war, drove a black Mercedes convertible in the parade with some fellow ex-POWs from World War II and the Korean War. He said he got a lot of calls “out of the blue” Monday from friends and veterans thanking him for his service.
“It’s nice to be remembered,” said North, who escaped his captors. “A lot of people let it slide on by and don’t understand how important these gentlemen, mostly behind me, are who really did the work so many other people could live in a nice way here.”
Carlone, the Post 8 commander, said the parade means a lot to Vietnam War veterans like himself who never got a parade when that war ended.
“I remember the days when, frankly, the American people didn’t look upon us the same way they do now. And to see all these people here, honoring and respecting what the veterans for this country have truly done is very rewarding. It’s a change from decades past,” said Carlone, a former Navy pilot.
The parade, organized by VFW Post 1753, is the largest Veterans Day parade west of the Mississippi River, with more than 5,000 participants, according to Billy Stojack of Post 1753. The largest parade is in New York City.
With a cloudless, azure sky and temperatures in the low 70s at the 10 a.m. start time, nothing rained down on the parade but countless “thank yous” shouted by grateful onlookers. Many wore red-white-and-blue outfits. Some wore camouflaged pants, shirts and caps.
One man carried an electric, “U.S. Vet” neon sign. Some entries came from outside Nevada, like the truckload of 3rd Armored Cavalry Vietnam veterans from Ventura, Calif. Junior ROTC units and bands from local schools marched behind a slew of vintage military vehicles and fire trucks with sirens blaring.
The wooden, Post 8 Navy ship float, painted gray and decorated with ribbons from various wars was built by former commander George Shiroky in 1998. He towed it with a Jeep he restored. “I knew there were guys who couldn’t walk the parade route so I built it so they could ride it,” said Shiroky, a retired stage hand who served in the Navy from 1954 to 1957.
After the parade, past Post 8 commander Jerry Autrey swore in some of the 150 new members who joined this year adding to the 1,400 who make it the largest American Legion post in Nevada.
Carlone led a champagne toast to mark “the day of the American veteran” and pay tribute to posthumous Medal of Honor recipient Army Pvt. George J. Peters, who Post 8 made an honorary lifetime member. “You’ll always be here,” Carlone said.
The post was given Peters’ Medal of Honor for display and safekeeping by the family of an Army veteran who rescued it years ago from a swap meet in Cumberland, R.I.
Peters jumped in the last large paratrooper assault during World War II. A radioman with the 17th Airborne Division’s 507th Parachute Infantry Regiment, he had landed with 10 others near Fluren, Germany, 75 yards from an enemy machine gun nest, on the morning of March 24, 1945.
He rose with his rifle and made a charge to draw fire away from his buddies. He was struck by a machine gun burst and knocked to the ground but struggled onward only to be torn by more bullets as he approached the machine gun nest.
“With gallant devotion to his self-imposed mission, he crawled directly into the fire that had mortally wounded him until close enough to hurl grenades which knocked out the machine gun,” the Medal of Honor citation reads.
Carlone spoke about what it means to be a veteran.
“If you go back in history, you will find before there was an America, there were people who were willing to stand and fight for freedom. After Day One of their hard-fought freedom, then came America,” he said. “…We have veterans here from every generation: World War II, Korea, Vietnam, Iraq, Afghanistan.”
After the toast, Post 8’s Veterans Day party kicked into high gear with some senior women, The Happy Hoofers, who performed a tap dance routine to a medley of armed forces songs.
One of them, Fern Jennings, is the widow of a World War II soldier who survived the Utah Beach landing at Normandy, France, in 1944.
“Every Veterans Day and every day of the year I think of him. And I think we should remember all the veterans, all year long. Not just today,” she said.
Contact reporter Keith Rogers at email@example.com or 702-383-0308.