As a crisp wind blew, Wichitans paid respect to veterans young and old alike Saturday with an old-fashioned parade complete with floats, candy and beauty queens atop sports cars.
This year’s Wichita Veterans Day parade was centered on the 70th anniversary of the D-Day invasion at Normandy.
The parade, sponsored by the Wichita School District’s JROTC program, featured more than 60 floats reflecting all branches of active-duty military as well as the National Guard and National Reserve. It started at 11 a.m. at Central and Main and traveled south along Main to WaterWalk.
People covered in blankets and coats huddled in camp chairs and on benches along the route, children eagerly racing to pick up candy thrown from the dozens of floats. The local chapter of the Society of Professional Engineering Employees in Aerospace handed out miniature flags. The American Legion Riders revved their engines as the parade got underway. The 22nd Air Refueling Wing at McConnell Air Force Base boasted a float that looked like a tanker.
Police patrolled on bikes, and there were mounted soldiers from Fort Riley on horses. Military police dogs ran along on leashes.
The parade was a first for John and Jan Souza, who moved to Wichita three months ago from Kingman. They were impressed with the turnout.
“We decided it was a really good cause to come out for the veterans,” John Souza said.
Richard and Kerry Ann Unrein of Park City said they try to attend some kind of function to commemorate Veterans Day every year. This year’s Wichita parade was their first.
Richard Unrein said he served in the Marine Corps during the Persian Gulf War but didn’t go overseas.
“We need to support the veterans,” he said.
Tony White said he left his hometown of Newton to serve in the Vietnam War from 1969 to 1972. He was in the Army, he said.
“I’ve got to be out here,” he said of the parade. “I own part of this street.”
He’s attended a Veterans Day parade every year since he came home, he said.
“This is the best crowd we’ve had in five years,” he said.
William D. Paschal, a retired Wichita dentist, and Freddy Simon of Freddy’s Frozen Custard & Steakburgers were co-Grand Marshals of the parade.
A news release from WaterWalk said Paschal entered the Army Specialized Training Program at age 17 in 1943. He then trained as an infantry scout and served in combat in France until December 1944. He volunteered to be a combat medic with the 100th infantry division and became a prisoner of war in 1945.
Simon grew up on a farm near Colwich and signed up for the infantry in the U.S. Army, the news release said. He earned a Purple Heart and Bronze Star for his service fighting in various places around the Pacific Rim during World War II.