Las Vegas Veterans Day parade goes on without its heart and soul

Billy Stojack was always early or on time for meetings, especially when it came to putting the finishing touches on his baby — the annual Veterans Day Parade in Las Vegas.

So when he was late for a session two days before last year’s event, other members of the nonprofit Veterans Action Group sent his son to check on the 71-year-old.

They were still working when word came back that Stojack, a mainstay of the parade for more than 20 years, had died.

First, the room fell silent. Then some board members started crying and screaming.

“I realized that it was falling on my shoulders,” said Jerry Adams, who had coordinated the parade with Stojack for years. “I just have shoes that I don’t think I can fill.”

But fill them he did. And he’s hoping this year’s downtown parade, which begins at 10 a.m. Sunday and is expected to draw a crowd of more than 30,000, goes as smoothly as it did when Stojack was at the helm.

“It’s been tough on the sentimental end because Billy and I worked so closely together for so many years,” the 68-year-old Adams said this week. “He was always a special guy, a hard-working guy, a true patriot.”

The parade is a painful reminder of the friend he lost, but Adams said, “He’d come back and kick our butts if we didn’t” carry on.

In honor of the retired Clark County firefighter and former Navy SEAL, Stojack’s adult children, Ryan Stojack and Kristen Watson, also have established the Billy Stojack Memorial Fund in his memory.

The fund will honor a veteran every year in conjunction with the parade, beginning this year with Navy veteran Ed Wright, and his wife, Rachel, who will be featured guests at the event and receive an all-expenses-paid dinner and stay at a Wyndham Hotels and Resorts property.

“It’s something we’d like to pass down to the grandkids, so he can be remembered for years to come,” said Watson, 41. “He was always helping other veterans, and we want to honor him that way. He’d love that.”

‘We completed the mission’

On the day he died last year, Nov. 9, Stojack called Adams and asked, “How’s my workhorse doing?”

It’s a nickname that Adams, an Air Force veteran who fought in Vietnam, is proud to carry nowadays.

Adams, who suffers the effects of his exposure to the herbicide Agent Orange, met Stojack more than 20 years ago through the Veterans of Foreign Wars, and the two instantly bonded. They exchanged the kind of Vietnam War stories rarely shared outside of veterans halls.

Stojack, who was bald and had a handlebar mustache, rode his Harley-Davidson motorcycle in the parade each year, always with one of his four granddaughters in its sidecar. This year, the bike will sit next to the reviewing stand, along with a photo of Stojack.

“He loved it, he lived it,” Adams said of Veterans Day. “Just like a few of us do. I hope that when I’m gone, people will think that’s my legacy, too.”

Last year’s parade, still so fresh after Stojack’s death, was an emotional one. Before it began, a riderless horse was escorted along the route, a pair of long, high black boots facing backward in the stirrup.

“We completed the mission. It was the smoothest-running parade,” Adams said. “We were grieving, but we did our jobs.”

‘Pump the brakes’

In the Veterans Action Group’s office in Henderson this week, nine members of the group gathered to finalize plans for this year’s parade.

Adams sat at the far end of the table, his walker by his right side, and Stojack’s 44-year-old son on his left. Ryan Stojack was named an honorary member of the board this year and is the only non-veteran serving. Sitting across from them was 82-year-old Navy veteran Peggy Randle.

“It’s also the 100-year anniversary of the end of World War I,” Adams noted of this year’s holiday. “Peggy, you were at the Armistice signing. How was that?” he joked.

“That’s classified,” she responded as the room erupted in laughter.

As the discussion continued, Adams would occasionally interject a famous Stojack phrase that he used to slow down a runaway speaker: “Pump the brakes! Pump the brakes!”

He also offered words of support to his fellow parade planners.

“This is not politicians’ day, it’s Veterans Day,” he said. “Without you, there would be no parade.”

‘Teddy-bear heart’

Stojack was well-known around town; those who worked with him on the parade — coordinating with the veterans group to close streets, employ the Metropolitan Police Department for security and fill out the necessary paperwork — all seemed to love him.

“He was such a gruff-looking guy with a teddy-bear heart. He was so passionate,” remembered Esther Reincke, the city’s special events administrator. “Last year was such a shock, but the parade went off without a hitch, just like he would have wanted it.”

