‘Don’t rain on our parade’
By Kelly Puente, Staff writer
Article Launched: 11/10/2007 08:54:24 PM PST
HOLIDAY: Most in attendance support panel’s decision to bar anti-war groups.
LONG BEACH – The 11th annual Long Beach Veterans Day Parade was a smooth and peaceful event on Saturday, despite controversy this week over three anti-war groups that were prohibited from marching.
Veterans for Peace, Iraq Veterans Against the War and Military Families Speak Out said their First Amendment rights were violated when the parade committee, a nonprofit organization, rejected their application.
Organizers have said the groups were trying to push a political agenda at an event that’s supposed to be free from politics.
With signs saying, “End The War Now,” more than 25 members from all three groups stood quietly on an island in the middle of the parade route on Atlantic Avenue in North Long Beach.
The groups on Saturday morning approached 9th District City Councilman Val Lerch, chairman of the parade committee, in a final effort to participate. Lerch, however, said the parade line-up was set for this year.
“They stood peacefully and honored our veterans,” said Lerch, whose 9th District includes the parade route. “And I thank them very much for that.”
The parade kicked off at 10 a.m. and headed south on Atlantic before it looped back around and spilled into Houghton Park.
The line-up featured more than 100 entries, including marching bands, vintage fire trucks and military jeeps, city officials on convertibles, horseback riders and drill teams.
The event concluded with a vendor fair and special ceremony in the park, which honored the parade’s three Grand Marshals: Military Marshal Col. Lisa Costanza, honorary Grand Marshal Long Beach Fire Department Battalion Chief Dave Kean and Celebrity Grand Marshal Cal Worthington.
A sea of nearly 3,000 parade-goers lined the street, holding up signs and banners and waving tiny U.S. flags.
Allyssa Finch, 8, held up a handmade sign saying, “Your Bravery Makes You A Hero!”
“We want our troops to know we love and support them,” said her mother Diane Finch, who attends the parade every year.
Long Beach resident Joan Noble was dressed head to toe in red, white and blue, complete with a U.S. flag umbrella and blanket.
“I was born on the Fourth of July, so I’m extra patriotic,” she said.
Although they weren’t allowed to march this year, Jason Lemieux, a member of Iraq Veterans Against the War, said members came anyway to support the veterans.
“We came out today in the spirit of Veterans Day,” said Lemieux, a Marine who served three tours in Iraq.
Member Joe Wheeler, who served in Iraq in 2003, came down from San Francisco with his 4-year-old daughter Ivy.
“Just because we don’t agree with the war doesn’t mean we served our country any less,” Wheeler said. “We have a right to be in this parade.”
“It’s almost symbolic of saying we are not really veterans,” said Eric Estenzo, who also served in Iraq in 2003.
Col. Ann Wright, a member of Veterans for Peace, worked as a deputy embassador for the U.S. embassy in Mongolia, and served in the U.S. Army for 29 years before resigning in 2003 after the U.S. invaded Iraq.
“It’s pretty sad when you have a private group excluding some veterans based on their political beliefs,” she said. “We have our differences, but we have all served our country. Veterans Day is for all veterans.”
Pat Alviso, a member of Military Families Speak Out, said the groups plan to meet with the parade committee in January and will try to march next year.
“Today is a sad day for Long Beach,” Alviso said. “It’s sad that some veterans have to stand off to the side when they could be in the parade.”
Most veterans who came to see the parade on Saturday supported the committee’s decision.
Fred Dunn, an 84-year-old World War II vet who was born and raised in Long Beach, said the anti-war groups should march in their own parade.
“This is to honor the veterans who have served,” he said. “It’s not a political deal.”
“Don’t rain on our parade,” said Shirley Oglesby, whose husband Jack served in Vietnam. “We don’t want war either. But here is not the time nor place.”
The Oglesbys have attended the parade for the last 11 years.
“I wonder what the men who died would think if they allowed protestors to march,” Jack Oglesby said.
“I’m against the war in Iraq too,” said Sasha Kilauren, who served in the U.S. Navy during the Cold War. “But these groups shouldn’t be allowed to march in this type of parade. It’s inappropriate.”
Vet George Kerr, 65, said seeing the anti-war groups on Saturday was reminiscent of the atmosphere in 1967 when he returned home from Vietnam.
“I was kicked and spit on,” he said. “But it’s OK. That’s what we went to war for. So people could have their rights.”