Updated November 11, 2019 - 5:50 pm
Zipping past thudding bass drums, the grinding of military tanks across the asphalt and the boot-heel precision of marching junior ROTC cadets, the man who made Las Vegas’ Veterans Day parade happen rolled down Fourth Street in a golf cart.
“I love this scene,” 69-year-old Vietnam veteran and former Air Force Sgt. Jerry Adams said as he held a portable radio close to his ear. “It’s a great day to honor the living veterans and all those who served and are serving now. It’s a chance to say thank you.”
Adams on Monday was working his 24th annual parade in downtown Las Vegas, watching over the proceedings on Fourth Street between Gass and Stewart avenues.
Thousands of onlookers lined the sidewalks, applauding as roughly 5,000 participants in nearly 100 parade groups made their way down the street in the two-hour parade.
A large American flag stretched over one intersection as classic cars rolled through downtown and honor guards presented their colors, prompting cheers from two little girls with red, white and blue lipstick.
‘Every day should be Veterans Day’
The event, billed as the largest Veterans Day parade west of the Mississippi River, featured many elected officials, including Gov. Steve Sisolak, Las Vegas Mayor Carolyn Goodman, U.S. Sen. Jacky Rosen and Rep. Susie Lee.
“I think every day should be Veterans Day,” Sisolak said. “But particularly on this day, I say thank you and God bless to all of our veterans, all of our veterans families. Thank you for your sacrifice.”
Former Navy Chief Warrant Officer 4 Rey Esguerra, who served on the USS Louisville and on submarines during the Cold War, also said he had a special appreciation for Veterans Day. His grandfather fought against the United States during the The Philippine-American War at the turn of the 20th century. Then his father took the other side, fighting as an irregular alongside the U.S. Army’s 11th Airborne Division during the Battle of Manila in World War II.
“I came here for a better life and from the stories my father told me. It was like a goal to be an American, to serve a country I really love,” said Esguerra, 70, adding that he enlisted in the Navy while he was still living in the Philippines.
“In the military, it’s more important how you perform, not the color of your skin, not your ethnic background, not your religion,” Esguerra said.
Parade organizers also presented the second Billy Stojack Memorial Fund reward to a deserving veteran. The award honors Stojack, a retired Clark County firefighter and former Navy SEAL who served as parade coordinator for many years before his death in 2017, just two days before the event.
This year’s recipients were retired Army Sgt. Anthony Harris and his wife, Martina, who also served and reached the rank of private first class. The locals got an all-expenses-paid weekend at the Golden Nugget with their two kids.
“It’s an honor,” Anthony Harris said. “It’s not just Veterans Day, it’s spending time remembering those who put on the uniform every single day to keep our country safe so we can enjoy days like this.”
WWII POWs get a chauffeur
Vietnam-era Army Sgt. Richard Moyer also was honored to drive two Air Force veterans and former prisoners of war during WWII down the parade route.
Both 94-year-old 2nd Lt. Dean Whitaker and 103-year-old 1st Lt. Vincent Shank served as bombardier navigators and were captured after their B-17s were shot down on separate missions and they were forced to parachute into enemy territory.
Both were held at the infamous Stalag VII-A POW camp at Moosburg, Germany, where Moyer’s late father, Pvt. Raymond Moyer, also was a prisoner. By the time the camp was liberated on April 29, 1945, Shank had spent nearly two years inside various camps while Whitaker had been imprisoned for seven months.
In the prison, the two survived from Red Cross food parcels sparingly doled out by their captors and lived mostly on water and bread that was a third sawdust.
They each remembered the moment Gen. George S. Patton came in aboard a phalanx of tanks.
“He said, ‘How you doing, son?’ I said, ‘Great now that you’re here.’ I’ll never forget that,” Whitaker said.
“He said, ‘I’m so proud of you guys that you have maintained your civility.’ He looked so great in his beautiful uniform,” said Shank, who passed the time in the prison playing his trumpet and later played in bands for the Rat Pack at casinos on the Strip.
“It’s really something to be able to tell the story at 94 and 103,” added Whitaker, who later worked as an architect. “Imagine that.”