Adams remembers that if Stojack invited you somewhere, you didn’t question it. He recalled a day in November 2003 when Stojack told a group of veterans they were going to a fundraiser for President George W. Bush on the Strip. It was just months after the invasion of Iraq, and U.S.-led coalition troops were still occupying the Mideast country and trying to maintain order.

“He said, ‘Mr. President, if you need me, I’ll enlist tomorrow. All you have to do is let me know,’” Adams recalled.

He remembered the president replying, “Billy, you can count on it.”

Stojack’s son and daughter described their dad as a “crusty old sailor” who collected a variety of vintage military vehicles, including tanks and armored vehicles. They said he got a kick out of driving one of them to Starbucks.

“He loved to get reactions out of people,” Watson said.

His kids still have some of the vehicles, including a tan-colored tank he fully restored that was one of his favorites.

He also had a passion for collecting historical and rare guns, including weapons used in World Wars I and II. He instilled gun safety in his kids and granddaughters, whom he also taught to shoot.

He built tactical weapons and provided training for the police department, the federal government and other agencies.

Stojack was something of a prankster at work, recalled Stanley “Duffy” Grismanauskas, 72. He said Stojack would sometimes rig dummies in the a fire station restroom so that they would fall on his comrades as they took care of business.

He was such a character that author Gregg Hurwitz used some of his mannerisms to flesh out a player in his thriller “Orphan X,” which is slated to be made into a movie. Stojack passed away a few months prior to the book’s publication.

“I hope he’s out there somewhere smoking his Camel wides, spitting tobacco, slurping coffee and smiling that Tommy Lee Jones smile,” Hurwitz wrote in the book’s acknowledgements.

But when the chips were down, there was no one you’d rather have at your side. “We had a hell of a reputation as hard working firefighters,” Grismanauskas said.

“He dedicated his life to public service,” agreed Ryan Stojack, adding that his father was one of the firefighters who responded to the devastating MGM Grand fire in 1980.

At the ranch

Stojack was happiest at his ranch outside Las Vegas, a quiet spot away from almost everything else. He’d nearly always have a cup of strong coffee in his hand, softened with five packets of Sugar in the Raw.

One of his favorite spots was a gunsmith shop he shared with his son. He would spend hours there, sometimes in matching overalls with his granddaughter, Rylan, as she worked next to him on a toy work station.

It was at the shop where he died of a ruptured abdominal aortic aneurysm. His death was sudden, but his kids can now see a certain logic to the timing.

“It’s almost like he planned it,” Watson said. “If Pops was gonna go, it’d be around Veterans Day.”

She added that the support received from all those who loved her dad helped the family pull through. One gathering in particular helped with the healing — an hourslong memorial a few weeks after Stojack’s death where all his buddies exchanged stories about him.

“I lost my father,” Watson said tearfully. “But I also gained 15 to 20 other fathers, because all of these guys knew him and were there for us.”

For more information on the parade or to donate to the Billy Stojack Memorial Fund, visit www.veteransparade.com.

Contact Briana Erickson at berickson@reviewjournal.com or 702-387-5244. Follow @brianarerick on Twitter.

