Military personnel and those who support them took to the streets on Saturday, Aug. 16, for the second Celebrating Military Service Parade put on by the Daffodil Festival in conjunction with the City of Tacoma.
Pierce County serves as home to Joint Base Lewis-McChord, one of the largest joint bases in the country, as well as one of the most prominent employers of the county, with more than 44,000 active military members on base. With the local veterans organizations and families of soldiers adding onto the military population of Pierce County, there are plenty of men and women worth celebrating in the community.
Previous to last year’s inaugural Celebrating Military Service Parade, nearly 60 years had divided the downtown celebration from the area’s last military service parade. As last year’s efforts proved to be a resounding success, such a positive response from the community warranted a repeat of the festivities this year.
While the crowd didn’t swell to the size parade organizers might have liked to have seen, the presence of the parade in Tacoma was still enjoyed by all those who attended, with what police estimate to be about 2,500 to 3,000 attendees gathered at the heart of the parade.
The parade began at South 17th Street near Tollefson Plaza, traveling along Pacific Avenue, towards South 10th Street. Armored vehicles from Joint Base Lewis-McChord intermixed with convertibles touting celebrated officers, including this year’s parade grand marshal Brigadier General Oscar Hilman. Hilman retired from active duty in 2005 after 37 years in the military. As the third Filipino service member to advance to the rank of general, his last assignment was commanding the 81st Brigade, based at Camp Murray, south of Tacoma. Just 10 years ago, in 2004, he was responsible for taking the brigade to Iraq in the largest deployment of Washington National Guard troops since WWII. After leading so many, leading a parade proved to be pretty easy.
Featuring around 70 military units from around Western Washington, the parade shined a spotlight on those both in notable active duty, as well as retired military personnel, be they conveyed in marching units, community floats, bands, convertibles, motorcycle units, and military vehicles.
The Daffodil Festival Queen’s Float, normally used to display Daffodil Royalty through the annual Grand Floral Parade every Spring, was instead decked out in red, white and blue, and transporting a very different set of VIPs: servicemen and women who have been wounded in the line of duty.
2014 Daffodil Festival Queen Marissa Modestowicz joined several members of her Court in the parade; however, their attendance wasn’t heralded by a flashy float, the likes of which they’re used to arriving in. Instead, they carried the banners of fallen warriors alongside mothers, sisters, and family members who had lost loved ones in the military.
For 2014 Fife High School Princess Kayla McElligot, the cause being celebrated was one close to her heart. “My family has been in the service for as long as I can remember. We are one of the most patriotic families, and we have been for a while… it wasn't until 2011 when we were hit hard by the sacrifice a soldier makes.”
In fact, she attended Saturday’s festivities, not in regular Princess attire, but wearing a tee shirt honoring her fallen family member. “My cousin, Sgt. Alexander James Bennett was KIA in Afghanistan on August 6, 2011. I remember the details the day we found out as if it happened just yesterday.”
“Having family who currently serve, a family member who lost his life to serve, and seeing so many people honor those who have served... it made my heart swell with gratitude.”
Other local festival participants included the Marysville Strawberry Festival and the Seattle Seafair Commodores, while the Seahawk’s mascot, Blitz, led the Blue Thunder drum line down Pacific Ave.
The Washington State History Museum was also open, with a display of World War collections in the exhibit “Seeds of Victory,” where a special presentation was given on the historical importance of the items presented, as well as activities for children and families, a gallery tour, WWI re-enactors, and a color guard presentation of the flag
An after-parade block party followed the festivities on Pacific Avenue from South 7th to 9th street, allowing parade-goers an up-close-and-personal experience with active-duty and retired military personnel and their vehicles, with local area restaurants open to the parade-goers, as well.