Town will recognize vets in Veteran’s Day parade

Adam Robertson, Staff Reporter

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The cold November air will render each breath visible as families line Pearl and Pine streets in downtown Ellensburg, waiting for the parade to pass by. Children will wave little flags in their hands. Eyes will well with tears as hands are held over hearts, showing respect and pride.

Parade attendees  won’t be waiting in the cold weather for flowery floats, intricate choreography or giant balloons: They’ll be waiting for fellow members of the community who will march by no bigger than the average person, whose service to the country is what is larger than life.

Every year on Nov. 11 at 11 a.m., downtown Ellensburg hosts a Veterans Day parade to honor the veterans of Kittitas County. This year it will start by the police station at 1st Avenue. and Pearl Street. and then go north to 6th Avenue. where it will head east for a block before turning south on Pine Street and returning to 1st Avenue.

A color guard bearing the flags of the branches of service, as well as the state and the nation,will  lead the way. They are followed by men and women who heard and answered the call to service, who walk through the streets and are recognized for their contribution.

“It’s always heartwarming to me to see the community come out in support,” said Army veteran and CWU Veterans Club President Justin Dennis.

The time of the parade is a reference to the origin of Nov. 11 as a day to celebrate veterans. At 11 a.m. Paris time on Nov. 11, 1918 the guns of the Western Front of World War I fell silent. The day became known as Armistice Day, and in 1938 it became a national holiday to celebrate WWI veterans. In 1954, the name was changed to Veterans Day to celebrate all veterans.

Cadet Matthew Cullum, a senior in the Air Force ROTC, has marched in three Veterans Day parades in Ellensburg. He knows what the parade’s attendees endure to show their support and he appreciates it.

“We’re cold out here, it’s cold, our hands are cold, we’re all cold, but you know what: we’re gonna do it anyway to pay respects for all the veterans out there,” Cullum said. “We can’t thank everybody in the community enough for supporting us.”

The parade will be made up of veterans and their families from all over Kittitas County, officers and cadets from the CWU Army and Air Force ROTC programs, as well as Boy Scouts, the Ellensburg High School marching band, cavalry reenactors, veterans on motorcycles and a collection of military vehicles.

The parade’s participants span generations, from cadets to veterans of conflicts going all the way back to World War II. Louis Kollmeyer may be the oldest veteran in the county.

“If he shows up, he’s 102,” said Ed Barry, president of the Kittitas County Veterans Association, who has organized the event for the past five years. “He used to be a prof up at Central [and] was on an aircraft carrier in the South Pacific [in WWII].”

For the officers of the ROTC programs who are in the middle of their time of service—and for their cadets who are preparing for their service to come—connecting with these older veterans is just as important as receiving the support of the community.

“One of the coolest things for me is honestly to see a lot of the old-timers come out in their uniforms,” said Lt. Col. Jonathan Ackiss, commander of the Army ROTC program at CWU. “The veterans communicating and connecting with the next generation of soldiers and leaders, it’s incredibly powerful and for the youngsters to hear the stories…it makes them feel very firsthand that this is bigger than just themselves individually.”

The ROTC cadets at CWU are a visible reminder of those who choose to serve in the military, but the campus also hosts many of those who have already served. The veterans who attend CWU aren’t so visible. They don’t wear uniforms when they walk around campus, but on Veterans Day they can march in the parade and have their service known and honored.

“To me, it’s my community,” Dennis said. “It’s recognizing what the people in my community have done, the sacrifices they’ve made.”

Financial support for veterans pursuing education has been a benefit of military service ever since President Franklin Roosevelt signed the first GI Bill in 1944.

“Getting their education was part of the veteran’s experience,” Barry said of veterans of WWII and the Korean War. “If you were lucky enough to survive either one of those wars.”

That combination of service and education has continued through today, including for Barry. After six years of service in the Navy, including two tours of duty in Vietnam, he attended CWU starting in 1977.

“It seemed like when I went into the military society was one way and when I got out it was totally different and I had to readjust,” Barry said. “Well, you talk about deer in the headlights.”

College is a period of adjustment for all students, but some veterans have an even harder transition from life in the military back to the civilian world. Community support as shown by events like the Veterans Day parade can go a long way in helping that transition.

“I appreciate that our community welcomes veterans,” said Navy veteran and senior nutrition major Becca Britton. “The fact that they do a Veterans Day parade in celebration of veterans is wonderful too, not only for the community to learn and to come together but…for the veterans to see that they’re appreciated.”

With the current partisan political climate, events that bring the community together the way a Veterans Day parade does can be a precious salve.

“You forget about your day-to-day life for that hour that you’re at the parade,” said Army veteran and Veterans Center director Ruben Cardenas. “There seems to be a lot of division in our current state as a nation and I hope that this can be something that brings us together.”

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Town will recognize vets in Veteran’s Day parade