A genuine sense of community and patriotism filled the air in downtown Tacoma the evening of Aug. 24 for the Daffodil Festival’s first annual Celebrating Military Service Parade and Concert. The weather couldn’t have been nicer for this inaugural event that brought out men and women in uniform along with appreciative civilians there to say thank you to them and their families for serving and defending the United States of America.
As parade contingents milled around near the starting point, a gigantic American flag flew above Pacific Avenue from the tops of two Tacoma Fire Department truck ladders. Parade watchers and soldiers in uniform gathered in Tollefson Plaza to enjoy the 56th Army Band from Joint Base Lewis-McChord, and its sub-group the Sockeye Salmon Dixieland Band. The concert started out with the National Anthem, which brought a salute from all the service members present. Civilians put their hands over their hearts, and others removed their caps in respect. Even travelers staying in the Courtyard by Marriott Hotel overlooking the plaza were seen coming to their windows to take part in the moment.
Various branches of the military had informational and recruiting booths along the sidewalk, and young people wandered among the crowd handing out little paper flags for spectators to wave. The McDonalds on Hilltop purchased 13,000 of these flags and eight employees were there to give them away. Also handing out the flags and mingling with the crowd were about 20 Daffodil Princesses and a group of young women from Puyallup interested in learning from the Princesses to perhaps become Daffodil royalty one day themselves.
When the time arrived to start the parade, appreciative people lined Pacific Avenue, cheering for those who now serve, or have served, our country.
“Each part about it went exactly as we wanted it to,” Daffodil Festival Executive Director Steve James said of the parade component of the celebration.
He noted that, unlike other military parades, Tacoma's was made up of past and present service members rather than the usual high school bands and such. “It was unique in this fashion.”
The joint forces Honor Guard led the parade with flags representing the Army, Marines, Coast Guard and other branches of the military. The parade’s Army V.I.P. Major Michael Bundt followed it. He serves as the Chief of Future Operations and is the Fire Support Officer in the 16th Combat Aviation Brigade at JBLM.
Medal of Honor recipient Joe Madison Jackson, who is 90, was the parade’s Grand Marshal. Jackson served as a career officer in the U.S. Air Force and was presented with the Medal of Honor by President Lyndon B. Johnson in 1969.
Among the approximately 65 contingents, individuals and organizations that marched were some of the City of Tacoma’s more than 260 veterans on staff; veterans from the Puyallup Tribe of Indians; Patriot Guard Riders on motorcycles; Gold Star Mothers carrying banners with photos of some of Washington State’s fallen soldiers; U.S. Submarine Veterans with a model of the USS Bonefish, which our state adopted after it was lost in WWII; veterans and families from the National Alliance to End Veteran Suicide; 56 soldiers marching with state and territorial flags from the 16th Combat Aviation Brigade; Wild West Post 91 – Veterans of Foreign Wars in Tacoma; and Colonel Anthony J. Davit, the Deputy Joint Base Commander and Commander of the 627th Air Base Group, which marched behind him.
Tactical vehicles and equipment rolled by, including an M142 High Mobility Artillery Rocket System missile, a High Mobility Multi-Wheeled Vehicle (more commonly known as a HMMWV), and the 10-wheel drive Washington Army National Guard Palletized Load System that serves as the backbone of the 1161 Washington Army National Guard stationed in Ephrata.
James gave credit to Mayor Marilyn Strickland for having the vision to bring back a military parade to Tacoma after more than 50 years. Strickland said it’s important to honor these members of the community.
“The return of this parade to Tacoma is our community's way of saying thank you to our military personnel, veterans and their families,” Strickland told the Tacoma Weekly.
“Saturday's event was a success for many reasons. It was fun, the weather was fantastic, people of all ages and backgrounds attended, and we had the opportunity to publicly honor our military community in downtown Tacoma,” she continued. “I spoke with many attendees who expressed their gratitude to the City of Tacoma and their desire to see this parade take place every year. I also want to thank Steve James, the Daffodil Festival and their volunteers for all their hard work to make this happen.”
Lieutenant Colonel Kurt Simonson of the Washington National Guard helped lead a big participation of local National Guard men and women.
“I thought it was fabulous,” he said. “I had all afternoon to wander around the staging area and it was really, really cool getting to interact with all the other armed forces, some older veterans… It was just rewarding to walk around and talk to everybody – a surprise and unexpected benefit.”
Simonson said he was impressed by the diversity within the parade.
“There was current military equipment from almost every branch of service, vintage equipment representing WWII and Korea, the Buffalo Soldiers on horseback representing the frontier period of the army’s history,” he said. “Then you had the Royal Westminster Regiment from Canada… I loved the rich fabric of the variety of all the participants.”
James said he was most surprised by the reaction service members had at having this big event done just for them. “At the staging area there was a celebration, there was camaraderie – just so many components you can’t explain. You can’t compare it to anything.”