News
Nature Conservancy Ranch
The Nature Conservancy just bought the 900-acre 7J Ranch at the headwaters of the Amargosa River, north of Beatty. The property could become a research station, though ranching will continue.
Swift water rescue at Durango Wash in Las Vegas
On Thursday, February 14, 2019, at approximately 8:42 a.m., the Clark County Fire Department responded to a report of a swift water incident where people were trapped in the Durango wash which is located near 8771 Halcon Ave. Personnel found one person who was trapped in the flood channel. The individual was transported to the hospital in stable condition. Video by Clark County Fire & Rescue.
Flooding at E Cheyenne in N. Las Vegas Blvd.
Quick Weather Around the Strip
Rain hits Las Vegas, but that doesn't stop people from heading out to the Strip. (Mat Luschek/Review-Journal)
Aaron Semas, professional bull rider, talks about his traumatic brain injuries
Aaron Semas, professional bull rider, talks about his traumatic brain injuries. The Cleveland Clinic will begin researching the brains of retired bull riders to understand the impact traumatic brain injuries have on cognition. (Bizuayehu Tesfaye/ Las Vegas Review-Journal) @bizutesfaye
Matt Stutzman shoots arrows with his feet
Matt Stutzman who was born without arms shoots arrows with his feet and hits the bullseye with remarkable accuracy. (Bizuayehu Tesfaye/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @bizutesfaye
Secretary of Air Force Emphasizes the Importance of Nellis AFB
US Secretary of the Air Force Heather Wilson visited Nellis Air Force Base during Red Flag training and described how important the base is to the military.
Former Northwest Academy student speaks out
Tanner Reynolds, 13, with his mother Angela McDonald, speaks out on his experience as a former student of Northwest Academy in Amargosa Valley, which includes abuse by staff member Caleb Michael Hill. Hill, 29, was arrested Jan. 29 by the Nye County Sheriff’s Office on suspicion of child abuse.
Former Northwest Academy students speak out
Tristan Groom, 15, and his brother Jade Gaastra, 23, speak out on their experiences as former students of Northwest Academy in Amargosa Valley, which includes abuse by staff and excessive medication.
Disruption At Metro PD OIS Presser
A man claiming to be part of the press refused to leave a press conference at Metro police headquarters, Wednesday January 30, 2019. Officers were forced to physically remove the man. (Mat Luschek/Review-Journal)
Clients at Las Vegas’ Homeless Courtyard talk about their experience
Clients at Las Vegas’ Homeless Courtyard talk about their experience after the city began operating around the clock. (Bizuayehu Tesfaye/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @bizutesfaye
Las Vegas parts ways with operator of homeless courtyard
Jocelyn Bluitt-Fisher discusses the transition between operators of the homeless courtyard in Las Vegas, Thursday Jan. 24, 2019.(Caroline Brehman/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Las Vegas police and Raiders partner with SafeNest
Las Vegas police and the Raiders partner with SafeNest on Project Safe 417 (the police code for domestic violence is 417). The program partners trained SafeNest volunteer advocates with Metropolitan Police Department officers dispatched to domestic violence calls, allowing advocates to provide immediate crisis advocacy to victims at the scene of those calls. (K.M. Cannon/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @KMCannonPhoto
North Las Vegas police chief discusses officer-involved shooting
North Las Vegas police chief Pamela Ojeda held a press conference Thursday, Jan. 24, regarding an officer-involved shooting that took place on Jan. 21. The incident resulted in the killing of suspect Horacio Ruiz-Rodriguez. (Mat Luschek/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Volunteers gather for annual Clark County homeless count
Volunteers gather for the annual Southern Nevada Homeless Census, Tuesday, Jan. 22, 2019. (Chase Stevens/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Who can understand hospital price lists?
Lists of costs for procedures, drugs and devices are now posted the websites of hospitals to comply with a new federal rule designed to provide additional consumer transparency. Good luck figuring out what they mean.
People in Mesquite deal with a massive power outage
People in Mesquite respond to a major power outage in the area on Monday, Jan. 21, 2019. (Mat Luschek/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Group helping stranded motorists during power outage
A group of Good Samaritans are offering free gas to people in need at the Glendale AM/PM, during a massive power outage near Mesquite on Monday, Jan. 21, 2019. (Mat Luschek/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
U.S. Sen. Jacky Rosen falls at Las Vegas parade
U.S. Sen. Jacky Rosen of Nevada fell and injured her wrist at the Martin Luther King Day parade in Las Vegas on Monday, Jan. 21, 2019. (Nathan Asselin/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Local astronomers host super blood wolf moon viewing
