More than 3,000 turn out for Auburn's vaunted Veterans Day parade

By:  Rob Carson, The Bellingham Herald

In keeping with tradition, Auburn’s annual Veterans Day Parade began precisely at 11 a.m. Saturday with a C-17 Globemaster passing loud and low over Main Street.

The big cargo plane from Joint Base Lewis-McChord was the starting cue for a mile-long convoy of veterans groups, vintage military vehicles, marching bands and politicians in shiny new cars to begin moving through the city.

Auburn is recognized by the National Veterans Day Committee and the Department of Defense as a regional site for the annual celebration.

Every year since 1965, the city has hosted a Veterans Day parade, and in that time the event has grown to become one of the largest in the country. This year more than 3,000 people participated.

The city closed off applications for parade participants last month with 189 entries, including 27 marching bands and scores of veterans special-interest groups.

The various groups included submarine veterans, black veterans, female veterans, helicopter veterans, Native American veterans, swift-boat veterans, Hispanic American veterans, a sizable contingent of Republic of Vietnam veterans and several groups of veterans on motorcycles.

U.S. Sen. Maria Cantwell was near the head of the parade. Unlike most other politicians who participated, Cantwell walked the route, wearing a red windbreaker and pausing to shake hands and have brief conversations with parade watchers.

Later, Cantwell joined Auburn Mayor Pete Lewis, himself a Navy Vietnam veteran, on the viewing platform in front of Auburn’s City Hall.

Auburn’s narrow main street – just barely wide enough for the marching bands to move through five abreast – made the parade a personal experience for an estimated 5,000 spectators packing the sidewalks.

Many of the spectators also were veterans, wearing baseball caps with the names of former units on them or remnants of military uniforms.

Terry Hauge was there, wearing his Marine staff sergeant’s uniform from the Vietnam War and handing out American flag tie tacks from a plastic bag.

Hauge, 69, of Kent, said he never misses the Auburn parade.

He comes to show his appreciation, he said, in part to make up for the lack of appreciation shown to Americans soldiers like him who returned from Vietnam.

“People didn’t accept us then,” Hauge said. “Now they do.”

The entire parade lasted more than two hours, and through most of it, Shelley Holets and Diana Cummings, both of Auburn, stood in the front rank of spectators, waving small American flags and saying “Thank you,” to passing vets.

“I’m really grateful that these men and women served our country,” Holets said. “We wouldn’t be standing here if it weren’t for them.”

The two women said they were also at the parade because of a distant relative, Audie Murphy, the movie star known as the most decorated U.S. soldier in World War Two and their grandfather’s uncle.

“We’re here to honor him as well,” Holets said.