Warren Lewis was wounded twice during World War II in Europe while serving with the Army’s 104th Division, an outfit known as the Timberwolves.
Former division members used to have annual reunions somewhere in the country. Until this year.
“Everyone is too damn old,” said Lewis, 89. “There aren’t many of us left.”
A platoon leader during the war, he also used to have a long list of Army buddies he’d call every month. Now only four are left.
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But at Saturday’s Veterans Day parade in downtown Wichita, he was surrounded by veterans and others supporting the vets.
Lewis and other members rode on the Military Order of the Purple Heart’s trailer as young and old stood along Main Street and waved small American flags.
“It’s good to see,” said World War II vet William Hess, who served with the Army’s 13th and 82nd Airborne divisions. He sat with his friend Margaret Wellman on a red bench in front of Wichita Fire Station No. 1.
“If it weren’t for our veterans and those serving now,” Wellman said, “we wouldn’t be here.”
Some, like 8-year-old Lillian Van Housen, came to get some of the candy tossed their way.
But, she added, “I’m also here because I like to meet the veterans. Oh, and I want to pet the puppies.”
Those would be military dogs.
“Not for petting,” warned her mother, Sarah Van Housen.
More than 50 groups took part in the hour-long parade on a windy but comfortably warm late morning. There was a large contingent from McConnell Air Force Base, and the 22nd Air Refueling Wing provided a flyover of a KC-135 tanker as the parade started.
High school bands played, antique cars tooted. Military and public safety equipment was on display. Clowns passed by, as did Batman and his Batmobile.
And just about everyone waved.
“I can’t wait to see the cannon,” said JacQuez Taylor, 7, as he stood with his older sister and mother. Another sister was marching with the Junior ROTC from Hamilton Middle School.
Some veterans rode on motorcycles. Others were pushed in wheelchairs.
Tom Sawyer, a Vietnam veteran, stood along the street with his wife, Renee, as he watched his first Veterans Day parade. He always missed the others because of work, but he retired this year.
This parade was made even more special because his 11-year-old grandson, Brian Yocum, joined them. Brian’s interest was piqued after about 150 veterans visited his school, Maize South Middle School, for an event on Friday.
“I just wanted to be here,” Brian said.
Michael Alcorn sat along the parade route with his wife, Alicia, and two of their children, Michael Jr., 8, and William, 6. Their daughter, Hope, 11, also was marching with Hamilton’s Junior ROTC.
Alcorn was thinking about those serving in harm’s way as well as the veterans.
“Somebody has to be out there,” he said, “and thank God they are out there.”