The Las Vegas Astronomical Society paired with the College of Southern Nevada to host a lunar eclipse viewing Sunday night. Known as the super blood wolf moon, the astronomical event won't occur for another 18 years. (Rachel Aston/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @rookie__rae
Tate Elementary shows academic progress after categorical funding
Students at Tate Elementary in Las Vegas has benefited from a program to boost education funding in targeted student populations, known as categorical funding. One program called Zoom helps students who have fallen below grade level in reading. (K.M. Cannon/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @KMCannonPhoto
The third annual Women’s March in Las Vegas
The third annual Women’s March in Las Vegas. (Bizuayehu Tesfaye/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @btesfaye
First former felon to work for Nevada Department of Corrections
After his father died, Michael Russell struggled for years with drug addiction. When he finally decided to change for good, he got sober and worked for years to help others. Now he is the first former felon to be hired by the Nevada Department of Corrections. (Rachel Aston/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @rookie__rae
Three Square helps TSA workers
Three Square Food Bank donated over 400 care bags to TSA workers affected by the government shutdown Wednesday, filled with food, personal hygiene products and water.
Las Vegas furniture store donates to Clark County firehouses
Walker Furniture donated new mattresses to all 30 Clark County firehouses in the Las Vegas Valley, starting today with Station 22. (Mat Luschek/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Mount Charleston Gets Heavy Snow, Fog
Mount Charleston saw heavy snow today, and fog in lower elevations as a cold front swept across the Las Vegas Valley. (Benjamin Hager/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Krystal Whipple arrested in Arizona
Krystal Whipple, charged in the killing of a Las Vegas nail salon manager over a $35 manicure, is expected to return to Nevada to face a murder charge.
Holocaust survivor on acceptance
Holocaust survivor Celina Karp Biniaz, who was the youngest person on Schindler’s List, talks about the most important message for people to understand from her life and experiences.
Holocaust survivor speaks about telling her story
Holocaust survivor Celina Karp Biniaz, who was the youngest person on Schindler’s List, tells of opening up about her experiences during Sunday’s event at Temple Sinai.
Jesus Jara State of the Schools address
Clark County School District Superintendent Jesus Jara delivers his State of the Schools address on Friday, Jan. 11, 2019. (Amelia Pak-Harvey/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Local
Lee Canyon snow makes skiers smile
Skiers and snow boarders took advantage of the Presidents Day holiday and the recent snowfall at Lee Canyon, outside of Las Vegas. (Mat Luschek/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Mount Charleston gets fresh blanket of snow
A winter storm drops nearly four inches of fresh snow on Sunday, February 17, 2019 at Mount Charleston outside Las Vegas. (Michael Quine/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Snow in the Las Vegas Valley
Snow accumulated in the Las Vegas Valley for the first time in more than a decade, with snow falling mostly in the western, northwestern and southern areas. (Bizuayehu Tesfaye/Las Vegas Review Journal) @bizutesfaye
Snow at US 95 and Lee Canyon Road
Passers-by pulled off Lee Canyon Road northwest of Las Vegas Monday to play in the fresh snow. (Mat Luschek/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Road truck on an empty I-15
Snow and ice contributed to the closure of Interstate 15 near Primm. Jim Prather/Las Vegas Review-Journal
I-15 traffic diverted at St. Rose Parkway
The Nevada Highway Patrol has closed Interstate 15 in both directions between south Las Vegas and the California state line due to icy road conditions, Monday, Feb. 18, 2019. (Jim Prather/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Ice on roadway shuts down I-15 south of Las Vegas
An overnight snowstorm left an icy roadway, causing the Nevada Highway Patrol to shut down Interstate 15 south of Las Vegas to the California state line. (Jim Prather/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
I-15 closed at St. Rose Parkway
Ice on Interstate 15 caused the Nevada Highway Patrol to close the highway from St. Rose Parkway in south Las Vegas to the California state line on Monday, Feb. 18, 2019. (Jim Prather/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Driving a snowy Sunday night in Summerlin
Several inches of snow have fallen in Summerlin on Sunday, Feb. 17, 2019. This shows street conditions between Charleston and Far Hills in Summerlin. (Jim Prather/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Winter wonderland at Summerlin park
