Updated November 11, 2021 - 5:02 pm
As motorcycle engines roared and emergency vehicles blared their sirens Thursday morning at the Veterans Day parade in downtown Las Vegas, a young boy extended his arms in the air, gripping a small U.S. flag in each hand.
Despite it being 6-year-old Samuel’s first Nov. 11 parade, the enthusiastic boy understood the significance of the day, his mother Lisbeth Aragon said.
How could he not? Family members, including his grandfather, who sat next to him, have served in the armed forces. His 15-year-old brother, Joshua, who marched with Rancho High School’s junior ROTC, a federal program sponsored by the U.S. Armed Forces, also is considering enlisting after graduation, their mother said.
The two-hour event — touted by organizers as the “largest (veterans) parade west of the Mississippi” — proceeded without a hitch under balmy, sunny conditions in front of hundreds of spectators who lined the mile stretch on Fourth Street and waved some of the 10,000 American flags organizers had passed out.
The parade returned Thursday after being canceled last year because of the COVID-19 pandemic. The Veterans Action Group, a nonprofit, has organized it for nearly 30 years, a continuation of a previous decades-long Las Vegas tradition.
While attendees shouted “thank you for your service,” waving and giving thumbs up, those in the procession did the same when they spotted veterans in the crowd.
One of them was Roman Walker, a Marine Corps vet who served in Vietnam.
Asked about his favorite part of the parade, he succinctly answered: “everything.”
To 64-year-old Walker — who recently moved from Chicago — experiencing his first parade in Las Vegas meant the world to him and his fellow military members.
“We still out here,” said Walker with a slight twang in his voice, “we still living, we still surviving, and we’re still protecting our country.”
Dozens of groups, including official, community and veteran-related organizations, comprised the procession, which passed underneath a behemoth Old Glory hoisted by a fire truck ladder near the Fremont Street Experience. Las Vegas Mayor Carolyn Goodman and her husband Oscar Goodman rode in a pink-colored convertible.
Smiles were abundant.
Sisters Gianna, 7, and Antonia, 4, sat on a curb with their firefighter father, Joey Virtuoso, crouched behind them.
“This is an awesome parade, especially what we do here in Las Vegas,” Virtuoso, 35, said.
It was not the girls’ first Veterans Day parade, said their father, who noted that he has taught them about the importance of community and service from a young age.
Supporting veterans, flashing smiles at them and greeting them with thumbs up also serves as a lesson in kindness, Virtuoso said.
“These people — men and women — have sacrificed their lives, careers (and) time,” Virtuoso said. “That’s something you can’t get back.”
The experience was wholesome for both participants and spectators, he said. “It is extremely awesome to them and heartwarming, not only for us, but for them as well.”
Bob Reynierse, a spry 83-year-old veteran, marched alongside the procession as he handed out artificial poppies on behalf of Veterans of Foreign Wars.
The “Buddy Poppy” program dates back to 1922, according to the organization, which notes it is a remembrance based on a WWI-era poem by a veteran who recalled poppies growing on a battlefield.
The group said it compensates “disabled and needy” veterans in VA hospitals who assemble them. Meanwhile, Reynierse said donations he collected were going to help orphans of war.
The veteran, who has called Las Vegas home for 50 years, said the parade means to him that “it’s Veterans Day…it’s tradition.”