Tacoma, with all its ties to the Armed Forces, has not had a big-time, downtown military parade for more than 50 years.
The Daffodil Festival is about to remedy that.
On Aug. 24 (a Saturday guaranteed to be sunny) the Daffodil Festival will present what executive director Steve James bills as “our 1st Annual Military Service Celebration in Pierce County.”
The event will start at 5 p.m. with a 56th Army Band concert at Tollefson Plaza at South 17th Street and Pacific Avenue. The parade will begin at 6 p.m., proceeding along Pacific Avenue from South 13th to South 24th street.
It’s reasonable to question whether a “1st Annual” anything will have what it takes to make it to “2nd Annual.” But James has a good plan. Already he has lined up units from the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, Coast Guard, Air Force Reserves, Army National Guard, Navy Reserves, Washington Air National Guard, Washington National Guard, Madigan Army Medical Center and local law enforcement.
He has commitments from bands, motorcyclists including the Patriot Guard, Puyallup Tribe of Indians, Canadian regiments and mounted units. The American Legion will bring its float, and wounded warriors will ride on the Daffodil Festival float. PCMARVETS will show off its mobile field office, and be available before and after to connect veterans to the benefits they have earned.
JBLM will be sending honor guards and color guards bearing 56 flags representing the states and territories.
James has invited four Medal of Honor recipients.
“We will have multiple Strykers,” James said. “The Coast Guard is bringing a boat.”
There is talk of a Howitzer.
If it were not for the Daffodil Festival, there would be no talk of a Howitzer, or a Coast Guard vessel, rolling through downtown.
"It's quite easy to say you support the troops, but what does your support look like? Let's make honor an action verb. This is another resource to help parents teach their kids what honor looks like." - Daffodil festival Executive Director Steve James
“We have connections with Joint Base Lewis-McChord,” James said. “For every Daffodil Parade we have three to four units marching.”
That relationship inspired and jump-started plans for Celebrating Military Service.
Earlier this year James met with Tacoma Mayor Marilyn Strickland.
Strickland brought up the idea of an evening parade that would bring thousands downtown to watch, then stroll off to enjoy shops, attractions and restaurants in one of the safest parts of the city.
James liked the idea, but wanted to make it mean something.
“We wanted to do something of significance,” he said, and realized he could not remember a Tacoma parade dedicated to honoring the men and women of the military.
He researched the question at Tacoma Public Library’s Northwest Room, and on the library’s website. Press clippings from the Washington’s Birthday Parade and National Security Week in 1947 and 1949 show bystanders lining the streets on cold and rainy days – just like photos of so many Daffodil Parades.
They also mention tanks. Don’t look for them this August.
“They want to make sure we aren’t having tanks this year,” James said. “They would tear up the roads and all the new improvements along Pacific Avenue." While doing his research, James discovered that Armed Forces Day in 1956 was the last year on record of a military parade in Tacoma. It’s not that there are no military parades in Pierce County. Joint Base Lewis McChord’s parade grounds are busy with ceremonies and exercises. But, because the base is secure, most civilians never see them. They don’t get to stand and cheer and salute the men and women who serve in the Armed Forces.
“This parade will be different for military personnel as well,” James said.
“This is not a normal parade,” he told Robert Tucket, who was calling to arrange for Strykers to join it. “This is your opportunity to show off. The whole street will be lined to celebrate you. We are working on food, so you won’t have to be eating MREs in the staging area.”
They also have arranged a special Sounder train for military families coming up from Lakewood at 3 p.m. and returning at 8:30 p.m. Anyone with military ID will ride it free, thanks to sponsors including AUSA, America’s Credit Union, WorkForce Central and Windermere Real Estate agent Jim Swanson.
The Daffodil Princesses will ride on the special Sounder to show the way to the Link Light Rail, and on the Link to direct riders to the stops closest to the concert and parade. They’ll also meet and greet patrons at businesses like Anthem Beverage & Bistro, which is offering military discounts.
James contacted museum directors and asked them to consider staying open for the evening after the parade. They declined.
Thanks to the Link, the Esplanade, Museum of Glass, Tacoma Arts Commission, and Downtown On the Go’s Walk Tacoma’s maps, there will still be plenty to see for free. Murals, the Graffiti Garage, the Bridge of Glass, the fishing fleet, a failing totem pole and the restored Spanish Steps.
All of that is to make it a full and fun day around the concert and parade, and to do it for spectators and participants. Heroes, James said, deserve a great event.
“Let’s inspire the next generation of heroes. This is a celebration of honor. It’s quite easy to say you support the troops, but what does your support look like? Let’s make honor an action verb. This is another resource to help parents teach their kids what honor looks like.”