A snowstorm hit Fox Hill Park in Summerlin on Sunday, Feb. 17, 2019. (Jim Prather/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
February snowstorm in western Las Vegas
A snowstorm hit Summerlin and parts of western Las Vegas on Sunday, Feb. 17, 2019. (Jim Prather/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Snow in Summerlin
Snow near Far Hills and Fox Hill Drive.
Valentine's Day Brings Wet Weather To Las Vegas
Parts of the Las Vegas Valley received more than an inch of rain by 1 p.m. Thursday, triggering numerous vehicle accidents, sparking flooding and prompting at least two swift-water rescues in flood channels. (Mat Luschek/Review-Journal)
Artist sends love from the Welcome to Fabulous Las Vegas sign
Artist Chris O'Rourke has a giant heart mounted in the back of pickup positioned for photos at the Welcome to Fabulous Las Vegas sign on the Las Vegas Strip on Valentine's Day 2019. (Mat Luschek/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Rain doesn't dampen weddings on Valentine's Day
Charolette Richards, owner of A Little White Wedding Chapel who has been performing weddings for 60 years, started Valentine’s Day 2019 by performing a wdding for Las Vegas couple David and Elaine Cook at the chapel’s Tunnel of Love drive-thru. Richards has over 100 weddings booked for Valentine’s Day. (Michael Quine/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Swift-water rescue in Las Vegas
The Clark County Fire Department rescued one person from the flooded Durango Wash in Las Vegas on Thursday, Feb. 14, 2019. (Mat Luschek/Review-Journal)
It is a rainy Valentine's Day in Las Vegas - Video
These scenes come from the Las Vegas Stadium LiveCam (Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Rainy and soggy on Valentine's Day
Valentine's Day across the Las Vegas Valley will be soggy and wet. A flood advisory has been issued for Clark County. (Bizuayehu Tesfaye/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @bizutesfaye
Early morning rainfall in Las Vegas
The Las Vegas valley was hit with rainfall early Thursday morning. (Mat Luschek/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Janelle Veith, Quest Academy principal, talks about her school success
Janelle Veith, Quest Academy principal, talks about her school success. (Bizuayehu Tesfaye/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @bizutesfaye
Learning how to create your own comic book
Jean Munson talks about the class she teaches at the Maximum Comics in Henderson on creating and publishing your own comic book.
Top Ladies of Distinction unveils second Las Vegas chapter
Officers Clair Hart and Rose Coker discuss the service organization’s work and mission.
The Animal Foundation Opens New Wing
On Tuesday, The Animal Foundation opened the doors to its new Engelstad Foundation Adoption center. (Mat Luschek/Review-Journal)
North Las Vegas firefighter skates from ice to fire
Darcy Loewen, a former pro hockey player, finds a new career as a North Las Vegas firefighter. (John Przybys/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Carnival AirShip floats over Las Vegas
Carnival Cruise flew a blimp over the LAs Vegas Valley on Thursday in a promotion for its new Carnival Panorama ship. (Mat luschek/Review-Journal)
Pedestrian dies after crash at Decatur and Alta
Las Vegas police investigate a fatal crash that killed a pedestrian at Decatur Boulevard and Alta Driver about 6 a.m. Thursday, Feb. 7, 2019. (Jessica Terrones/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Star Wars Cosplayers Visit Sick Kids At Sunrise Hospital & Medical Center
Members of Coruscant Base, a Star Wars cosplay group, visit kids at Sunrise Hospital & Medical Center. (Mat Luschek/Review-Journal)
Hail and wet snow in Las Vegas
The western edges of Las Vegas saw some hail and wet snow on Tuesday, Feb. 5, 2019. (Bizuayehu Tesfaye/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @bizutesfaye
Developer Jim Rhodes lists his mansion for $30 million
Jim Rhodes, a developer, has listed his mansion in Spanish Hills community for $30 million. The mansion is situated on 2 acres of land and features 19,345 square feet of living space. (Bizuayehu Tesfaye/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @bizutesfaye
Court ruling brings hope to local Vietnam veteran
Blue Water Navy Veteran Michael Yates talks about possible medical benefits he could receive after a federal court ruling this week. Yates claims he was exposed to Agent Orange and attributes that to his health problems, which include cancer.
Las Vegas charter school excels in areas of greatest need
Mater Academy Mountain Vista charter school students excel despite the fact that half the students are English language learners and all qualify for free or reduced-price lunches. (K.M. Cannon/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @KMCannonPhoto
Tony Sanchez wraps up the UNLV season
UNLV football coach Tony Sanchez wraps up the season. Video by Mark Anderson/Las Vegas Review-Journal
ad-high_impact_4
TOP NEWS
News Headlines
Home Front Page Footer Listing